The largest and most comprehensive survey of morals across 60 societies – including Indian – by researchers at the University of Oxford has concluded that there are seven rules common to all, reflecting commonality across cultures.
The seven rules are: ‘help you family, help your group, return favours, be brave, defer to superiors, divide resources fairly, and respect others’ property’, says the study titled ‘Is It Good to Cooperate? Testing the Theory of Morality-as-Cooperation in 60 Societies’.
Previous studies have looked at some of these rules in some places – but at all in a large representative sample of societies. The study by experts at Oxford’s Institute of Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology has been published in ‘Current Anthropology’.
The team analysed ethnographic accounts of ethics from 60 societies, comprising over 600,000 words from over 600 sources, a statement from the university said.
Oliver Scott Curry, lead author, said: “The debate between moral universalists and moral relativists has raged for centuries, but now we have some answers. People everywhere face a similar set of social problems, and use a similar set of moral rules to solve them”.
“As predicted, these seven moral rules appear to be universal across cultures. Everyone everywhere shares a common moral code. All agree that cooperating, promoting the common good, is the right thing to do.’
The study tested the theory that morality evolved to promote cooperation, and that – because there are many types of cooperation – there are many types of morality. According to this theory of ‘morality as cooperation’, kin selection explains why we feel a special duty of care for our families, and why we abhor incest.
Mutualism explains why we form groups and coalitions (there is strength and safety in numbers), and hence why we value unity, solidarity, and loyalty. Social exchange explains why we trust others, reciprocate favours, feel guilt and gratitude, make amends, and forgive.
Conflict resolution explains why we engage in costly displays of prowess such as bravery and generosity, why we defer to our superiors, why we divide disputed resources fairly, and why we recognise prior possession.
The research found, first, that these seven cooperative behaviours were always considered morally good. Second, examples of most of these morals were found in most societies.
There were no counter-examples – no societies in which any of these behaviours were considered morally bad. The morals were observed with equal frequency across continents; they were not the exclusive preserve of ‘the West’ or any other region, the university added.
First Published: Feb 12, 2019 21:30 IST
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