Universal Norms in a Diverse World
There are, evidently, at least seven:
What’s more, the theory leads us to expect that, because there are many types of cooperation, there will be many types of morality. Kin selection explains why we feel a special duty of care for our families, and why we abhor incest. Mutualism explains why we form groups and coalitions (there is strength and safety in numbers), and hence why we value unity, solidarity, and loyalty. Social exchange explains why we trust others, reciprocate favors, feel guilt and gratitude, make amends, and forgive. And conflict resolution explains: why we engage in costly displays of prowess such as bravery and generosity; why we defer to our superiors; why we divide disputed resources fairly; and why we recognize prior possession.
And, as predicted by the theory, these seven moral rules – love your family, help your group, return favors, be brave, defer to authority, be fair, and respect others’ property – appear to be universal across cultures. My colleagues and I analyzed ethnographic accounts of ethics from 60 societies (comprising over 600,000 words from over 600 sources)2. We found that these seven cooperative behaviors were always considered morally good. We found examples of most of these morals in most societies. Crucially, there were no counter-examples – no societies in which any of these behaviors were considered morally bad. And we observed these morals with equal frequency across continents; they were not the exclusive preserve of ‘the West’ or any other region.