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Wednesday, October 21, 2015 - Morality evolves, says Oakland professor in new psychology textbook

Todd Shackelford, Ph.D., chair of Oakland University’s Psychology department, recently released a textbook, “The Evolution of Morality,” that he hopes will introduce students, professionals and others to insights into how even a value system such as morality has evolved through natural selection.

The 14-chapter book, which presents an interdisciplinary collection of theories and discussions on longstanding issues, is meant to be a supplementary text for advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in the evolutionary sciences.

Among other topics, its contributors question the existence of moral truths, the motto “life is good,” and morality as a product of religion, culture or politics.

Todd Shackeford with his latest work, "The Evolution of Morality" textbook.

In the works for about three years, the book was borne of – and features – some of the work presented at a conference Shackelford organized in 2014 with the same name. It includes chapters by psychologists, philosophers, biologists, legal scholars, neurologists and political scientists who also delivered presentations during the conference.

Shackelford’s colleague, former Oakland Psychology professor and CEO of Innovation Emporium, Inc., Ranald Hansen, is listed as a co-editor of the textbook by academic publisher Springer. Hansen died unexpectedly in December 2014.

Shackelford said that many people may find the text’s theories novel – or at least surprising.

“These theories argue in one way or another that there is nothing magical or spooky about morality,” said Shackelford. “Instead, morality, like every feature of human and non-human life, evolved over millions of years by natural selection.”

Shackelford, a renowned scholar in evolutionary psychology, is a fellow of the Midwestern Psychological Association; the American Psychological Association; the Association for Psychological Science and the International Association for Research on Aggression.

He was also recently appointed to Oakland’s Search Committee for Associate Vice President for Research, the university’s Strategic Planning Committee, and is founding editor of the academic journal “Evolutionary Psychological Science,” the first issue of which was published in March.

Shackelford’s work largely centers around sexual conflict between men and women, with a special focus on testing hypotheses derived from sperm competition theory.

In “The Evolution of Morality,” however, Shackelford uses the insights of Charles Darwin to explain how morality has changed over time due to natural selection and reason. It’s a philosophy he sticks by.

“No theory of morality will be complete – and likely will be wrong – if it is shorn of Darwinian principles,” said Shackelford. “The basic psychological structure that supports morality evolved, but this structure evolved to be open to learning and incorporating local norms and expectations.”

For more about “The Evolution of Morality,” visit the book preview on the website of the book’s publisher, Springer, or Shackelford’s homepage.

The Evolution of Morality