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© Cambridge University Press 2012. Natural selection results in organisms that appear designed to maximize their inclusive fitness (Figure 2.1; Hamilton 1964, 1970). Our null hypothesis is therefore that people, like all organisms, behave in ways which reveal that their ultimate goal is inclusive fitness maximization. Saying that people appear designed to maximize their inclusive fitness does not imply that they are aware of this design objective or that they will achieve maximum possible inclusive fitness. Evolutionary theory does not predict that humans will intentionally try to maximize anything. This statement does not imply an absence of individual autonomy of action; natural selection has not hard-wired all of our behaviours and decisions. However, in large part, it has defined which things cause people to experience pleasant or unpleasant emotions and sensations. For example food, sex, friendship, being of use to others, a sense of security and social recognition are enjoyable, while hunger, pain, fear, failure and ostracism are unpleasant. These preferences mean that people derive pleasure from, and direct their behaviour toward, evolutionarily beneficial outcomes. In short, humans are largely free to do what they want (they can choose how to satisfy their desires), but they are not free to want what they want (their desires are shaped by evolved preferences).

Original publication





Book title

Evolution and Rationality: Decisions, Co-Operation and Strategic Behaviour

Publication Date



23 - 49