Our Moral Fate
Evolution and the Escape from Tribalism
- Long-listed for the Nayef Al-Rodhan book prize
296 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: March 24, 2020
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: February 28, 2020
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A provocative and probing argument showing how human beings can for the first time in history take charge of their moral fate.
Is tribalism—the political and cultural divisions between Us and Them—an inherent part of our basic moral psychology? Many scientists link tribalism and morality, arguing that the evolved “moral mind” is tribalistic. Any escape from tribalism, according to this thinking, would be partial and fragile, because it goes against the grain of our nature. In this book, Allen Buchanan offers a counterargument: the moral mind is highly flexible, capable of both tribalism and deeply inclusive moralities, depending on the social environment in which the moral mind operates.
We can't be morally tribalistic by nature, Buchanan explains, because quite recently there has been a remarkable shift away from tribalism and toward inclusiveness, as growing numbers of people acknowledge that all human beings have equal moral status, and that at least some nonhumans also have moral standing. These are what Buchanan terms the Two Great Expansions of moral regard. And yet, he argues, moral progress is not inevitable but depends partly on whether we have the good fortune to develop as moral agents in a society that provides the right conditions for realizing our moral potential. But morality need not depend on luck. We can take charge of our moral fate by deliberately shaping our social environment—by engaging in scientifically informed “moral institutional design.” For the first time in human history, human beings can determine what sort of morality is predominant in their societies and what kinds of moral agents they are.
For fifty years now, Darwinian approaches to human affairs have shed light and raised heat on the vexed question of why and how morality emerged, survived, changed, and progressed over the course from before prehistory to contemporary posthistory. Allen Buchanan's powerful argument culminates this program of research in a magisterial statement that is both sobering about morality's origins and hopeful about its future and our own.
Alex Rosenberg, R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy, Duke University; author of How History Gets Things Wrong
In Our Moral Fate, Allen Buchanan brilliantly inserts social and political institutions into an evolutionary account of human moral development. He shows convincingly that evolution has created human capacities for inclusive as well as exclusive moralities, depending on the quality of the institutional environment that people face.
Robert O. Keohane, Professor of International Affairs Emeritus, Princeton University
Whether and if so in what sense human animals are progressive moral beings is a perennial question across philosophy as well as the social and natural sciences. In this brilliant and daring book, Allen Buchanan shows that 'tribalism' is not our moral fate. But he also does not allow us to fall into an anthropological moral slumber, as inclusive morality remains an achievement that requires work and luck.
Rainer Forst, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main