How the Moral Community Evolves

Rachell Powell, Irina Mikhalevich, Allen Buchanan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Moral reasoning is modulated by emotions and other cognitive biases. How do these covert biasing mechanisms shape perceptions of more fundamental moral categories, such as moral standing and moral status (together, “MSS”), out of which specific moral attitudes and behaviors flow? This chapter explains the centrality of MSS to human evolution, and examines several evolved biases that distort MSS ascription. These include tendencies to deny moral standing, or to attribute lower moral status, to beings that elicit feelings of disgust or fear, as well as to those that are perceived as less similar, less attractive, less individualized, and less disposed toward reciprocal cooperation. These adaptive mechanisms may have served human groups well in the evolutionary past, but in the modern world they pose an obstacle to moral progress and play a key role in moral regression. The chapter argues that these biases have also influenced philosophical and scientific research on animal minds. The aim is to develop a richer, biocultural understanding of how conceptions of the moral community evolve.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRethinking Moral Status
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780192894076
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • adaptation
  • animal minds
  • attitudes evolution
  • biases
  • moral progress
  • moral status
  • reasoning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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