Saturday, October 11, 2014

Inequity Aversion and the Limits to Human Social Integration
My friend Ron White raises the following question on the International Political Science Association Research Committee #12 Facebook page:
Ronald F. White Ken Blanchard Jr.....why not get back to Book 5 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics? Why not explore the evolution of retribution and distribution based on MERIT, NEED, EQUALITY, and UTILITY? And of course the conflicts that arise at different, times, places and degrees. I've always found this "cooperation research" to be a bit left-leaning....overly focused on need and equality. Don't you?
I reply: no.  I think cooperation research captures the tension between Aristotle’s two moral/political books.  The Nicomachean Ethics begins with the assumption that the human thing is the deliberate action of some individual human being:
Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good. 
The Politics begins with the assumption that the human thing is the cooperative association
Every polis is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for human beings always act in order to obtain that which they think good.
As usual, I think Aristotle’s approach is perfect.  You can’t understand human beings without looking at us from both points of view.  Having digested de Waal and Brosnan’s article in Science, I think it supports Aristotle’s approach. 
“The Evolution of Responses to (Un)fairness” distinguishes two forms of inequity aversion.  First Order IA presents when a partner in some cooperative activity objects to a distribution of the fruits of the partnership that weighs to the objector’s disadvantage.  This form of inequity aversion has been found among a range of species that routinely cooperate. 
Second order IA presents when a partner responds negatively to an inequitable distribution of the fruits of cooperation that benefits the objector.  If I read the article correctly, this form has been found only in chimpanzees and human beings. 
What I make of this is that selfish reciprocity (I cooperate only in so far as I benefit) has much deeper evolutionary roots than conscientious reciprocity (I am concerned both for me and my partner).  Human beings are capable of cooperation on a level that leaves all the other primates far behind.  The emergence of human moral and political is a result, in large part, of the runaway selection for second order IA.  That indeed points toward a “socialist” view of man.  Nonetheless, second order IA is dependent upon first order IA, and the latter has deeper roots.  Anthropoi are not, and will not be in any practical timeframe, hymenoptera.  Human beings remain individuals, each with his or her own interests.  Any cooperative community can flourish only if the interests of each of the members is implicit in the interest of the whole.  The human community that is most in accord with human nature is one in which the rights of individuals are fundamental. 

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