Title

Moral Parochialism Misunderstood: A Reply to Piazza and Sousa

DOI

10.1098/rspb.2015.2628

Abstract

Our paper [1] compared two competing hypotheses. The hypothesis that we label universalistic moral evaluation holds that a definitional feature of reasoning about moral rules is that, ceteris paribus, judgements of violations of rules concerning harm, rights or justice will be insensitive to spatial or temporal distance or the opinions of authority figures. The hypothesis that we label moral parochialism, consonant with a variety of theories of the evolutionary origins of morality, holds that, because moral judgements primarily serve to navigate local social arenas, remote events will not activate the mechanisms that generate negative moral evaluation to the same extent as events occurring in the here and now, whereas the consent of local authority figures will temper condemnation. Hence, moral parochialism predicts that the collective output of the faculties responsible for moral judgement will exhibit a reduction in the severity of judgement as a function of spatial or temporal distance or the opinions of local authority figures. We provided evidence from seven diverse societies, including five small-scale societies, showing that such reductions in severity judgements exist in all of the societies examined.

Piazza and Sousa [2] argue that our data do not support parochialism, and instead support universalism, because

(1) Only a minority of our participants reversed their initial judgement of the wrongness of an action (from wrong to not wrong or good) when it was subsequently framed as having occurred long ago or far away, or as having been sanctioned by authority figures.
(2) Our use of graduated moral judgements, rather than dichotomous judgements, is inappropriate.
(3) Only a minority of our participants diminished the severity of their initial judgement of the wrongness of an action when it was subsequently framed as having occurred long ago or far away, or as having been sanctioned by an important person.

These objections stem from misunderstandings of moral parochialism and the evolutionary reasoning behind it.

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1-20-2016

Comments

Refer to Dr. Christopher von Rueden's website for further information.

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2016 Royal Society Publishing. This article first appeared in Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283:1823 (2016).