Ibn Khaldun on Solidarity (“Asabiyah”)-Modern Science on Cooperativeness and Empathy: a Comparison

Philosophia Naturalis 38 (1):91-104 (2001)
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Understanding cooperative human behaviour depends on insights into the biological basis of human altruism, as well as into socio-cultural development. In terms of evolutionary theory, kinship and reciprocity are well established as underlying cooperativeness. Reasons will be given suggesting an additional source, the capability of a cognition-based empathy that may have evolved as a by-product of strategic thought. An assessment of the range, the intrinsic limitations, and the conditions for activation of human cooperativeness would profit from a systems approach combining biological and socio-cultural aspects. However, this is not yet the prevailing attitude among contemporary social and biological scientists who often hold prejudiced views of each other's notions. It is therefore worth noticing that the desirable integration of aspects has already been attempted, in remarkable and encouraging ways, in the history of thought on human nature. I will exemplify this with the ideas of the fourteenth century Arab-Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun. He set out to explicate human cooperativeness - "asabiyah" - as having a biological basis in common descent, but being extendable far beyond within social systems, though in a relatively unstable and attenuated fashion. He combined psychological and material factors in a dynamical theory of the rise and decline of political rulership, and related general social phenomena to basic features of human behaviour influenced by kinship, expectation of reciprocity, and empathic emotions.
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