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Science and the Sacred, Parabola 30, p. Sagoff M. Sideris L.

ON “HUXLEYS EVOLUTION AND ETHICS IN SOCIOBIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE” BY GEORGE C. WILLIAMS

Wilson E. Genes, Genesis and God. Environmental Ethics and the Solar System, E. Hargrove ed. Beauty and the Beast. Aesthetic Experience of Wildlife, in Valuing Wildlife. Economic and Social Perspectives, D. Decjer et G. Goff eds. Biology and Philosophy in Yellowstone, Biology and Philosophy 5, pp. A Paradox of Humanity, K. Chung Kim et R.

Weaver eds. Feeding People versus Saving Nature? Gottlieb ed. Chappell ed. A Managed Earth and the End of Nature? Kenosis and Nature, in The Work of Love. Creation as Kenosis, J. Polkinghorne ed. Eerdmans Publishing, pp. Readings in Theory and Applicaton, L. Poijman ed. Naturalizing Callicott, in Land, Value, Community.

Callicott and Environmental Philosophy, W. Ouderkirk and J. Hill eds. From Beauty to Duty. Perspectives on Environmental Aesthetics, A. Berleant ed. Religion, Science and Value, W. Drees ed. Sandler and Ph. Cafaro eds. Factual Knowing. Generating Life on Earth. LeRonShultz ed. What is a Gene?

Benzoni F. Callicott J. Cheney J. Naturalizing the Problem of Evil, Environmental Ethics 19, pp.


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Norton B. Nunez T. Ouderkirk W. Can Nature be Evil? Rolston, Disvalue, and Theodicy, Environmental Ethics 21, pp. Scoville J. Wynn M. Torrance was probably the greatest British theologian of the 20th century. A prolific author, he was instrumental, inter alia, in the re-discovery of Oriental patristic literature and authored a landmark reading of Calvin's theology; a tireless translator, he was successful in introducing the thoughts of Karl Barth to the English-speaking world, in particular when he supervised the volume translation of the monumental Kirliche Dogmatik ; a self-taught genius, he made a decisive contribution to the study of the relationship between theology and the natural and physical sciences - thereby paving the way for Rolston's own work and those of Peacocke, Polkinghorne, Barbour, Wentzel van Huyssteen, et al.

For his work as a whole, Torrance was awarded the Templeton Prize in , which Rolston also won in See his recipient's acceptance statement at. Rolston's written work is listed at the end of this introduction. There is no exhaustive bibliography at this time, but the most comprehensive list is to be found at the end of the collective volume on Dr.

Rolston: Ch. Preston and W. Ouderkirk eds. He is generally held to be the founding father of environmental ethics in view of the impact of his article published in in the prestigious journal Ethics Rolston, H. Another factor was the creation with E. Hargrove of the publication Environmental Ethics. For comment on the multidisciplinary style of Dr. Rolston's work and on the make-up of the field of research of which it is a part, see Ian G. Barbour or H. Rolston himself Rolston, H.

As for the use of Darwinism in a theological and ecological perspective, see the recent and very exhaustive study by R. Attfield In Rolston's view, it is remarkable that this distinction was made at the very time when the Darwinian revolution made it more than ever ineffective. Monod, F. Jacob, S. Gould, S. Weinberg, M. Ruse and on the other hand, those who believe in the theory of "mandatory" evolution a process that must be seen as inevitable despite its indeterminate course and who interpret contingency as generating complexity Ch. De Duve, S. Conway Morris, S.

Since the late s, the terms of this debate have been reformulated in the context of a renascent dispute between science and religion — a dispute which has had a worldwide impact and very numerous implications political, philosophical and scientific — opposing on the one hand Darwinians of strict obedience openly militating in favour of atheism R. Dawkins and D. Dennett in particular, and more widely the Brights movement and, on the other hand, the advocates of Intelligent Design who have never concealed their closeness to religious circles W.

Dembski and M. Behe in particular. Rolston clearly seeks to strike a course between these different standpoints: he supports a weakly teleological effect on the evolutionary process — thus supporting in part the advocates of Intelligent Design — but also emphasises that there is a part played by irrepressible novelty and unpredictable emergence which presides over the history of life on earth which must not be underestimated, in line with a thesis radicalised by the ultra-Darwinians. But, unlike again other interpretations of Rolston's philosophy, we believe that the similarities between the two authors end at that point, since Rolston never justifies and makes no attempt to the notion that a natural being values what is of benefit to its own existence, no more than he deduces from the "interests" that a natural being seems to be displaying that humans have any duty to that natural being.

The word he always uses to describe this sentiment is "awe", a word which traditionally designates in religious literature the wonderment of the believer in the presence of the mysterium tremendum fascinans et augustum , which R. Otto renamed: the "feeling of the numinous". However, H. Rolston does not specifically refer to a religious experience: it is also aesthetic, in the tradition here of the aesthetic of the sublime, for which the object of admiration is given as the power of nature, in all its exuberance and fecundity,.

In a word, all that is "wild", contrasting with all that is domesticated, anthropized and contrived. The aesthetics of nature that H. But there is a second, more radical school of thought in evolutionary ethics. This view holds that evolutionary biology, rather than providing a basis for improving or modernizing ethics, shows that the idea of objective ethical rules is inherently mistaken.

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Wilson has a foot in this camp as well. This view is best characterized as a form of moral nihilism, the idea that moral obligations do not exist. Wilson tries to avoid the nihilistic position by insisting that the illusion of right and wrong is so deeply built into us that even recognizing it as an illusion will not likely make a difference in our behavior.

But committed moral nihilists reject this response: realizing that moral claims are illusions surely means that moral claims are false. There is, under this view, no real ethical difference between the actions of the vilest criminal and the most virtuous saint. There are stronger grounds than Wilson offers, however, for rejecting the moral nihilism that some say is a consequence of evolutionary biology. Consider an analogy with mathematics and science.

Like our ability to think about the morality of our actions, the cognitive abilities underlying mathematics and science are in some sense products of evolution. But this fact has no significant implications regarding our ability to objectively study mathematics or physics, and it certainly does not imply that numbers, molecules, or, for that matter, the genes, brains, and bodies studied by evolutionary biologists are fictions. Likewise, the discovery that ethical values have been shaped by evolution should not necessarily have any dire implications for the objective status of ethical claims.

To be sure, evolution might help us to understand some basic human tendencies — especially in terms of our regular failure to adhere to what we identify as right and shun what we identify as wrong — and to recognize the need to attempt to counter the influence of those tendencies. But the discovery that, for example, racism may have evolutionary origins has no ethical relevance. It does not demonstrate that racism is morally good even if it once helped promote survival. Nor does it make a case against racism simply because it arose from our tribal past.

This point is essentially a restatement of the Is-Ought problem first articulated by Scottish philosopher David Hume concerning the logical impossibility of inferring what ought to be from what is the case. The same restriction applies to evolutionary biology: it can tell us about what happened in the past, and about the natural behavioral tendencies we have now, but is not sufficient to tell us what we ought to do now or in the future. In their essay, Wilson and Ruse argue that evolutionary biology provides a solution to the Is-Ought problem. Among the many troubles with this position is that it provides no criteria for distinguishing what are generally thought of as morally good emotions, like love, kindness, and trust, from bad or selfish ones, like greed and hatred.

Wilson insists that we can hold on to our moral values and even improve them — but why should we, if they are no more than emotions that evolved to further the reproductive success of our ancestors? Even if we could establish scientifically that all human beings share certain preferences, it is far from clear which we should consider good, or why in any case we should not break our own molds and remake ourselves in pursuit of other preferences. Feelings of right and wrong themselves provide no basis for whether or not they should be obeyed or overcome, which is to say that no moral judgments binding on anyone could be made with the help of those feelings.

For an evolutionary ethicist such as Wilson, the biophilia hypothesis has great advantages. It allows him to avoid the Is-Ought problem and the difficulty of transforming statements about our biological makeup into ethical principles. There are, then, many possible stories to be told about the origins of our moral judgments and behavior.

Since our concern is with morality , the crucial issue to begin with is the origins of moral judgment : for morality has not merely to do with certain emotions and behaviors such as sympathy and altruism as such, but with the exercise of moral judgment about how one ought to behave in various social circumstances Joyce , ch. Certain emotions and behaviors are then relevant too insofar as they relate to the exercise of such judgment, but in the absence of moral judgment they seem only to belong to proto-morality. Since accounts of the origins of moral judgment rely on these ideas as well, and these emotions or behavioral dispositions are also often appealed to as causal influences on the content of moral judgment, it is worth starting with a look at the issue of psychological altruism, distinguishing it from merely biological altruism.

Many discussions of morality and evolutionary biology focus largely on the issue of altruistic feeling and behavior. This can be confusing because in addition to psychological altruism there is also biological altruism , which is found in many species.

See Kitcher , part I, for a comprehensive discussion. Psychological altruism involves caring about others' welfare and deliberately benefiting them for their own sake , with no restriction on the type of benefit involved. Though psychological altruism is different from biological altruism, there are a variety of possible explanations of the evolution of psychological altruism that appeal to the same factors that explain the origins of biological altruism, namely:.

It would take us too far afield to survey all these biological accounts in detail, the background for which is already treated in the entry for biological altruism ; there are also many excellent and accessible summaries of such accounts and their application to psychological altruism e.

A Dialogue on Biology Morality and Theology

We will settle here for one detailed illustration of one way in which biological altruism can be given an evolutionary explanation, followed by a sketch of the ways in which this and other evolutionary mechanisms might likewise explain the emergence of psychological altruism—keeping in mind that this is all just one part of explaining morality proper, to which we return in the next sub-section. The very idea that biological altruism can come about through natural selection may initially seem puzzling. It turns out there are many ways.

To take one dramatic example, consider social insect colonies, and in particular, the Hymenoptera bees, ants and wasps. In these colonies we find such an extreme degree of cooperation—division of labor queen, workers, soldiers, etc. Indeed, in the case of stinging worker honey bees, there is not only cooperative labor but also, when necessary, the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the hive at least where the invader is a mammal, stinging of which proves fatal to the bee as the barbed sting is torn out upon being deposited in the victim.

How can such striking cooperation and self-sacrifice be explained in evolutionary terms? One important fact to notice is that the colony is one large family: typically, the workers are sisters—daughters of the queen. That normally happens when the phenotypic effect causes the organism to have greater reproductive success, but it can equally happen if it causes the organism's close kin to have greater reproductive success: for close kin are likely to carry copies of that same allele, which means that greater reproductive success for kin likewise propagates copies of the allele.

So while an allele that causes an organism to engage in sex more often may thereby spread, so might an allele that causes an organism to help a sibling to reproduce as by aiding survival ; either way, that allele will be helping to propagate copies of itself in the next generation, which in turn means that the helping behavior it causes will likewise spread over time Dawkins , — In fact, the situation is even more interesting and extreme: workers have evolved to serve the queen's reproduction at the complete expense of their own, as they are sterile. This extreme biological altruism, however, may be explained by the same principles, with the addition of the fact that due to a genetic peculiarity of the Hymenoptera their haplodiploidy , sisters are more closely related to each other genetically than they would be to their own offspring.

This could explain how worker sterility evolved, as traits focused on helping the queen took precedence over personal reproduction, and it explains how even suicidal behavior could have been selected for as propagating the genes that cause it Dawkins , — This is only one example of one way in which biological altruism can evolve: there are others, which are not restricted to kin and are explained using game-theoretic or group dynamic models again, see the entry on biological altruism for details.

The crucial point is just that any kind of genetically-based trait can evolve if it happens to have the right kind of feedback effect on the genes that influence it. This brings us, then, to the sort of trait we are more interested in: a disposition for psychological altruism , as defined above.

Again, while it may initially seem puzzling that evolution should give rise to psychological altruism, rather than merely to selfishness, there is nothing paradoxical about it: a genetically-based disposition for psychological altruism will evolve just in case such a trait, in the relevant circumstances, promotes the propagation of the genes that bring it about and does so more effectively than alternative traits produced by rival alleles.

And this can again happen in various ways. In some cases, these adaptive psychological mechanisms will involve specifically targeted or conditional altruistic motivations, involving capacities for discrimination to focus benefits on kin or on reciprocators. In other cases, the selection pressures will give rise to less discriminating altruistic sentiments and tendencies as the simplest and most cost-effective mechanisms for promoting adaptive cooperative behaviors in a given environment. One advantage of this hypothesis is that it might help explain some sorts of concern and altruism that are otherwise hard to make sense of in evolutionary terms.

For example, suppose you receive a letter from UNICEF soliciting contributions for health and nutrition programs for children in Darfur, and you are moved to send a check. But a trait that is not presently adaptive may once have been. In the environment in which our hominin ancestors lived, where there was little positive contact with outsiders, even relatively indiscriminate altruism would tend to benefit kin or potential reciprocators, and so might have been a simple adaptive mechanism on the whole.

Of course, it's also possible as discussed in the section 2. Or it may be some combination of the two. This area of inquiry remains largely speculative, since it is one thing to develop models for how psychological altruism could in principle evolve, and quite another to show convincingly that a given form of natural selection has in fact played the relevant role in actual human evolutionary history. There may be doubts, for example, whether there was sufficient pair-wise engagement in iterated prisoner's dilemma games to explain the evolution of reciprocal altruism according to some of the most familiar game-theoretic models Kitcher a,b.

In any case, it is time to return to the issue of moral judgment, which is crucial to the explanation of morality proper, and goes beyond mere altruistic feeling and behavior. The following sub-section describes one leading hypothesis. Kitcher a,b; has proposed a three-stage account of the evolution of morality. The social structure would have been similar to that of contemporary chimpanzees and bonobos, where cooperation among the relatively weak or those in weak stages of life is beneficial to them, but strategic calculation is infeasible.

Because this disposition was both limited and unstable, however, and competed with powerful selfish drives, there was a continual threat of social rupture and loss of cooperative advantage. This in turn would have made ongoing peacemaking a necessity, thus limiting the size of viable cooperative units and the scope of cooperative projects, as well as imposing significant costs through the devotion of time and energy to peacemaking activities. An example would be extensive mutual grooming going well beyond what is necessary for hygiene, of the sort found in chimpanzee societies.

The next phase, according to this hypothesis, was a transition to much larger groups with more extensive cooperative activities, through the evolution of a capacity for emotionally laden normative guidance , without which such arrangements would not have been possible. See also Gibbard , ch. With the emergence of a capacity to make and follow normative judgments, reinforced by coevolved reactive emotions such as guilt and resentment, and the development of rules and social practices promoting and enforcing group loyalty and cooperation, a new psychological mechanism came into being for reinforcing the previously unstable altruistic tendencies and promoting large-scale social cohesion and stability.

The advantages of membership in coalitions and subcoalitions would be conferred on hominins who had facility with such normative guidance—including a strong sense of obligation and tendency toward social compliance—and who thus acted consistently on these altruistic tendencies, acquiring the reputation for being good coalition partners and participating in a broader array of cooperative projects. If this hypothesis is correct, it might explain not only the origins of our general capacity for normative judgment and motivation, but also the widespread tendency for social rules or norms historically to emphasize such things as group identity, loyalty and cohesion , and to focus largely on the regulation of violence and sex ; and it might help to explain widespread dispositions toward social conformity, concern with reputation and social standing, tendencies for group-wise scorning or punishment of the disloyal, and the power of emotions such as resentment, guilt and shame.

There is, of course, a great deal of leeway in the last part, concerning the details of the transition through cultural evolution from hominin proto-moralities to contemporary moral systems, which allows for some very different possible stories. This brings us to the next major topic. So far, we have focused on scientific projects that treat morality in the empirical sense as calling simply for causal explanation, as by appeal to evolutionary influences. This is unexceptionable with regard to the origins of the general human capacity for moral judgment: clearly some causal explanation is required, and an evolutionary explanation is plausible.

But things are much more complicated when we consider the explanation of the actual content of moral judgment, feeling and behavior. We have had a taste above of the way in which scientists might propose to explain our particular moral attitudes or judgments by appeal to specific evolutionary causes as filtered through cultural developments. For example, human beings have and share with other primates a strong, emotionally-laden sense of basic fairness, resentment of cheaters, and a desire that they be punished, all of which finds expression in both cultural norms and individual moral judgments.

You might experience such feelings if you've been the victim of a scam, morally condemning the perpetrators, and this might seem a good candidate for causal explanation in terms of evolved psychological traits. Caution is needed here, however. Our moral judgments and resulting behaviors cannot just be assumed to be mere causal upshots of some such biological and psychological forces, on a par with the cooperative activity of bees or the resentment felt by capuchin monkeys over unequal rewards for equal work.

When a rational agent makes a judgment, whether in the sphere of morality or in such areas as science, mathematics or philosophy, the proper question is not in the first instance what caused that judgment to occur, but what reasons the person had for making it—for thinking it to be true.

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Morality and Evolutionary Biology

It is those reasons that typically constitute an explanation of the judgment. They explain by bringing out what the person took rightly or wrongly to be the justification for the belief in question—the considerations showing the belief likely to be true. All of this complicates the explanatory project in relation to the thoughts, feelings and actions of rational agents.

It is helpful to illustrate the general point first with other kinds of judgment, and then to return to morality. Consider some judgments in mathematics, philosophy and science:. How do we explain someone's believing something like M, P or S? We normally need to know her reasons for believing it to be true, which we can then go on to assess as good or bad reasons for such a belief. Either way, we typically take her reasons—and the reasoning associated with them—to explain her belief, which is why we engage seriously with her reasons as such in critical discussion, and go on to inquire into their merits.

What we do not normally do is to appeal directly to independent causes, such as evolutionary or other biological or psychological influences to explain people's beliefs in these areas. Such independent explanations for beliefs can sometimes be correct, as in the case of someone given a post-hypnotic suggestion, in which case we may regard her judgment as merely caused and the reasons offered as mere rationalization. But this is not the norm. The reason why we normally explain beliefs such as M, P or S by appeal to the reasons the person gives for them is that we normally assume that the person is capable of intelligent reflection and reasoning and has arrived at her belief for the reasons she gives as a result of that reflection whether or not the belief is ultimately correct.

We assume in general that people are capable of significant autonomy in their thinking, in the following sense:. This assumption seems hard to deny in the face of such abstract pursuits as algebraic topology, quantum field theory, population biology, modal metaphysics, or twelve-tone musical composition, all of which seem transparently to involve precisely such autonomous applications of human intelligence. Even if there are evolutionary influences behind our general tendency to engage in certain kinds of mental activity, or behind some of our motives in these pursuits e.

Few would deny the autonomy assumption altogether. To do so in the name of providing alternative evolutionary causal explanations of our beliefs would risk self-defeat: for if we lack the relevant intellectual autonomy across the board, then even the biologist's beliefs about evolutionary biology and its implications would just be attributable to such biological causes, rather than to reasons that provide real warrant for such beliefs within a rational framework with truth-tracking integrity. The challenge to the autonomy assumption is therefore more likely to come in a selective form.

This brings us back to moral judgment. As with M, P and S, people typically have reasons for their moral judgments, and whether or not we agree with them, we typically take those reasons to explain why they believe what they do. Consider again the moral judgment mentioned earlier:. Just as with M, P and S, someone making this judgment will have reasons that she takes to justify this claim, ultimately tying into her overall conception of right and wrong. And we tend to take this at face value as an explanation of why she believes MJ, unless we have special reason to suspect distorting causes, such as prejudice leading to misperception and rationalization.

We tend to think that a person has the moral beliefs she does as a result of background moral reflection and reasoning, within her cultural context. In other words, we tend to treat a person's moral beliefs much as we treat her reasoned mathematical, scientific, or philosophical beliefs, applying the autonomy assumption in seeking to explain why she believes what she does.

One potential lesson from evolutionary biology, however, is that even if the autonomy assumption equally applies in principle to the sphere of moral judgment, it may be a mistake just to assume that most moral judgment and behavior is in fact a result of the exercise of such autonomous reflection, reasoning and judgment.

The autonomy assumption, after all, says only that we have the capacity for relevantly autonomous reflection and judgment; it does not imply that we always exercise it. Perhaps the human capacity for autonomous thinking is exercised only in some cases, while in others the process that leads to moral belief is largely influenced by evolved psychological dispositions, such as emotional adaptations. While such a situation may not tend to arise in relation to our mathematical, philosophical, or scientific thinking, our evolutionary history may have given rise to emotional dispositions that play a significant role in at least some of our moral thinking, feeling and behavior.

See section 2. One plausible story, then, is that while many of our more reflective and reasoned moral judgments involve autonomous exercises of domain-general intelligence, many other less reflective moral judgments are largely attributable to evolutionary influences—both through direct conditioning of people's moral judgments by evolved, domain-specific psychological dispositions and through background influences on cultural factors.

On this hypothesis, we cannot treat moral judgments as a homogeneous set, but must recognize that they can come about in very different ways, requiring a plurality of explanatory models. While a model of autonomous reasoning might apply to some moral beliefs and behaviors, a model appealing to evolutionary causal influences will apply to others. And often some combination of models may be necessary, as in cases where both evolutionary influences and our own independent moral reflection might lead to similar judgments, overdetermining them.

For example, even if it is true that evolutionary pressures favoring caring for offspring have strongly influenced our attitudes towards our children, it does not follow that this is the complete explanation for why we believe we have special obligations to care for our children and for why we behave as we do toward them. It may be part of the explanation, while another part may have to do with an autonomous recognition of the appropriateness of special parental care: we see that we have good reasons to take special care of our children, which ought to motivate us even if we weren't already motivated by instinctive feelings.

We might also employ autonomous, domain-general comprehensive moral reasoning to recognize that our instinctive feelings shouldn't always be followed, e. Advocates of an autonomous reflection model of moral judgment grant that various causal influences—likely including evolutionary ones—often play some role in moral thought and feeling. But opponents who hold a deflationary view of the role of autonomous reflection seek to press the challenge here more fully. On this view, our giving of reasons for our moral beliefs in such cases is interpreted as mere post hoc rationalization. On this model, our moral reasonings and justifications or at least those to which the model is supposed to apply are just so much window dressing for beliefs that are more like post-hypnotic suggestions than they are like M, P or S; just as with post-hypnotic suggestions, people go to great lengths to provide rationalizations in an attempt to render their moral beliefs intelligible to themselves.

The difference is that instead of a hypnotist, the causal agents are emotional dispositions stemming from our evolutionary past. The basic idea that some moral beliefs are susceptible to this sort of debunking explanation is not new. Moral philosophers have long recognized that people have often been led to moral judgments based on self-interest or prejudice, for example, and then rationalized their views, inventing justifications for positions held due to other causes.

A plausible example would be a judgment such as:. While such a judgment was not uncommon just a few generations ago, most readers of this article will recognize MJ2 to be not only false, but also likely to have stemmed from racial prejudice, with much of what was said to justify it being mere post hoc rationalization for a view more attributable to the causal influence of prejudice than to the workings of autonomous reflection and reasononing.

Most philosophers today would say something similar about a moral belief still held by many people, especially within traditional religions:. At one extreme, someone might deny that the autonomy assumption applies to the moral domain at all: we either lack these capacities in the domain of moral thought, or at least never exercise them. Such a claim seems to have little plausibility, however. Why should it be that human intelligence and innovation know virtually no bounds in other domains—as illustrated by feats of autonomous inquiry and creativity in quantum field theory, algebraic topology, modal metaphysics, or symphonic composition—and yet when it comes to moral thinking we remain stuck in ruts carved out for us by evolution, slavishly following patterns of thought prescribed for us by evolved, domain-specific mechanisms, with all of our cultural developments providing mere variations on those themes?

The very fact of human self-consciousness makes such a picture unlikely: for as soon as we are told that our thinking is constrained along evolutionarily given paths, our very awareness of those influences provides the opening to imagine and to pursue new possibilities. If you are told, for example, that you are evolutionarily conditioned to favor your group heavily over outsiders in your moral judgments, you are able, as a reflective agent, to take this very fact into account in your subsequent moral reflection, deciding that this favoring is unwarranted and thus coming to a new, more egalitarian moral view.

It is noteworthy that the leading proponent of the mere rationalization hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt , does not take the extreme position of denying the autonomy assumption. He grants that such capacities exist and are sometimes exercised, singling out the moral deliberations of philosophers as likely examples , — But there are many questions to raise even about this qualified claim despite its generously letting philosophers, at least, off the hook.

Similarly, the input from the autonomous reasoning of philosophers and some religious leaders may well influence the background ethical sensibilities of whole societies, thus influencing moral judgment even where there is no lengthy reasoning occurring in the particular case. There are also important philosophical worries about the methodologies by which Haidt comes to his deflationary conclusions about the role played by reasoning in ordinary people's moral judgments.

He takes this to support the conclusion that people's moral judgments in these cases are based on gut feelings and merely rationalized, since the actions, being harmless, don't actually warrant such negative moral judgments.

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But such a conclusion would be supported only if all the subjects in the experiment were consequentialists , specifically believing that only harmful consequences are relevant to moral wrongness. If they are not, and believe—perhaps quite rightly though it doesn't matter for the present point what the truth is here —that there are other factors that can make an action wrong, then their judgments may be perfectly appropriate despite the lack of harmful consequences. This is in fact entirely plausible in the cases studied: most people think that it is inherently disrespectful , and hence wrong, to clean a toilet with their nation's flag, quite apart from the fact that it doesn't hurt anyone; so the fact that their moral judgment lines up with their emotions but not with a belief that there will be harmful consequences does not show or even suggest that the moral judgment is merely caused by emotions or gut reactions.

Nor is it surprising that people have trouble articulating their reasons when they find an action intrinsically inappropriate, as by being disrespectful as opposed to being instrumentally bad, which is much easier to explain. To return to our central question: it remains unclear just how much of human moral judgment is susceptible to the mere rationalization hypothesis, or when it is, how much of a role is played by evolutionary influences on emotions. The mere rationalization hypothesis is best supported when we have independent reason to reject an appeal to autonomous reflection, as when a moral judgment is implausible in itself and we have a very likely debunking causal explanation of why someone might nonetheless be led to believe such a thing.

But this does not provide grounds for a deflationary approach across the board. Many moral beliefs—for example, concerning the moral irrelevance of sexual preference, the moral equality of persons of all races and nationalities, or moral obligations even to future generations in far away countries—are much more plausible candidates for being upshots of autonomous moral reflection and reasoning. Indeed, many philosophers take them to be plausible candidates for moral truths , grasped through reflection that reveals good reasons for believing them, which is therefore what explains our moral beliefs and behavior in these cases.

These claims may, of course, be disputed. Even if it is granted that our judgments are often the products of our reasoning, pace Haidt , it remains possible that our reasoning itself is distorted by evolutionary influences. This may be especially worrisome given the role played by intuitions in moral reasoning unlike with mathematical reasoning, say , even in determining our acceptance of premises in arguments: insofar as there are concerns that our intuitions may be distorted by evolutionary influences, there will equally be worries about our moral reasoning Sinnott-Armstrong It remains unclear, however, just how far such worries really extend, even if it is granted that moral intuition and reasoning are often subject to such distorting influence.

It is hard to see, for example, how some people's moral belief that we should impoverish ourselves and limit our own reproduction in order to help distant strangers, or even that we should cease having children altogether, could be explained in terms of the distortion of their reasoning by evolutionary influences. Even if there are indeed such special modules devoted to reasoning about obligation and entitlement, as posited by evolutionary psychologists, the question is how much they explain, and whether they really exclude significant input from autonomous moral reasoning.

These issues remain challenging and controversial. But the controversies are as much ongoing philosophical ones as scientific ones, and it is therefore unlikely that scientific results will settle them. Science will plainly not settle, for example, whether or not there are moral truths; and if there are, they will likely play an explanatory role with regard to at least some of our moral beliefs—something we will miss if we approach these issues from an exclusively scientific point of view. A duly cautious claim about the explanatory role of evolution with respect to morality in the empirical sense might therefore be:.

In section 1. This section deals with the question whether evolutionary biology might shed light on the content of morality in the normative sense. In thinking about how we ought to live, do we get any insight from evolutionary theory? Spencer was, by all accounts, a more gifted and subtle thinker than he is typically given credit for today. See the entry on Spencer. Still, we may treat his views briefly here, as his arguments concerning evolutionary biology and ethics were based on deep misunderstandings of evolution.

This is not to deny the historical interest of his views. Spencer's views on morality and evolution may therefore be set aside as historically interesting but unhelpful to contemporary discussions based on a better understanding of evolutionary biology. Even philosophers sympathetic to ethical naturalism the view that moral facts are themselves natural facts of some sort have typically been wary of attempts to derive conclusions about morality in the normative sense from facts about evolutionary history. This is especially so when they are clear unlike Spencer about the principles governing Darwinian evolution through natural selection.

From the fact that a certain trait is an adaptation, which evolved through natural selection by virtue of its positive feedback effects on germ-line replication of the alleles that generate the trait, nothing at all seems to follow about whether it is morally good or right, or something we ought to embrace and foster.

Certain dispositions may be present in us for good evolutionary reasons without any implication that these traits benefit us, or are moral virtues or produce behaviors that are morally right. Clearly the burden would be on the prescriptive evolutionary ethicist to explain why a trait's having been good at propagating the alleles coding for it tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago should be thought to have anything at all with the rational or moral justification of our embracing it.

And the prospects for meeting this burden have never seemed strong: it is hard to see how such evolutionary facts can possibly have normative authority or force for a rational agent McDowell Regardless of why one has a given trait, the question for a rational agent is always: is it right for me to exercise it, or should I instead renounce and resist it as far as I am able?


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Korsgaard Normative ethical conclusions are justified through first-order ethical reflection and argument, just as mathematical propositions are justified through mathematical reasoning, rather than through learning more about our evolutionary past or about what is happening in our brains when we engage in these forms of reasoning Rachels, It would seem to be as much of a mistake to try to answer ethical questions by examining fMRI scans or studying our evolutionary history as it would be to try to solve mathematical problems by such means except, perhaps, insofar as evolutionary theory may shed light on some present, morally relevant empirical facts, as discussed below.

Still, some have argued that empirical psychological studies and related evolutionary hypotheses can have normative ethical implications. In particular, it has recently been argued that scientific evidence supports consequentialist ethical theories over deontological ones Greene , , Singer Consider a famous pair of hypothetical cases much discussed by moral philosophers Thomson :. Trolley : a runaway trolley is heading toward five people on the track ahead, who cannot get out of the way; it cannot be stopped, but there is a switch you could flip that would divert it onto a side track containing only one person;.

Bridge : a runaway trolley is heading toward five people on the track ahead, who cannot get out of the way; you are standing on a bridge over the track, and if you shove the very large person next to you off the bridge and in front of the trolley, the crushing of his body will stop the trolley before it reaches the five. Most people respond to these cases by saying that Trolley is permissible while Bridge is not. But what explains this difference in moral response? Many philosophers have argued for deontological constraints prohibiting murdering some to save others, as in Bridge; they regard the case of diverting a public threat toward lesser harm, as in Trolley, as an exception, and offer principled reasons for doing so, thus justifying our treating the two cases differently e.

Greene takes this to support the hypothesis that what accounts for people's different moral responses to Trolley and Bridge and countless other cases is simply the difference in emotional response, which in turn ties in to evolutionary explanations.