The Evolutionary Perspective
Chapter 2: Progress in law: towards genuine ethics
Chapter 2 provides an interpretation of the history of law from the anthropological perspective proposed in this book: it is argued that the history can be interpreted as a process of overcoming evolutionary ethics and moving closer to genuine ethics. In the early stages of the history of law, legal rules had a twofold character: (1) they counteracted our immoral tendencies by penalizing the most elementary forms of moral wrongdoing (such as murder, theft, fraud), caused by our immoral tendencies; (2) they were almost fully expressive of our moral tendencies, shaped by natural selection. Accordingly, even though they counteracted primary evil, they generated (and also constituted) secondary evil, because the moral tendencies of which they were expressive are morally ambivalent, and as such give rise to an inferior form of ethics. The core of the legal systems which have appeared in the course of history has not substantially changed: all – or almost all – have contained rules against murder, theft, fraud, and so on, which are necessary for the stability of social orders. But both the form of these rules and the other (noncore) rules underwent a serious change, which can be interpreted as a radical departure from the evolutionary ethics. The progress of law can therefore be viewed as reflecting a transition from rudimentary – evolutionary – ethics to genuine ethics.
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