WTM FAQ 5.2  How did we humans acquire our all-loving, unconditionally selfless moral conscience?/ What do bonobos tell us about our own evolutionary heritage?


When Charles Darwin wrote that ‘The moral sense perhaps affords the best and highest distinction between man and the lower animals’ (The Descent of Man, 1871, ch.4) he was recognising that humans have cooperative and loving moral instincts, the ‘voice’ or expression of which is our conscience. And in order to have an instinctive altruistic moral nature, it follows that our distant ape ancestors must have been cooperative and loving, not competitive and aggressive like other animals. But, since altruistic, unconditionally selfless genetic traits are self-eliminating, and therefore seemingly cannot develop in animals, that leaves the question of how could we humans have developed them?

The answer was through nurturing.

While a mother’s maternal instinct to care for her offspring is selfish (which, as mentioned, genetic traits have to be for them to reproduce and carry on into the next generation), from the infant’s perspective the maternalism has the appearance of being selfless. From the infant’s perspective, it is being treated unconditionally selflesslythe mother is giving her offspring food, warmth, shelter, support and protection for apparently nothing in return. So it follows that if the infant can remain in infancy for an extended period and be treated with a lot of seemingly altruistic love, it will be indoctrinated with that selfless love and grow up to behave accordinglyand over many generations that behaviour will become instinctive because genetic selection will inevitably follow and reinforce any development process occurring in a species; the difficulty was in getting the development of unconditional selflessness to occur in the first place, for once it was regularly occurring it would naturally become instinctive over time. And being semi-upright from living in trees, and thus having their arms free to hold a dependent infant, it was the primates who have been especially facilitated to support a prolonged and deeply connected mother infant relationship and so develop this nurtured, loving, cooperative nature. So it was through this ‘love-indoctrination’ process that our primate ancestors developed our moral conscience.

While this nurturing explanation for our species’ moral nature is reasonably straight forward, and even obvious, there has been a huge problem admitting it. While our distant ape ancestors did live a nurtured, cooperative and loving life (which there’s ample evidence for), when our ancestors became conscious some 2 million years ago this situation completely changed. As explained in Video/​Freedom Essay 3 and fully in chapter 3 of biologist Jeremy Griffith’s definitive book on the explanation of the human condition, FREEDOM: The End Of The Human Condition, the emergence of consciousness led to a psychologically upsetting battle with our already established cooperative and loving instincts, a battle that unavoidably made us angry, egocentric and alienated. And once we became victims of that upsetting angry, egocentric and alienating battle, obviously no child was able to be given the amount of nurturing all infants were able to receive prior to the emergence of that distressing battle. But until we could explain this reason for our so-called ‘corrupted’ or ‘fallen’ human condition, and thus understand why we unavoidably lost the ability to adequately nurture our infants, the whole idea of a cooperative and loving past that was developed through nurturing was an unbearable truth that we had no option but to deny. It is only now that that we can explain the human condition that it becomes safe to finally admit that nurturing is what made us humanthat it was nurturing that gave us our moral soul and created humanity.


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The nurturing explanation of humans’ moral instincts is presented in Freedom Essay 21 and in full in chapter 5 of FREEDOM, including extraordinary evidence from bonobos (once referred to as ‘pygmy chimpanzees’) and from the fossil record; while Jeremy’s biological explanation of why we became competitive and aggressive sufferers of the human condition when our conscious mind developed is, as mentioned, the subject of Video/​Freedom Essay 3, and fully explained in chapter 3 of FREEDOM.