The other day I wrote a post in which I suggested that being caught out as insincere is unpleasant not only for the material consequences that might follow from it, such as damage to your reputation which will cause others not to want to enter into relationships with you; but also because it causes you to be objectified in the eyes of others. Commenter TGGP replied:
"How might we distinguish between the hypotheses that people are concerned with reputation or objectification?"
It is tempting to reply that one could distinguish between the cases by looking at instances in which there are no reputational effects; for example by seeing whether people who are caught out still feel objectified when it is by someone who they are never going to see again. But this won’t work for TGGP, who goes on in the same comment to say:
I could see how evolution might adapt for the former by making "getting caught" inherently unpleasant."
TGGP’s point, as I understand it, is that feeling bad is not a separate thing sitting alongside the material motivation to avoid being caught out, but rather is itself the mechanism that evolved in support of that material motivation. In this view, the fact that you feel the same way even for people that you will never see again doesn’t mean anything; if feeling that way was adaptive in the ancestral environment, then you will still feel that way now, regardless of whether it is actually adaptive in any particular situation.
My answer is as follows. It seems like a pretty good bet that every psychological impulse we have must ultimately have some sort of evolutionary origin. That is, every impulse that we have must have evolved because, on average, it conferred some material advantage on the individuals who had it or on close kin. This is true for altruism, and for shame, and for other things like that. The question, then, is whether that’s the only thing going on, or whether there is any meaningful sense in which reason and culture refine these evolutionary raw materials to the point where you get something new that is not readily traceable to this or that evolved impulse. If the answer is yes, then there is meaningful human psychology that is not properly evolutionary psychology, and that, while informed by evolutionary psychology, should be its own thing.
And it seems to me that the answer is in fact yes. People take their evolved sexual desire and have sex using birth control, and people take their evolved competitive desire and use it to play video games where winning will confer no higher status, and people tell themselves that they have moral obligations to help others even when their evolved altruism impulse doesn’t seem to be kicking in (i.e., when they don’t feel like it). And so on. If I didn’t know better, I might even be tempted to call some aspects of human psychology emergent phenomena!
P.S. I got at least some of this from Richard Dawkins, but I can’t recall where he said it.