Institute of Ethics, History and Theory of Medicine

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The evolution of cosmopolitanism. Political and anthropological perpsectives.

Direction: Dr. Lorenzo Del Savio
Funded by: DFG

International law and governance, migration and trade connect an ever extending part of
humanity. This extension of global cooperation creates both opportunities for human development
and new challenges. Recently, the cosmopolitan project of global cooperation has suffered several
setbacks, in the form of re-emerging nationalism, xenophobia, protectionism and restrictive
migration politics. Sceptics of the cosmopolitan project argue that such setbacks are not minor
obstacles on an otherwise linear trajectory towards global cooperation, but symptoms of a deeper
malaise: they argue that the cosmopolitan project has outstripped human dispositions for peaceful
cooperation, which are local, tribal and parochial. The behavioural sciences indeed lend credence
to the view that human evolved sociality is parochial, i.e. it tends to discriminate against outgroups.
However, does this dark side of human sociality really constrain the cosmopolitan project?
The critical part of the proposed research aims to debunk the sceptical challenge by engaging with
the inferential relationships between behavioural sciences, human evolution and the future of
global cooperation. The first key hypothesis of the project is that, although parochial dispositions
exist, they are not a hard constraint on the pursuit of the cosmopolitan project. Their existence,
however, implies that large-scale cooperation requires an explanation. Studies of cultural evolution
in particular have sought explanations of the transition from small tribal groups to large-scale
societies. The constructive part of the project will focus on the implications of scientific theories of
human social attitudes that take into account cultural innovation for cosmopolitanism. The second
key hypothesis is that recent findings on the emergence of large-scale sociality can complement
political theories of cosmopolitanism with viable strategies for implementation, in line with
“sentimental” versions of cosmopolitanism that emphasise the role of political emotions.