Printable Summary

Evolution and the Capacity for Commitment
Edited by Randolph M. Nesse
Russell Sage Press, New York, 2001
Forward-- Herbert Gintis
1. The Evolution of Subjective Commitment-Randolph M. Nesse
2. Commitment: Deliberate vs. Voluntary-Thomas C. Schelling
3. Cooperation through Emotional Commitment -Robert Frank
4. Game-theoretic Interpretations of Commitment-Jack Hirshleifer
5. Threat displays in animal communication: handicaps, reliability, and commitments- Eldridge S. Adams
6. Subjective commitment in non-humans: What should we be looking for, and where should be looking?-Lee Dugatkin
7. Grunt, Girneys and good Intentions: The Origins of Commitment in Nonhuman Primates-Joan B. Silk
8. Honor and faking "honorability"-Dov Cohen and Joe Vandello
9. The Biology of Commitment to Groups: A Tribal Instincts Hypothesis--Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd
10. Morality and Commitment-Michael Ruse
11. Commitment in the Clinic-Randolph M. Nesse
12. Law and the Biology of Commitment-Oliver R. Goodenough
13. Religion as Commitment-William Irons
14. The Future of Commitment-Randolph M. Nesse
Commitment is at the core of social life. We live in a social fabric woven from a warp of promises and a weft of threats, and
we spend much of our lives deciding which commitments are credible, and trying to manage our own commitments and
reputations. Classical economics and sociobiology sometimes seem to suggest that this should not be too hard, because
people should generally act in ways that benefit themselves or their genes. While reciprocity and kin selection are indeed
powerful principles, attempts to force all behavior into their Procrustean bed have aroused much intellectual consternation
and moral indignation. This conflict has deepened the rift between biological and social sciences. Commitment offers a
bridge across this chasm. In this book, some of the world’s most distinguished researchers examine the nature of
commitment, and the question of whether our capacities for making, assessing and keeping commitments have been shaped
by natural selection. Many commitments are fairly straightforward attempts influence others by giving up options and
thereby making it worthwhile to fulfill the commitment. Examples include burning your bridges behind you or signing a
contract. However many commitments are not enforced by such tangible incentives. These subjective commitments are
enforced by pledges of reputation and by emotions. Some are benevolent, such as a promise of life-long love. Others are not,
such as a threat to murder a straying spouse. Although some such commitments may seem irrational in the extreme, they
nonetheless influence us. Commitment thus offers a possible evolutionary explanation for irrational passions that are
otherwise difficult to explain, and for our moral capacities.
“This is a revelatory book that carries us beyond premature conclusion about innate selfishness that, if accepted, erode human
relationships based on any other premise. Any one looking for a rigorous alternative to Darwin’s ‘universal acid,’ should
read this book.”
---Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
“This is a very valuable contribution to our understanding of commitment which no serious student of the subject will wish to
---Robert Trivers
“Nothing is more basic to the human condition than the capacity for commitment, and nothing is more important to the
capacity than its biological underpinnings and evolution. Randolph Nesse, serving as editor and connecting essayist, and the
other authors of Evolution and the Capacity for Commitment are among the leaders in and around this newly emerging field
of scholarship.”
---Edward O. Wilson
“Exploring the emotional make up of our species while firmly staying within an evolutionary framework, the volume spells
out better than any before what is wrong with a narrow focus on human selfishness.”
---Frans deWaal
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