Morality among Nations

An Evolutionary View

By Mary Maxwell

Subjects: International Relations, Political Science
Series: SUNY series in Biopolitics
Paperback : 9780791403501, 198 pages, July 1990
Hardcover : 9780791403495, 198 pages, July 1990

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


1. Introduction

Part I: Traditional Arguments concerning International Mortality

2. The Negative Position

3. The Positive Position

4. Assessment of the Negative and Positive Positions

Part II: Sociobiological Hypotheses Pertinent to International Morality

5. The Biology of Morality

6. The Evolution of Intergroup Behavior

7. Cautions Regarding the Use of Sociobiology

Part III: Critique and Conclusions

8. Critique of the Traditional Arguments concerning International Morality in the Light of the Sociobiological Hypotheses

9. International Morality and its Obstacles

10. An Afterword concerning Context


Selected Bibliography



Morality among Nations, a rejoinder to Hans Morgenthau's Politics among Nations, offers a pathbreaking synthesis of sociobiology and international relations theory. It shows that two different moralities evolved in human pre-history—one, the "standard morality" from which abstract ethical principles arise concerning such things as obligation and justice; and the other, "group morality" or the proclamation of the group's right to survive and its superiority over other groups.

Part One surveys the philosophical literature on the question of international morality, introducing arguments offered by both classical theorists such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Grotius, as well as twentieth century writers such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Hedley Bull, Richard Falk, and Charles Beitz. Part Two presents the relevant sociobiological theories focusing on Robert Trivers' work on the evolution of moral emotions, and Richard Alexander's and Pierre van den Berghe's work on the evolution of group behavior and ethnocentrism. Part Three analyzes the traditional philosophical work on international morality in light of new sociobiological ideas.

Mary Maxwell, Ph. D., is the author of Human Evolution: A Philosophical Anthropology.


"This is a very original approach to international relations and political science, in that it employs what is scientifically known about human nature as opposed to (what is) merely intuitively understood. " — Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University

"This book is a model of conceptual clarity and a convincing argument for the relevance of socio-biological thinking to international affairs. I know of no more coherent overview of the various approaches to international morality. It would be a most valuable volume on these grounds alone. However, it does much more than this, critically assessing each such approach, placing them all in a socio-biological context, and ultimately arguing in favour of the significance of international morality, despite all the obstacles to it in practice. " — Dr. R. Pettman, University of Sydney