Ethics I-II


Evolution & Ethics

Natural selection continues to pose puzzles for interpreting the origin of morality and its meaning and/or justification. Through critiques of David Hume, E.O. Wilson and Michael Ruse, the first session examines the status of moral realism, the nature of moral agency, and the relation of human motivation to natural selection. The second session delves into cognitive abilities and the nature of moral responsibility.

John Mizzoni, Neumann College
"Moral Theory and Ruse's Darwinian Ethics"
In this paper I am concerned with the nature and origin of ethics in the light of human biological evolution. There are some moral philosophers (e.g., Thomas Nagel) who believe that evolutionary considerations are irrelevant to a full understanding of the foundations of ethics. Other moral philosophers (such as J.L. Mackie and Allan Gibbard) tell quite a different story. They hold that the admission of the evolutionary origins of human beings compels us to concede that there are no foundations for ethics. But the philosopher that I will focus on in this paper is Michael Ruse, whom Holmes Rolston III calls, "the most celebrated philosopher in the world for his untiring effort to join biology and ethics." Ruse has published widely on the topic of evolutionary ethics and what it means for the foundations of ethics. According to Ruse, evolutionary ethics is "the project which argues that for a full understanding of the nature and grounds of morality one must turn to the process and theories of the evolution--- . . . Moral realism, however, is a metaethical theory that denies moral skepticism and moral subjectivism. Moral realists claim that, despite the appearances, we can have genuine moral knowledge and moral claims can be objectively true. In this paper I set out to show that rather than evolutionary ethics supporting metaethical skepticism and subjectivism, it supports a metaethical naturalism of a moral realist sort.

Julio Munoz-Rubio, Universidad Nacional Aut█noma de M╚xico
"E. O. Wilson, Sociobiology and the Origins of Ethics"
For sociobiologist E. O. Wilson, ethics is comprehensible only through biology and empirical science. Being natural selection a universal process and humans a product of evolution, all human characteristics, Ethics among it, must be a result of that process. According to Wilson, survival is the supreme goal for all individuals, and is the basis for every moral criterion. In this way, sociobiology falls into the naturalist fallacy. Wilson also states that happiness is achieved with the fulfillment of the reproducing duty. This implies an abandonment of the will and of conscious human motivation to generate values of various kinds. I state that it is false that the supreme motivation of the human being is centered on the biological survival. Humans survive and reproduce in activities distant from biological ones (aesthetic, spiritual and emotional), showing a cualtitative difference in relation to other species. Wilson's approach defends a subjection of human freedom to necessity. He builds an ideological discourse as he transfers to social animals the human hegemonic values propers of an historical moment.

Phil Roberts, Jr.
"Hume's Psychodynamics"
Thanks to his momentous discovery of "the qualities by which the mind is convey'd from one idea to another", the venerable David Hume has managed to decipher some of the logic of how value behaves. By relying on this logic, and with the help of a few diagrams, I have found it possible to account for the presence of non-self-serving concern for others in a naturally selected world. In this scenario, the cumulative effect of Hume's laws operating over millennia of cultural evolution has become sufficient to overwhelm nature's incessant culling of the valuatively unfit (other-interested individuals). Although less than optimal, the resulting valuative profile has been tolerated by natural selection as a necessary premium for reaping the considerable rewards that attend a rational species. Paradoxically, this would also entail the intriguing implication that we have become less determined (conatively/valuatively) by natural selection as a result of natural selection.


Jonathan Kaplan, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
"Evolutionary Approaches to Moral Reasoning: Minds, Brains, and Adaptations"

Over the years, there have been many attempts to apply evolutionary explanations to moral reasoning (and moral behavior) in humans; these attempts have included fairly sophisticated mathematical optimization modeling, plausibility arguments, basic phylogenetic comparisons, cross- cultural studies, and many other techniques. In this talk, I will argue that none of these approaches are capable of bridging the fact/value gap, and suggest some reasons for thinking that such a gap is, and will remain, important to human moral reasoning. I will argue further that any plausible explanation of our moral reasoning ability must take account of our ability to extend our moral reasoning into novel realms, and that contemporary evolutionary approaches to moral reasoning fail to address this arena. Finally, I will suggest an alternative approach to understanding human moral reasoning from an evolutionary standpoint, one that points towards the possibility that our moral reasoning ability is the result of complex interactions of multiple (mental) abilities (which may or may not have been adaptations in the technical sense) as opposed to specific or direct adaptations for moral reasoning. This approach, I will argue, can not only produce a more adequate account of human moral reasoning, but also points towards more interesting possible research agendas vis-a-vis the relationship between our minds and brains.

John Lemos, Coe College
"Evolution and Free Will"
In Waller's recent book, The Natural Selection of Autonomy, he defends a view that he calls "natural autonomy." This view holds that human beings possess a kind of autonomy that we share with nonhuman animals, a capacity to explore alternative courses of action, but which cannot support moral responsibility. He also argues that this natural autonomy can provide support for the ethical principle of noninterference. I argue that to support the ethical principle of noninterference Waller needs either a libertarian or a compatibilist theory of autonomy. I then go on to argue that, contra Waller, the libertarian view is both compatible with Darwinism and able to make sense of how autonomous acts belong to the agents who perform them. Thus, I conclude that the libertarian position is a live option for Darwinians. However, if naturalism is taken to include a deterministic view of the universe (at least at the nonquantum level), as is often the case, then my article takes some strides in defending "Darwinian Non-naturalism."


Saturday, July 21, 2-3:30, 4-5:30, Rm. 305