The Evolutionary Roots of Morality

by David Loye
Benjamin Franklin Press, 2010


Darwin's ultimate interest, according to David Loye, was in the evolution of human moral sensitivity. Credit: "Darwin" by Barry Bruner.

When most people think of evolution, the first thing that comes to mind is either survival of the fittest or selfish genes. Yet the psychologist and system theorist David Loye argues this is a misreading of the gist of evolutionary theory and the intent of that theory’s founder. Moreover, misreading Charles Darwin has severe social consequences: it fosters the belief that the worst side of humanity is bound to win.

Darwin’s ultimate interest, Loye argues, was in the evolution of human moral sensitivity. He adds that Darwin’s celebrated principle of natural selection was just the first stage on the way to moral development. Loye founded the Darwin Project, with a council of over sixty natural and social scientists, to promote the view that moral development is at the heart of evolution.

Loye is familiar to Tikkun readers (his most recent article appeared in the November/December 2010 issue on Spirit and Science). He has written several books about partnership relations, worked as a pioneering television reporter, and served on the faculties of Princeton and UCLA. Yet despite his credentials he couldn’t get his work about Darwin published by a mainstream press because it violated academic conventional wisdom. This led Loye to start his own publishing company, Benjamin Franklin Press.

The two books reviewed here lack the “polish” of mainstream books: the printing is not easy on the eyes, and there are significant spelling errors. Yet the surface “roughness” of these books conceals the fact that they bear messages found, to my knowledge, nowhere else. The books are a must-read for anyone interested in reconciling science and spirit. They are also guideposts for tracing the origins of our society’s prevailing ethos of selfishness and replacing that with an ethos of caring.

Darwin’s Lost Theory details Darwin’s view of moral development, mainly from the 1871 book Descent of Man (with its unfortunate sexist title) and some unpublished notebooks. It explores connections Darwin drew between moral development and natural selection, the central theory of Darwin’s more widely read Origin of Species (1858). Darwin’s 2nd Revolution details the history of evolutionary theory after Darwin’s death. It traces the work of scholars who distorted the theory into a message of endless competition and ultimate meaninglessness, and the opposing work of other scholars who synthesized evolution with cooperation and meaning. I review Loye’s two books in succession.


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Dan Levine is a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington and a member of the Darwin Project Council. His review of Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell appeared in the November/December 2006 issue of Tikkun.

Source Citation

Levine, Dan. 2011. The Evolutionary Roots of Morality. Tikkun 26(3).

tags: Biodiversity, Books, Eco-Spirituality, Reviews   
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  1. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Rethinking Darwin to uncover the Evolutionary Roots of Morality

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