The evidence for at least one moral universal

The diversity, contradictions, and bizarreness of past and present enforced moral standards (cultural norms whose violators are commonly considered to deserve punishment, though sometimes only mild social disapproval) has commonly been considered obvious evidence that “There are no moral universals!”.

What is the evidence for my claim that there is at least one moral universal, specifically that “Altruistic acts that also increase the benefits of cooperation in groups are evolutionarily moral”?

My claim is justified by normal criteria for provisional truth in science including explanatory power, consistency with known facts, and integration with the rest of science (evolution and the mathematics of game theory) as I describe in other posts on this website.

For example, it explains why versions of the Golden Rule are found in almost all cultures and religions, why slavery and racism are sometimes morally acceptable and sometimes not, why ‘pagan’ virtues and their near opposite ‘Christian’ virtues have both been considered moral obligations (even in the same culture), why circumcision and bizarre clothing styles and food prohibitions have been considered moral requirements, and so forth.

What about enforced moral standards such as “do not steal, lie in court, or murder” and “You are obligated to risk injury and death (to act courageously) to defend your country”? How do these advocate “altruistic” acts?  These advocate benefiting the group by altruistically (at a cost to yourself) resisting your urges to “steal, lie in court, or murder” or shirk your duty to defend your country even when you really want to and believe doing so would benefit you. With this understanding of altruism, all past and present enforced moral standards advocate altruistic behaviors. People who are ‘insufficiently’ altruistic are judged to deserve punishment, at minimum social disapproval.

I have yet to come across a past or present enforced moral standard that is inconsistent with this universal moral principle.

The shared human biology that produces emotions such as empathy, loyalty, guilt, shame, maternal care for immature offspring, and indignation could be considered moral universals and could even be considered the building blocks of cultural moralities. However, in my opinion, this is a misleading view that obscures what morality really ‘is’, strategies for increasing the benefits of altruistic cooperation in groups. If human biological evolution unfolded differently, our ‘moral’ emotions (emotions that motivate altruistic cooperation in groups) could have been very different.  These moral ‘universals’ are unlikely to appear in other species in exactly human form.

On the other hand, we can be confident that everywhere in our physical reality 1) there will often be synergistic benefits of cooperation, 2) altruistic cooperation exposes one to exploitation, 3) exploitation is almost always the higher rewarding strategy in the short term, and 4) the mathematics of game theory show that altruistic cooperation strategies can solve this universal cooperation-exploitation problem in maximizing the benefits of cooperation.

Therefore, altruistic cooperation strategies for maximizing the benefits of cooperation have been universally available for all species in our universe from the beginning of time and likely will be till the end of time. Everywhere in this expanse of space and time, we can rely on biological evolution to select for emotions such as empathy and indignation that motivate these universal altruistic cooperation strategies. (Indignation is included as a ‘moral’ emotion because these strategies universally require punishment of exploiters.) We can rely on cultural evolution to select for enforced cultural norms that advocate these same universal altruistic cooperation strategies. (These are necessarily “enforced” norms because, again, these strategies universally require punishment of exploiters.)

Such enforced cultural norms are commonly called “moral standards” and combined with our biological heuristics for altruistic cooperation strategies are what is commonly considered morality. All share the universal moral principle “Altruistic acts that also increase the benefits of cooperation in groups are evolutionarily moral”.

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