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The Ruffin Series of the Society for Business Ethics

Volume 4, 2004

Business, Science, and Ethics

Leda Cosmides
Pages 93-128

Knowing Thyself
The Evolutionary Psychology of Moral Reasoning and Moral Sentiments

“Ought” cannot be derived from “is,” so why should facts about human nature be of interest to business ethicists? In this article, we discuss why the nature of human nature is relevant to anyone wishing to create a more just and humane workplace and society. We begin by presenting evolutionary psychology as a research framework, and then present three examples of research that illuminate various evolved cognitive programs. The first involves the cognitive foundations of trade, including a neurocognitive mechanism specialized for a form of moral reasoning: cheater detection. The second involves the moral sentiments triggered by participating in collective actions, which are relevant to organizational behavior. The third involves the evolved programs whereby our minds socially construct groups, and how these can be harnessed to reduce racism and foster true diversity in the workplace. In each case, we discuss how what has been learned about these evolved programs might inform the study and practice of business ethics.

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