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Demetriou Receives Imagine Fund Award for Research on Origins of Honor

Posted by Pengxeu Thao '15, Roseville on Thursday, Sep. 19, 2013

Dan Demetriou, assistant professor of philosophy, received a 2013 all-University Imagine Fund Award for his research project “The Evolutionary Origins of Honor in Play.” The project aims to illuminate the roots of honorable behavior.

“There is substantial evidence across cultures suggesting not only that humans are very concerned about prestige, but that we demand it be fought for fairly. We see in warrior castes an astonishing commitment to fight fairly, even at the greatest personal cost. The drive to compete, but compete fairly, is still evident in young children, despite efforts to quell competitiveness in favor of cooperation.” Because competitions for social rank also exist between other animals, Demetriou thinks that it becomes reasonable to “wonder whether we evolved to seek prestige honorably, and why.”

Demetriou appeals to research from various disciplines to hypothesize that the evolutionary basis for honorable behavior connects with sexual selection and competition between males. He argues that honorable instincts were adaptive because “they helped males be better players, which then and now yield tremendous reproductive benefit. Males who cheated or couldn’t figure out how to compete respectfully were probably excluded from the competitive male arena. Since agonistic play bonds males and is used by females as a lek to help evaluate potential mates, exclusion from play would have been disastrous for a male’s reproductive prospects. So quite literally, honor helps us ‘play by the rules’.”

Demetriou plans on using the award to further develop his research and intends to incorporate his ideas into a book tentatively titled Honor Ethics.

This project is supported by generous funding from the University of Minnesota’s Imagine Fund Awards and University of Minnesota, Morris's Faculty Research Enhancement Fund.