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VRC Working Paper No 1: From the Savannah to the Magistrate’s Court

Hammurabi CodeViolence Research Centre Working Paper Series

From the Savannah to the Magistrate’s Court: The Roots of Criminal Justice in Evolved Human Psychology

Manuel Eisner, Aja Louise Murray, Denis Ribeaud, Margit Averdijk, Jean-Louis van Gelder

Do criminal justice institutions have universal features that are rooted in psychological mechanisms, shaped by human evolution?

In this paper we review three core questions related to this perspective: We first examine the notion that our evolved psychology has led to cross-culturally shared intuitions about what constitutes a crime. We then assess the extent to which arguments based on behavioral game theory and evolutionary psychology can account for the emergence of centralized punishment in complex societies. Finally, we examine procedural fairness as a pivotal normative element of criminal justice across the world.

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