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Good for Society

Many characteristics that promote individual well-being also promote the social good, but the two lists are unlikely to be identical. Table 2 lists some candidate traits that might contribute to the good of society.

As with the list for individual well-being, this one is for illustration only. One could create alternative lists for various related questions, such as traits that are good for humanity as a whole, or for sentient life, or for a particular community or traits that specifically help us become better moral agents. While the lists may overlap, they will likely disagree about some characteristics or their relative importance. The evolution heuristic can be applied using any such list as input.

To use such a list with the EOC, we proceed in the same way as with the “good for the individual” source of value discordance. For example, we might have a drug that appears to make those who take it more compassionate. This might seem like a good thing, but why has evolution not already made us more compassionate? Presumably, evolution could easily have produced an endogenous substance with similar effects to the drug; so the likely explanation is that a higher level of compassionateness would not have increased inclusive fitness in the EEA. We may press on and ask why it is that greater compassionateness would have been maladaptive in the EEA. One may surmise that such a trait would have been associated with evolutionary downsides—such as reduced ability credibly to threaten savage retaliation, a tendency to spare the lives of enemies allowing them to come back another day and reverse their defeat, an increased propensity to offer help to those in need beyond what is useful for reciprocity and social acceptance, and so forth. But these very effects, which would have made heightened compassionateness maladaptive for an individual in the EEA, are precisely the kinds of effects which we might believe would be beneficial for the common good today. We do not have to assume that the relevant tradeoffs have changed since the EEA. Even in the EEA, it might have had net good effects for a local population of hunter-gatherers if one person was born with a mutation causing an unusually high level of compassionateness, even though that individual himself might have suffered a fitness penalty. If we accept these premises, then the hypothetical drug that increases compassionateness would pass the EOC. It would be a case where we have reason to think that the wisdom of nature has not achieved what would be best for society and that we could feasibly do better.

 
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