The Psychological Foundations of Culture

By Mark Schaller; Christian S. Crandall | Go to book overview
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Biological Foundations
of Moral Norms
Dennis Krebs
Maria Janicki

Simon Fraser University

All people acquire beliefs about how they should and should not behave. When such beliefs are adopted by most members of a culture, they constitute moral norms. How do moral norms originate and spread? Why do people preach them and behave in accordance with them? Why are some moral norms universal, and others relative to particular cultures? In this chapter we argue that to answer such questions, we must attend to the biological foundations of the mental mechanisms that give rise to moral norms and other aspects of culture.


If you ask laypeople where they get their morals, they will give you such answers as: “Morals are taught to us at a young age by our parents directly and by society indirectly. “Morals are passed on to us via overt direction (e.g., be kind to others) and less overt means, such as imitation. “People learn morals from social custom and conformity to group norms. If you ask laypeople what role inherited dispositions play in the acquisition of morality, they will probably answer, “little or none. Indeed, most laypeople believe that to become moral, people must be taught to resist the temptations of the flesh, to oppose their animal instincts, and to suppress or sublimate their natural urges.


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