The Origins of Shared Intuitions of Justice

Document Type

Book Chapter

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This chapter addresses the question of how people with different situations and backgrounds can agree on judgments that are so complex and subjective. The first section describes how evolutionary processes, most notably natural selection, operate to preserve both anatomical and behavioral traits that helped to solve challenges regularly encountered by ancestors over evolutionary time. It explains how the process of solving these challenges can lead to common psychological preferences in humans, including some general moral preferences. More specifically, it suggests how evolutionary processes can result in shared intuitions of justice relating to punishment for wrongdoing. The second section examines findings from animal studies, brain science research, and child development research. While none of the evidence can offer definitive proof, it supports the evolutionary explanation and there is no evidence that contradicts it. The third section considers the best alternative explanation: social learning—the claim that shared intuitions of justice are learned through interaction with one's surroundings.


judgments, justice, evolution, natural selection, social learning

Publication Title

Intuitions of Justice and the Utility of Desert