Christopher Boehm has been studying the interplay between the desires of an individual and that of the larger group for more than 40 years. He has conducted fieldwork with both human and nonhuman primates and has published more than 60 scholarly articles and books on the problem of altruism. In his newest book, “Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame”, Boehm synthesizes this research to address the question of why, out of all the social primates, are humans so altruistic?
“There are two ways of trying to create a good life,” Boehm states. “One is by punishing evil, and the other is by actively promoting virtue.” Boehm’s theory of social selection does both. The term altruism can be defined as extra-familial generosity (as opposed to nepotism among relatives). Boehm thinks the evolution of human altruism can be understood by studying the moral rules of hunter-gatherer societies. What he has found is in direct opposition to Ayn Rand’s selfish ideal—generosity or altruism is always favored toward relatives and nonrelatives alike, with sharing and cooperation being the most cited moral values.