Strong reciprocity and the roots of human morality

Herbert Gintis, Joseph Henrich, Samuel Bowles, Robert Boyd, Ernst Fehr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


Human morality is a key evolutionary adaptation on which human social behavior has been based since the Pleistocene era. Ethical behavior is constitutive of human nature, we argue, and human morality is as important an adaptation as human cognition and speech. Ethical behavior, we assert, need not be a means toward personal gain. Because of our nature as moral beings, humans take pleasure in acting ethically and are pained when acting unethically. From an evolutionary viewpoint, we argue that ethical behavior was fitness-enhancing in the years marking the emergence of Homo sapiens because human groups with many altruists fared better than groups of selfish individuals, and the fitness losses sustained by altruists were more than compensated by the superior performance of the groups in which they congregated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-253
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Justice Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Altruism
  • Evolution
  • Human nature
  • Morality
  • Reciprocity
  • Sociobiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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