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Game Theory, Evolution, and Morality with Oliver Scott Curry



Dr. Oliver Scott Curry is the research director of Kindlab, and a researcher at Oxford’s School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography as well as the London School of Economics’ Center for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science. His work weaves philosophy, psychology, and anthropology together to tackle questions about the nature of human morality. In this episode, we discuss his theory of morality as cooperation, and the evolutionary and game theory perspectives that underpin it. We also compare and contrast his theory with Moral Foundations Theory, Richard Shweder’s “big three” ethics, and the Relationship Regulation Theory of morality.


APA citation: Cazzell, A. R. (Host). (2020, February 4). Game Theory, Evolution, and Morality with Oliver Scott Curry [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from https://www.ambercazzell.com/post/msp-ep25-oliverscottcurry


NOTE: This transcript was generated automatically. Please excuse typos and errors.


Oliver Curry: 01:10 The first time I realized I was really interested in morality, we had a board game called scribbles, which is like a moral dilemma version of trivial pursuit. I remember thinking you pose more of them as people predict what they would say. And I remember thinking, these are really fascinating questions and I would really like to know what the right answer is. So I was always fascinated in with morality and what's the difference between right and wrong and how can you tell. And when I went to university, the really the only place you could study it was in philosophy. And I actually ended up in a, you know, political science department, but at the sort of political theory in there, all the people, all the usual suspects, everything from Plato to NATO arguing about political systems but also human nature and whether people are naturally good or naturally bad and what you should do with them. And I remember thinking, this is all fascinating, but why are we working with ancient Greek?


Oliver Curry: 02:12 Theories of human nature when there's all this amazing work going on in the actual theory of human nature, in the evolution of humans in primatology and in game theory and the evolution of cooperation. And altrusim and all the rest. So I've always been interested in, in routing where it comes from and how it works. But I was, I followed the siren call of science to say, well, let's look at all these, if we're going to do this, this, do it properly. That's used the latest and best. There's human of nature. And so my my PhD for example, was on evolutionary accounts morality, all the various different accounts. And at the end of my PhD, I, the short version is, I kind of had enough of arguing the toss with philosophers and wants to make a more substantial contribution to this field. So I through a roundabout route and I sort of retrained to do vertical work and ended up doing psychology experiments in an anthropology department.


Amber Cazzell: 03:15 Wow. That's very cool. So what, what was that roundabout retraining? How did you pull that off?


Oliver Curry: 03:22 Well was, well the key was actually a very kind gesture by John Tooby and Lede Cosmides who I'd known for a while through mutual friends and conferences. And I think John could tell I was, I wasn't quite sure what to do next. And he invited me to spend a semester or two in his lab in their lab in Santa Barbara, which is like [inaudible]. And that was a an amazing experience for all kinds of reasons, but especially cause I just got to see how to conceive of and conduct, empirical studies, primarily psychology studies. But generally what empirical work consists of. And I had, I had a chance to put that into action with some when I came back to the UK with a series of postdocs where I was designing and running studies and learning and then teaching stats. So yeah it was, I picked it up here and there, but I had a big boost from a job.


Amber Cazzell: 04:29 Very cool. So with your theory of morality as cooperation, at what point did you start to kind of put that into words? It sounds like you were already working from that paradigm from a pretty early point.


Oliver Curry: 04:43 Yeah, so it's really, it's really what my PhD was about. This, this sort of version one and in mine, which was was 2005 so quite well quite while ago. And in the point of the PHD was just to say, look, this is not, you know, this is not a mystery anymore. There's nothing magical or strange about relative. We have a whole range of, of theories that explain what morality is and where it comes from and how it works. And initially, I suppose initially it was initially a matter of just identifying a number of different theories in the literature. So theories of cooperation and altruism and prosocial behavior. So obviously can altruism and reciprocity, but also just, you know, reading a bit of game theory, reading a bit of on Smith and realizing, Oh wow, this, there's a whole, there's all these other types of corporation.


Oliver Curry: 05:42 And they also explained bits of our social behavior and they all say that matches up with some of the things that philosophers celebrate as part of morality. So my PhD was really saying, look, there's a whole, there's a whole range of different theories here and they're not competing with one another. They're, they're complimentary. And what they have in common is they all the, the underlying logic is they're all examples of ways of realizing mutual benefits, ways of solving it, game theory, non zero sum problems. So he's, it is a general framework with all these different types of, encompasses all these different types of cooperation explaining these different types of routing. So the basic, the basic argument was there, but there's a few gaps in and but like I say, it took me awhile to figure out how to do, how to how proof of work and what kind of, what would be sufficient to a sufficient vehicle to, to to show off that theory to, to show what he's capable of.


Amber Cazzell: 06:45 Really interesting. So when I was reading through a book chapter of yours about morality as cooperation, I was wondering like how you define cooperation and just a minute ago you said something about mutual benefit. So it does, is cooperation generally speaking, does that boil down to mutual benefit?


Oliver Curry: 07:09 Yes. So I mean I don't, I haven't invented any novel definitions on just I would start with the, the game theory concept of the, of the non zero sum game. So a zero sum game is one where your gain is my loss, but non zero sum game is one way we could both win certainly. So we'd win situation a non zero sum game and there are, it's not exactly clear how many games there are that one. There's a great book called that I think it's called the periodic table of games. And they try and map out all the hundreds of different games that are different. So different mathematically distinct types of social interaction. There are, and they, they organize them in different ways. But at one point you say there's 12 different families of games and many of those are non zero sum game. So it's, that's a really rich seam of of information that I think people interested in morality are not really making the, most of my reading is at least at least seven well-established types of cooperation that we have. Good, good game theory for good evolutionary theory for. And at the end it seem to be present in human behavior, but there might be more, but there's at least seven.


Amber Cazzell: 08:32 Yeah. So let, let's talk about those seven. Could you go through kind of each of those with me and what examples are of each?


Oliver Curry: 08:43 Sure. So I mean, I'm getting the seven types and these are sort of labels or categories, but, so the categories, kinship, mutualism, social exchange, hawkishness dovishness, division and possession. And roughly speaking, they map onto, onto, well. So the first one is is about kin selection and kin altruism, which explains why we, why we love and care for our families and why we feel that wise to take extra special care of them. Mutualism is about the benefits of working with a team as opposed to working on your own. You achieve more together. Then by going it alone and explains why we are, why we form groups, why we value on membership in those groups, why we resent people who uwho leave and juice the juice, the power of our group, especially if they leave to join a rival group, socially social exchanges is your old standard.


Oliver Curry: 09:48 Reciprocity explains why we do people favors and why we expect them. Those favors to be returned and why we get angry or punish people that failed to return the favors and a host of other sort of sub-components. Gratitude and guilt and forgiveness and apology. The, the, the rest are all examples of ways of resolving conflict. So minimizing the mutual costs of conflict. And this is, this was actually the first, the analysis, the hawk-dove game was the first example of someone using either she came through to explain social behavior. So this is what John Maynard Smith's papers in the early seventies were about. And the basic idea is you and I could have a fight over, over some resorts over territory or mates or food or something and whoever was the strongest would win. But we both be injured from the fight. So instead of doing that, if instead of doing that, we show off how strong we are, we, we just play off fighting ability.


Oliver Curry: 10:55 And if we flew our muscles each other and whoever has the smaller muscles backs off, then the outcome is the same. The strong, the stronger party still wins. But both benefit from, in terms of avoiding the mutual costs off the fight. And this is enormously, this is a very widespread aspect of animal behavior in general. And it gives rise to costly displays of prowess and cuse of dominance and cues submission and gives rise to dominance hierarchies. And so we'd asked. That gives rise to too costly dispraise of prowess like bravery and generosity or conspicuous altruism or sometimes called competitive altruism. And on the flip side it gives rise to doveish displays of deference, of humility, of respect, of quietude, of being a good loser. Other ways to resolve disputes are to divide the resource rather than fight for all of it. So share it out fairly.


Oliver Curry: 11:59 And finally, number seven, another way of resolving disputes is to defer to prior ownership. So follow the rule, whoever got there first, keeps it. So these are all these, we'll just standard, well established aspects of, you know, these are straightforward examples of cooperation in the literature, in the, in the game theory and in animal behavior. And they, and they map onto, you know, humans look after their families. We form groups, we trade, we engage in heroic displays, we show deference to our superiors, we're fair, and we respect authority. So all these, all these sort of behavioral rules, if you like, all ways of realizing some mutual benefit of solving some courtship problems. And they just provide a sort of a menu of things that philosophers have celebrated as important parts of relative where it needs to be good. So whether it's special obligations to kin or group loyalty or trust and reciprocity are bravery, or respect fairness, the prohibition of theft, for example.


Amber Cazzell: 13:09 So that's all really interesting. And I'm wondering if you could connect the hawkish contest back to morality with me. This is the one that I think I have the trickiest time wrapping my mind around. So like if somebody is, you know, showing off their muscles, for instance, to avoid a costly actual fight or, or contest, how, how, how does that connect with morality? Because for me, I don't usually think that if a fight is about to break out and somebody doesn't, you know, show their prowess before that fight, I don't necessarily fault them morally for that. Although obviously fighting is itself not a good thing.


Oliver Curry: 13:58 Yeah, it's definitely a, it's definitely one of these things is not like the others, but I think David Hume gave a very good account of it. So he distinguished between the, what he called, the heroic virtues and the monkish for that choose. So that the heroic virtues were worth things like displaying how, how strong or brave or skillful or generous or in some cases how, how beautiful you were and the monkish first use where if you realize you've invested and showing humility, respect and obedience and so on. And I think, so his point is that by, by showing off those, those, what he called shining virtues, these heroic virtues, if, if by showing them off, you deter people from starting fights, that they would absolutely lose ultimately to the mutual detriment of everyone. And that creates a comp that that creates a common benefit that is, that promotes a comportment.


Oliver Curry: 14:59 But they are a bit different to the two other types of moralities. And so some philosophers talk about these, these kinds of virtues as superogatory. So you're not blamed for not having them. You know, you can't help it if you don't have strong muscles or you or you're not in a position to show off by being conspicuously altruistic or something, but you so they're kind of above and beyond the call of duty. But if you do have these traits and if you do show them off in that way and then they're considered admirable and morally,


Amber Cazzell: 15:35 What was that last part?


Oliver Curry: 15:36 And morally commendable. Send this for example, is what Alasdair McIntyre talks about in his work on virtues on he says, he says, you know, my moral philosophy is missed out, you know, overlooks all the classical virtues, the things that Homer and Plato and Aristotle celebrated as part of morality. And he went, he talks about all these, all the same kinds of traits. And lo and behold, if you take a broader view of equally game theory, there's a place for them right there. So we can, the theories can accommodate those observations too.


Amber Cazzell: 16:18 Yeah, it's interesting. I almost wonder if it's, it is like a timing or just living in a westernized country or something. It's still, it's still just hard for me to wrap my mind around this idea that, that people who look stronger or like beauty was another example, something like that, that they're assigned more of a more of a moral commendability or something like that. Is that, is there evidence of that in like empirical evidence? I mean,


Oliver Curry: 16:55 Well, I mean, you're right in the sense that in living in modern Western societies where we've outsourced a lot of conflict resolution to essential authority, the, these things that don't seem as important to us and don't do as large, but if you're living in a if you're living in this in a smaller scale society where the onus is on you to protect yourself and your family, then these questions are, whether you have a reputation a reputation, you know, is part of of honor of having that reputation, of being able to defend being strong enough to, have to defend yourself, being strong enough to to retaliate against injuries and slights and having, you know, having that, having the capacity to retaliate for example, can deter violence in the first place. In terms of in of, But no, that's a good question. I took my head and I'm not aware of work looking at whether people, well certainly things like like bravery, people regard as morally good, whether whether it extends to those, to the other virtues and in [inaudible].


Amber Cazzell: 18:21 Yeah. Um, okay. Cool. And then so let's, let's dive into some of your critiques or at least comparisons with other existing theories out there. So probably let's start with moral foundations theory since I think a lot of listeners will be familiar with moral foundations theory by now. So what, how does your theory differ from, or add anything to moral foundations theory?


Oliver Curry: 18:51 Well, so one of the interesting things, one of the puzzling things is his morality. His corporation is not the idea that morality has something to do with cooperation. It's not, it's not unique to me. I mean, lots of people say that including Jonathan Haidt and Alan Fiske and others. So there's kind of widespread agreement. That's the function of morality is to promote cooperation or so of these kinds of problems. Unfortunately. But unfortunately the previous theories just haven't, I don't think they've they haven't done it properly. They haven't gone to the mathematics of cooperation to really flesh out this theory as much as they could. Adam's more foundations. There is a is a good example. So when in the papers where the theory is being developed, Jonathan Haidt's explicitly is he, he says that he read, he consulted has a handful of sources to find some examples of what needs to be widespread corporation and he certainly hit on a few, then you've got a few of the few of the answers right.


Oliver Curry: 19:56 But he missed out a whole bunch of other things that were right there in the literature waiting to be found. And I'd always pretty good around. It's, it's, it's it's baffling to me how moral foundations theory, which presents itself as a evolutionary cooperative, account of morality and doesn't have a domain dedicated to family. It doesn't have the domain dedicated to reciprocity it conflates that with fairness, which is two different things and it doesn't have any items and ask you about reciprocity in the questionnaire. It doesn't have a domain dedicated to what we were saying these kind of hawkish heroism, these, these costly displays of prowess, socially beneficial examples and it doesn't have a domain dedicated to property, which is a, another very widespread aspect of cooperation in humans and animals. So I can't think of a possible justification why an evolutionary account of morality would miss out these four of the most important types of cooperation.


Amber Cazzell: 21:02 Yeah. So I I possession the possession one, the idea of property I and, and prior ownership. To me that was kind of an eye opener as something that is pretty obviously missing. The other ones I want to flesh out a little bit more with you because I feel like I kind of get glimmers of, of your perspective on this and then I, and then I lose it. And so hopefully we can flesh that out and I'll be able to stick with it a little bit better. Because like for instance, you were saying, okay, reciprocity is not the same thing as fairness. And I do think that Haidt and his colleagues probably are thinking, well, well yeah, it is the same thing and this is just the language difference between you and I. And so I want to tear into some of those. Also the, the authority one, the authority foundation, I assume they would think, well that that covers both the doveishness and the hawkishness and, and then, you know, he was built off of Shweder's work. So also Shweder's work. He talks a lot about how authority figures are supposed to care for the vulnerable that are under their care. And I think that they just think of these things as of hawkishness and doveishness is two sides of the same coin and they're just talking about the one coin. So I'm wondering if you can kind of tease apart how, like what you would say to, to Jonathan height or Richard Shweder. If they were saying, well, I feel like it is covered in my theory.


Oliver Curry: 22:41 Well, I mean on the, on the reciprocity to start with reciprocity. I mean reciprocity is a solution to repeated prisoners' dilemma, whereas fairness is a solution to a hawk-dove game with a divisible resource. So they're just, it's just too, they're two different games with two different solutions and you know, they often, they occur together. So if you and I are, you know, if you and I are haggling over the price of something, we are trying to resolve the conflict in the context of a reciprocal exchange, but they don't have to occur together. And if you, if you and I are, you know, just having a fight over, you know, where my garden ends and your garden starts and we agree, look, let's just, let's just split the differences. Just put a line down the middle and that's an, that's got nothing to do with reciprocity. That's just, it's, it's a different game with a different solution.


Oliver Curry: 23:38 A proponent of, of moral foundations theory might, could possibly, might want to argue that, well, no, actually think these two things at the same or the games are the same, but they'd be, they'd be going against just, just textbook game theory. And also why bother? Why, why take that fight? It was completely unnecessary. And in terms of, what was the second one you said?


Amber Cazzell: 24:01 In terms of like authority and in group out group with family.


Oliver Curry: 24:08 Yeah. Well, okay so the, the the in group, how could one is another interesting example. So both moral foundations, theory and relational models. Is it relational models, theory modes theory,


Amber Cazzell: 24:21 Rai and Fiske,


Oliver Curry: 24:22 Yes. They both treat family as just another type of group and they, although that and, but, but although they don't moral foundations theory it doesn't, it doesn't have in the, in the questionnaire it doesn't have any items.


Oliver Curry: 24:39 Speaking about family in the group section, this is much about family elsewhere, but families are not, are not just another group. They, there's a different logic to them. And you know, kin selection is not the same theory as a coordination to mutual advantage or mutualism they're two different theories. They explain two different types of social behavior that, that manifest themselves quite differently. And Adam Fiske's distinction is quite interesting cause he is for reasons that escape me. He maps on his different types of social relationships onto scales of measurement. And it makes a big deal of how the starting one is, is once at one scale of measurement is categorical and Oh look, groups, are categorical to your ingroup, or outgroup. And that's, that's a giveaway because families aren't like that. Families aren't on the country. They, there's a, there's a sort of descending degree of relatedness as you, as you go further away.


Oliver Curry: 25:46 So there's no, they're two different things. In theory, they're two different things in, in practice, in animal behavior and human psychology. There's no reasons. Again, I think the onus is on anyone who would want to say the same thing when they, when they clearly not.


Amber Cazzell: 26:04 Really interesting.


Oliver Curry: 26:06 I you just said. And you said about authority too. So yeah, it is the case that's in somewhere in one of the earlier papers, Jonathan hype talks when he's talking about authority, he's, he's, so, he does mention heroism, but that doesn't, that doesn't translate into the questionnaire. So there's no, there's no items about asking about the morality of heroism of those hawkish signals in the questionnaire. The questionnaire is just about that, the doveish side, just about showing respect to authority. So they are they all two sides of the same coin, but only one side of the coin ends up. You already have see one side of the coin in Moral Foundations Theory.


Amber Cazzell: 26:51 Interesting. And how about like what do you make of the purity and division or purity and divinity types in, in moral foundations theory and in Shweder's work?


Oliver Curry: 27:05 Well, I mean, I think there's, there's something going on there, but it's like, it's a grab bag of all kinds of different things. And my suspicion is that when, when it's analyzed properly, it doesn't make sense to treat it as a, as a single category and for a variety of reasons. On the, on the face of it, disgust has got nothing to do with operations or even in moral foundation terms. It's, it's an anomalous category. And Jonathan Haidt says it's an anomaly of morality cause it doesn't have to do with social relations. But there's many disgusting things that aren't immoral. If you, if you encounter, you know, rotten fruit do, you might be disgusting. There's nothing, it only becomes moral. Disgust only becomes a moral issue and it has to do with social behaviors. If, for example, if somebody's sick and they're not covering their mouth while they're coughing near you and it's your health at risk your life and it then it becomes a moral issue. And disgust isn't, isn't unique to those kinds of issues either. People can be disgusted by free riders, they can be disgusted by by you know, outgroup members or people that betray the ingroup and they can discuss it as a, it's an avoidance strategy which can be used to avoid all kinds of bad guys from all the other cooperative domains. It isn't just a, isn't just unique to that slightly mysterious mystical domain activity.


Amber Cazzell: 28:39 Interesting. and so how, like as somebody who's not an evolutionary psychologist and not well versed in that literature, how are these seven different types of cooperation like, like discovered, how exhaustive are they anticipated to be?


Oliver Curry: 29:05 You mean how you mean is seven, are we done with seven? What'd you think?


Amber Cazzell: 29:10 Yeah, yeah. I'm asking. Well, I guess it was two, two parts. So one is like how are these seven different categories uncovered in the first place? Is it just done by, Oh Hey, it seems like people like to return favors. So let's run an experiment on this and then we see this in a bunch of different species and that's how, you know, reciprocity is discovered or how, like is it, I mean, evolutionary theory is usually working from just observations then going back to testing it in with empirical analysis. Right?


Oliver Curry: 29:49 Well not necessarily, I mean it like science in general. It starts with, starts with their theory. It starts with their, a conjecture. This, the seven well-established types of cooperation I've been talking about all, all examples of or good examples of theories that have been put the test and received empirical support. So certainly they could certainly they could, they could be more one, one of my book, but I said, okay, this is that 90% of the work in this area is focused on reciprocity. And the prisoner's dilemma, which is great and interesting base, completely overshadowing all the other types of cooperation and reality out there. And I hope that it's certainly possible that if people broaden their horizons and started investigating these other games, they could come up with all kinds of new discovers.


Amber Cazzell: 30:47 Yeah. Okay. So what, what then like a one comment you had made about the other theories is that there isn't an underlying theory behind them. So like with moral foundations theory, it's like they're just trying to kind of observe shot shots in the dark of, of what kinds of moral foundations are out there. And I guess I'm wondering what sets that apart since moral foundations theory also claims to kind of be based at least loosely off of evolutionary theory. What sets that apart from what you're putting forward here? And I'm assuming the answer is because your, yours is more grounded in game theory in particular.


Oliver Curry: 31:37 Yeah. So all I'm doing is saying if we, if we can, in order to develop the best cooperatives theory of morality, let's start with the mathematics of cooperation. And when you do, you identify, save a little more types and then you're off to the races. Why would you do anything different? Why instead of doing that, would you say, I'm going to read a handful of books and record my impressions as to what's in them? And Jonathan Haidt says in one paper that he, he explicitly says this, this was an ad hoc approach and he explicitly defends taking an ad hoc approach. He says he used something like he rejects on principle, a principled approach. So that's, if that's how you, that's, that's, that's not the best way to start. In doing, doing science. And again, why, why would you do it any differently? Especially if you end up with identifying fewer of the obvious moral domains. Yeah. Yeah.


Amber Cazzell: 32:47 So how are, like how are you taking your work with morality as cooperation in these seven different cooperation principles. How are you taking that and applying it to empirical work?


Oliver Curry: 33:08 Right. Well, so we've just, they're a long time coming, but this year we just published a couple of big projects. So one was, it was a psychology paper developing a morality as cooperation questionnaire where we, we, we develop a, a seven factor measure of these, of these different domains and show that it outperforms the moral foundations questionnaire metric. So not least that it measures a wider variety of moral dispositions, but it performs better in a number of criteria too. So the second paper was recently published in current anthropology and we look to see whether these seven types of operation were Memorial universals, whether people around the world considered them morally good as opposed to more extreme versions of moral relativism, which would say that morality means radically different things in different places. And lo and behold, you found that every we read through thousands of paragraphs, millions of words of ethnographic accounts of ethics from 60 cultures around the world and found about a thousand examples of these cooperative behaviors. And in 99.9% of the cases, these types of the seven types of cooperation work were considered morally good. Have, we found examples of these, most of these in most societies and found them evenly distributed all around the world. So it was very strong evidence that these are indeed, you know, these are not merely Western inventions and it doesn't vary radically. Instead, these seem to be sort of a common core of universal moral principles that everyone everywhere has agrees on.


Amber Cazzell: 35:01 That's fascinating. So how that, that was, how did, was it a human coder that was going through these texts or was there some sort of like a program going through it?


Oliver Curry: 35:15 It w there were three humans going through them.


Amber Cazzell: 35:18 Wow. That's like a massive amount of work. That's impressive.


Oliver Curry: 35:21 Well, it's one, it's one of those projects where if I'd known how much work it was going to be step, I would have started it, but it was too late to still,


Amber Cazzell: 35:30 Yeah. Well here you are now and you can say you've done it and that's really, really cool. Awesome. So then you, you had also mentioned, I'm curious like cross cultural differences in how these different types of how these different types of cooperation are emphasized or not as, as strongly used in a lot of cases. Could you tell me about that? How, how they vary in degree across cultures?


Oliver Curry: 36:06 Yeah, so we didn't, we didn't test that directly, but I don't have data on that at the moment. But the theory is just the theory is just that moral values reflect the value of cooperation. So different people in different societies who benefit from different types of cooperation will have different, different moral values. People who live in extended kin networks in small scales, stable societies, when they're always interacting with the same people and there's a, there's a sort of clear dominance hierarchy will put a lot of emphasis on, will rank highly, we'll prioritize their duties to kin, their loyalty to their group, their deference to the chief kind of thing. Whereas people more like us who live in, you know, lost, lost, anonymous Clinovations where most of our interactions are with nominal strangers. Those, those kinds of moral values would be, we still understand that and we still get the idea with deference and obligations to family, but they don't loom as large as the rules for interacting with strangers like reciprocity or, or fairness. And so that's the, that's the, that's the straightforward prediction from the, from the theory. How come you have a couple of projects underway. This can be gathering, using the moral morality as cooperation questionnaire to gather new data from in one case and 14 European countries. And so we will begin to be able to test that too and to understand the cross cultural differences.


Amber Cazzell: 37:53 Very cool. So can you tell me a bit more about that questionnaire? Like what is it a Likert scale? Is it like story-based? What is, what is that?


Oliver Curry: 38:02 Well, in the, it's exactly the same format as the moral foundations questionnaire. So we wanted to you know, moral foundations gets a lot of things right. And we've so far been talking on talking about the things that are wrong and how, how how you might have a new and improved evolution accountant of morality. But so we wanted to just go we just wanted to go sort of head to head with the moarl foundations questionnaire. So we had the morality as cooperation questionnaire has the same format, so it has this relevance scale and adjustment scale. It has the same questions and same format of items or be it with with different items in different domains.


Amber Cazzell: 38:51 Some of the items that you have on that questionnaire. I'm just curious what examples from each of those are. Or like, especially the ones that I'm less familiar with, like a hawkish contest. Possession, possession seems straightforward but haven't heard a question on things like that.


Oliver Curry: 39:11 Yeah. Okay. So for example, the family items include, you should always put the interests of your family first and people should be willing to do anything to me help them with their family. The rest, frosty items are, you have an obligation. These are all like a question. So do you agree or disagree? Do you have, do you agree that you have an obligation to help those who have helped you? And you should always make amends for things you've done wrong. You should always return a favor. You can. The, the heroism items are courage include courage in the face of adversity is the most apt trait. Society should do more to honor its heroes, somehow join a team. And yeah. And, and that, that's, those are the judgment items. And then similarly for the motive items. So when you're making a moral decision, to what extent is it relevant whether or not someone helps them with their family, whether or not someone did what they agreed to do is as opposed to whether or not someone acted heroically.


Amber Cazzell: 40:28 Interesting. So, um, when, when I, so after talking to Tage Rai, I was on this podcast and after talking to him about his theory, I thought it was really interesting in particular what he was saying about the unity relational model and how that, and how that Simultaneously has a, people have a motivation to draw closer to their ingroup and to kind of freely share with that in group, but also to set themselves apart from an out-group. And so it was kind of a double edged sword. And I'm going back to the question I had asked about like cross cultural differences. I'm wondering about this aspect of the cooperation paradigm as well, it seems like, it seems like when we're talking about morality, Oh, these, these different types of cooperation will, we'll butt heads a lot of times. And so what is good on one level is often detrimental on another level. Is that a problem for like from an evolutionary perspective, it is a, is it a problem that helping your kin might conflict with helping a broader group?


Oliver Curry: 41:47 I mean, I don't think it is a problem. I think it's exactly what the theory would predict. So, you know, people are faced with a range of different co-operative problems or opportunities and it's often the case they have a conflict and they have to choose between them. You know, should I help my family or should I help my group? So that's, I mean, that's what moral dilemmas are made of. So we would expect people to feel conflicted when they're trying to decide should they be, should be, should they be deferential to their boss or should they report that he's been cheating? Should they be a whistleblower and should they, should they you know, the classic Heinz dilemma, should they help their families or should they should they have their families if that means stealing property from someone. So of course these types of cooperate, you couldn't have to often have to choose between these opportunities and that creates dilemmas.


Oliver Curry: 42:47 And it's the same with when it's also the case that people can cooperate to be uncooperative. So for example, you can, you know, there's, there's honor amongst thieves, so thieves can can trust one another and respect one another and all the rest. But they're working together, for example, to Rob the bank to break property rules. So when, when we look at that from it as a neutral observer, we could do, we could do all the things. So we can explain why these, why these robbers might feel the way they do might feel, moral emotions than they do to one another. But also when we, when we pan out and we consider the interests, not just of the robbers but interests of the robbers and the owners of the bank or society at large, we can say yeah or on, on balance. This isn't, this is a core and uncooperative outcome. They, yes, there's some some local morality there, but it was in the service of this and this untoward act. And when we, when we weigh up as it were, the greater good we can complete it. The robbers in the room doing something immoral. They on balance, they were doing something uncooperative, they were to do.


Amber Cazzell: 44:02 So how would you hope that other scholars kind of pick up on this work and start to incorporate it into their own to kind of push the science morality forward?


Oliver Curry: 44:14 Yeah. Well, I mean, I hope that they, that they pick it up and you know, try and test the theory to destruction. You know, I think this is the corporation is the best theory we have of morality. But you know, what do I know? So let's, the brains are both in it. I'm either adding other types of corporations to it or distinguishing some types of cooperation and the better. And like I said at the moment, people is psychotically focused on reciprocity at the expense, all these other things. So I hope that other researchers broaden their horizons a bit and consider, you know, start thinking about moral obligations to families, not thinking or explicitly about heroism and critical these things together. Obviously people, people have looked at these different things in isolation, but what they haven't done is just pulled them all together to have this sort of rich palette.


Oliver Curry: 45:14 And so in terms of specific things, it means that some, you know, I've always dreamed of a being able to look at the, you know, the ages of morality. So I won't, I'll be interested in the genetic basis of these traits. How Hertz, what I'm interested in, how they develop. And what point do you see them emerging in kids? I'm interested in how and why more values vary across time across cultures. And I'm interested in whether you can apply the same cooperative framework to, as it were other flavors of morality to sexual routing and to environmental ethics. So I'm involved in projects looking at some role, some of all of those things, but you know, the, they shouldn't, they shouldn't just be one person or one search group testing this. You know, this, this variety of theories. It should be the more the merrier.


Amber Cazzell: 46:16 Right, right. Are you aware of other research groups out there using your paradigm?


Oliver Curry: 46:23 A few inklings. Yeah. A few green shoots. So there was recently a paper by Liane Young and Ryan Mannis I think was the first looking a fascinating paper, looking at bringing specifically, bringing in motivations to family. And they found that if you, if you ask how barley, somebody who saves a stranger from a building as opposed to how well is someone who saves a family member from the building, people tend to say, Oh, the person, who saves person to saves the stranger. That's, that's not, that's amazing. That's much more, they're more moral than someone we've said. He's a family man. However, if you ask, if you ask the same question but this time the person as it were, runs into the building and has to choose between either saving family member or a stranger and it didn't get the opposite result. If you go into, if you go into a building and ignore your family member, put a stranger out, people think you are a moral monster.


Oliver Curry: 47:27 So the the short information is, it's almost, you know, taking care of your families. So taken for granted. It's such the default position, but you as it were, you don't get any special orders for doing it, but for you, you get in trouble if you don't do for you. If you do that, they that's an example with, you know, adding an extra dimension to their understanding of moral psychology. And they had as the sort of extra bonus they included the morality as corporation questionnaire in their study and found that the degree to which people endorsed the family domain predicted their responses in these. So yeah. So that's an example of, you know, that's make reality a bit more multicolored and include all these different [inaudible]


Amber Cazzell: 48:22 Yeah, that's really cool. You had mentioned you do, you're doing a little bit of work in a number of the things that you had laid out. So it like you would also mentioned work in like sexuality with this, are you working on that now?


Oliver Curry: 48:41 Yeah, in the early stages with Daniel [inaudible] who's done great work on pride shaming. So we're just, we're looking to see whether you see, whether you can understand sexual morality as cooperation about sex as promoting cooperative relations within between the sexes.


Amber Cazzell: 49:10 Interesting. So like what, could you just spell that out a little bit more for me? What it, what is cause between like, so like I understand like kin, like how, how does sexuality play into some of these other cooperation forms?


Oliver Curry: 49:23 Yeah. So some, some people think of sexual morality as a completely different category altogether and they can't imagine what a corporation has to do with it. I'm not so sure and I think they're on closer inspection. Lots of bits of morality will turn out to be of bits of sexual morality will turn out to be exactly the same kinds of cooperative solutions cause the same problems arise sometimes explicitly so. So for example marriage is, it is a contract, it's a kind of reciprocal exchange that people who break that contract called cheats on for instance, people visit. There's that great paper by Joe Henrich talking about monogamy, as a kind of fairness, as, as he basically argues that instead of, instead of having a big fight as to who's going to have the most mates that sort of agree to have one each. So monogamy is a way of resolving conflicts or stalling conflicts between nemesis society and thereby reducing the cost of those conflicts and promoting lots of bits of sexual morality are just straightforward examples of operation where the, the, the resource issue is sex or sexual access as opposed to other things like food or territorry. And so, yeah, so it's still a work in progress, but there's a, a hefty paragraph on sexual morality in the reply to the commentaries in our current anthropology article. So that if you like, is it an abstract of forthcoming attractions.


Amber Cazzell: 51:04 Very cool. Really, really interesting stuff. So I'm also curious, just backtracking a bit here, have you ever had the opportunity to speak with the moral foundations folks or the relational models folks are Shweder about, about this work and your criticisms that their work?


Oliver Curry: 51:26 No, I haven't had the opportunity to speak to them. Jonathan Haidt tweeted to say he, he was looking forward to responding some of my criticisms that they had in behavioral scientists paper criticizing the moral foundations theory. But but I, I'm waiting with bated breath cause he he hasn't replied as yet. I know he's a busy person.


Amber Cazzell: 51:51 Yeah. Yeah. That would be, I'm, I'm looking forward to seeing what he has to say about this. It'll I think the very fascinating,


Oliver Curry: 52:04 I mean, what do you want me to, to their credit, they, they explicitly acknowledge that the five foundations that they started with, they, they don't, they don't pretend that those, they specifically say this is not going to be the final word. There will be additional ones. So I think in some respects he, he, he would be, he would, he would welcome these constructive developments.


Amber Cazzell: 52:32 Yeah. Yeah. He does seem to be open minded. I haven't interacted with him one on one, but from what other people have said about his feedback on their theories and things like that, it seems like he is a very open minded scholar, which is good. So


Oliver Curry: 52:52 I mean I think he's generally a force for good in the world and, but I think that moral psychology could be better suited.


Amber Cazzell: 53:01 Yeah. Yeah, of course. Right. You've got your own theory. So well, awesome. Oliver, thank you so much. I think that, yeah, we're at time here, but thank you so much. I appreciate your conversation. I think this is really helpful and interesting. I've, I've never really come across another theory that tries to break morality down to mathematics, and so I think that's a really unique contribution that has a lot of potential and I'm definitely going to be looking into this more and chewing on it more in the coming weeks. So thanks so much for giving me the best intro into it. Getting to talk right to the source.