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Altruism or Mutualism in the Explanation of Honour with Reference to Reputation and Indirect Reciprocity?

Journal article
Authors Andreas Nordin
Published in Sociology and Anthropology
Volume 4
Issue 2
Pages 125 -133
ISSN 2331-6179
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Cultural Sciences
Pages 125 -133
Language en
Keywords Morality, Indirect Reciprocity, Altruism and mutualism, Honour, Cognition, Cultural transmission
Subject categories Other Humanities, Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology), Social Anthropology, Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology), Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified, Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


Notions about honour and honour codes are culturally institutionalised and sacralised as well as important quasi-moral human concerns that relate to reputation monitoring. This article addresses honour concepts from the standpoint of the cognition of reputation management and indirect reciprocity. In view of the massive bulk of research on the evolution of moral dispositions for cooperation, it hypothesised that such proclivities for social life underpin and constrain the cultural formation of honour concepts, particularly through the function of reputation. However, there are two prominent theories that address evolved morality, and both consider reputation. Firstly, altruism and group selection theory holds that key moral dispositions are related to punishment and possibly honour, and it proposes that the altruists outcompete non-altruists in a group. By contrast, mutualist theory holds that it is mutually advantageous to cooperate and that an actor’s reputation as a reliable exchange partner is at the core of concerns about honour. In this article it is asked whether altruism and mutualism are both of equal explanatory value in explaining honour and reputation. The overarching argument of this article is that mutualist models, prima facie, have explanatory higher ground when a model of the cultural transmission of honour concepts is advanced based on evolved human morality. This objective is highlighted by (a) suggesting a model of how reputation is a conceptual core of honour notions and (b) demonstrating how mutualist rather than altruist approaches offer the most cohesive account of reputation and consequently of honour notions.

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