chapter  8
22 Pages

The loss of innocence in the deep past

Wisdom, humility, and grace within a developing understanding of the emergence of human moral emotions
WithPenny Spikins

Recent years have seen a rise in archaeological evidence for potentially complex social and emotional behaviour in early humans. We cannot help but recognize that at some point in our deep past, perhaps far earlier than we imagined, our distant ancestors must have begun to develop the type of moral instinct and understanding which we would recognize as fundamentally like our own. In essence, at some point they also lost their innocence of other’s suffering and their own influence on the world. To understand how and when the moral motivations we feel to be ‘human’ emerged, however, demands perspectives from not only anthropology, but also theology and philosophy. What kind of material evidence can give us insights into apparently ‘moral’ motivations and behaviours? How can we relate such evidence to humility, wisdom, and grace? Moreover, how can we develop new perspectives which engage with the importance of moral emotions for human evolutionary success? This chapter will review evidence for the emergence of behaviour motivated by ‘moral’, emotional motivations in the deep past, explore the evolution of complex moral emotions, and suggest challenges to our assumptions about the progressive development of moral traits. This chapter will argue that complex moral characteristics including wisdom, humility, and grace played a key role in our evolutionary story and that theology and philosophy have a unique role to play in contributing to the ‘thought experiment’ we need to undertake to understand what the material record implies for complex moral capacities in our close relatives.