Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Educational and Psychological Studies (Education)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Blaine Fowers

Second Committee Member

Soyeon Ahn

Third Committee Member

Isaac Prilleltensky

Fourth Committee Member

Brad Cokelet


The current dissertation is an examination of research and theoretical frameworks for explaining ethical mindedness, or the human propensity to be concerned with morality and ethics. Despite a pervasive belief that morality is central to what it means to be human, the idea of ethical mindedness as a basic feature of human nature is often assumed but not fully explained by the extant research and theory. Given evidence that such a shared quality exists, it is concerning that we appear to lack of a cogent, systematic explanation for a basic feature of human nature. The research questions guiding this dissertation take a twofold approach: First, is ethical mindedness a demonstrable characteristic of human nature? Second, what might an adequate theory of ethical mindedness look like? I approach these ontological and theoretical questions through the lens of evolutionary science. In the first chapter, I will review the evolutionary criteria for identifying adaptations and thus evolved features of human nature. In the second chapter, I will review how the current theoretical camps in moral psychology approach the question of ethical mindedness. This chapter will demonstrate that despite making significant contributions to larger theories of moral functioning, moral psychologists appear to lack a full understanding of ethical mindedness and how it is that humans came to be this way. I will begin building that understanding in the third chapter by applying the evolutionary criteria to cooperation as a paradigm account of their use and how a theory of ethical mindedness can be built. In the fourth chapter, I will continue to utilize evolutionary reasoning to trace how cooperation may have spread throughout the species and the subsequent emergence of ethical mindedness. Through this examination, I argue that the ultrasociality of human beings suggests a communal nature to cooperation that leads, through cheater detection, indirect reciprocity, and third party punishment, to the emergence of a fairness instinct, or an attunement to the fairness of the group. This basic communal nature and concern for the fairness of our groups is what I suggest leads to ethical mindedness as a basic feature of human nature.


Moral Psychology; Moral Functioning; Morality; Evolutionary Psychology; Theoretical Psychology; Ethical Mindedness