A Common Ethic Is Part Of Our Social Nature

This entire blog is built on the assumption that we share a social nature, even down to our biology. We live together in societies because that makes us better individually and collectively. Does that mean that we have a shared approach to correct behavior in society? In other words, is there a meta-ethics that spans cultures and countries?

Cooperation is the Key

A recent article in Quartz and a publication from the University of Chicago discuss the discovery of a common ethic spanning 60 societies.

Researchers tested the theory that ethics equals cooperation. In examining dozens of countries, they uncovered a common system of ethics that rests on a foundation of seven types of cooperation:

  • Helping your family
  • Helping your group
  • Returning favors
  • Being brave
  • Deferring to superiors
  • Dividing resources fairly
  • Respecting others’ property

These seven types of cooperation map nicely onto the list of social goods that implement human rights:

  • Helping your family = healthcare, public education, transportation
  • Helping your group = social welfare services, healthcare, public education
  • Returning favors = social welfare services, healthcare
  • Being brave = legal system, public safety
  • Deferring to superiors = legal system
  • Dividing resources fairly = social welfare services
  • Respect others’ property = legal system, public safety

Computers Prove the Meta-Ethics of Cooperation

For his book The Evolution of Cooperation, David Axelrod hosted tournaments featuring computers playing against each other using various strategies of cooperation. If ethics equals cooperation, then this was testing ethics by computer.

Competition among various computer programs revealed the consistently best cooperation strategy:

  • Start off an exchange with another by cooperating–that is, making the move that is best for the group.
  • On subsequent moves, copy the last move of the other person.

This way, you always start nicely and play nicely with others who play nicely, too. But if someone stops cooperating with you, you match their behavior. You stop cooperating with them. Non-cooperation is not rewarded, but a return to cooperation by the other party would be.

Computers that followed this strategy consistently won. This is another indicator of a shared, if not universal, model of meta ethics based on cooperation.

Our shared social nature gives us a lot of common ground to build on, including ethics.

(Image courtesy of Pixabay)

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