Eckart Voland

Prof. em. Dr. rer. nat. (Philosophy of Biology)

Who benefits from the good? The biological evolution of human morality

At first glance, hardly any aspect of human life appears to contradict Darwinian interpretations of the world as thoroughly as human morality. Whereas pertinent research in recent decades has made it clear that altruistic behavior can be deemed to be an evolutionary adaptation in many naturalistic scenarios, the circumstances are not quite so clear, with regard to the origin of the ability to make moral judgements generated in the conscience. The problem is that the mostly non-consequential judgement of conscience appears to contradict the consequential operation of natural selection. There are well-justified indications that the biological evolution of conscience and thus the typically human moral ability – other than frequently surmised – is not to be understood as an evolutionary reflex offering social orientation to social cooperation and complexity, but had its origin in the cooperative breeding communities, and therefore, in the conflict-laden intimacy of social proximity. If this hypothesis is accurate, the question of who benefits from conscience - namely the owner of the conscience or those who shape it - is definitely not trivial in an evolutionary adaptive sense.

Supported by: Alfried Krupp Institute for Advanced Studies, Greifswald.

A list of publications derived from this project can be found here.

Family Reconstitution of the Krummhörn (Ostfriesland, 1720-1874): Biological adaptation of human reproductive strategies

In this project, the primary issue was to check hypotheses on human reproductive behavior guided by sociobiology and behavioral ecology against the population of East Frisian Krummhörn, the marsh region northwest of the city of Emden, which was reconstituted on the basis of 18th and 19th century parish records and tax lists. Ultimately, the issue was to what extent the evolutionary biology concept of adaptation is suitable for explaining socio-cultural behavioral variability. The "Krummhörn Database" served as the empirical foundation of this research. This database contains vital and social statistical information of 120,852 persons (34,708 families) from 33 neighboring parishes in all.

Many years of support by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

The database (German-language) can be accessed at the repository of Gesis – Leibnitz Institut für Sozialwissenschaften Köln.

Here you find an introduction to the database.

A list of publications derived from this project can be found here.