Evolutionary ethics

Evolutionary ethics

Evolutionary ethics concerns approaches to ethics (morality) based on the role of evolution in shaping human psychology and behavior. Such approaches may be based in scientific fields such as evolutionary psychology or sociobiology, with a focus on understanding and explaining observed ethical preferences and choices. Alternatively and to a large extent separately, theories or ideas about evolution may be used to justify and advance particular ethical systems and particular morals (i.e. what is right and wrong).

Evolutionary psychology

Evolutionary psychology attempts to explain major features of psychology in terms of species-wide evolved (via natural selection) predispositions. Ethical topics addressed include altruistic behaviors, deceptive or harmful behaviors, an innate sense of fairness or unfairness, feelings of kindness or love, self-sacrifice, feelings related to competitiveness and moral punishment or retribution, moral "cheating" or hypocrisy, and inclinations for a wide variety of actions judged morally good or bad by (at least some within) a given society.

A historically key challenge to evolutionary psychology has been how altruistic feelings and behaviors could have evolved when the process of natural selection is based on competition between different genes. Theories addressing this have included kin selection and reciprocal altruism (both direct and indirect, and on a society-wide scale). Group selection theories have also, more controversially, been advanced.

Analytic philosophy

In 1986, Michael Ruse summarized the role of evolution as the source of ethical feelings:

Our moral sense, our altruistic nature, is an adaptation—a feature helping us in the struggle for existence and reproduction—no less than hands and eyes, teeth and feet. It is a cost-effective way of getting us to cooperate, which avoids both the pitfalls of blind action and the expense of a superbrain of pure rationality. [Ruse 1986, p. 230]

In applying science to metaethics, Ruse writes:

In a sense … the evolutionist's case is that ethics is a collective illusion of the human race, fashioned and maintained by natural selection in order to promote individual reproduction. … ethics is illusory inasmuch as it persuades us that it has an objective reference. This is the crux of the biological position. [Ruse 1986, p. 235]


In his 1893 book "Evolution and Ethics", Thomas Huxley allows that ethical sentiments have evolved but denies that this provides a basis for morality:

The propounders of what are called the "ethics of evolution," when the "evolution of ethics" would usually better express the object of their speculations, adduce a number of more or less interesting facts and more or less sound arguments, in favour of the origin of the moral sentiments, in the same way as other natural phenomena, by a process of evolution. I have little doubt, for my part, that they are on the right track; but as the immoral sentiments have no less been evolved, there is, so far, as much natural sanction for the one as the other. The thief and the murderer follow nature just as much as the philanthropist. Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and the evil tendencies of man may have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before. [Huxley, p. 66]
Huxley's criticism alluded to the is-ought problem developed earlier by David Hume and the related naturalistic fallacy developed later by G. E. Moore.

The Future

Given the current state of knowledge, Huxley's statement with regards to "why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil" is still accurate with regards to individual human tastes and predispositions. Yet research in the fields of evolutionary psychology and primatology is beginning to reveal, in the general case, what is good and bad for our species in order for it to thrive and, in turn, more likely be happy. Evolutionary psychology's primary focus is to derive, especially through the deep analysis of hunter-gatherer culture and primate models, what is the most accurate description of general human predispositions (i.e. our innate "hard-wiring"). And as this understanding grows, it will become more and more feasible to redesign culture itself to be more "user friendly" to its human members. After all, in the ultimate sense, culture (like a computer) is a tool to serve its users. Noted primatologist Frans De Waal asserts, "In the words of Edward Wilson, biology holds us "on a leash" and will let us stray only so far from who we are. We can design our life any way we want, but whether we will thrive depends on how well the life fits human predispositions" [De Waal 2005, 233]

ee also

* Appeal to nature
* Game theory
* Social Darwinism
* Eugenics
* Julian Huxley
* Humanism
* Origin of religion



*citation |last=Huxley |first=Thomas Henry |author-link=Thomas Henry Huxley |contribution=Evolution and Ethics |contribution-url=http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/CE9/E-E.html |year=1893 |editor-last=Nitecki |editor-first=Matthew H. |editor2-last=Nitecki |editor2-first=Doris V. |title=Evolutionary Ethics |place=Albany | publisher=State University of New York |publication-date=1993 |id=ISBN 0-7914-1499-X
*citation |last=Ruse |first=Michael |author-link=Michael Ruse |contribution=Evolutionary Ethics: A Phoenix Arisen |editor-last=Thompson |editor-first=Paul |title=Issues in Evolutionary Ethics |place=Albany | publisher=State University of New York |publication-date=1995 |id=ISBN 0-7914-2027-2

Further reading

* Curry, O. (2006). Who's afraid of the naturalistic fallacy? "Evolutionary Psychology, 4," 234-247. [http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/ep04234247.pdf Full text]


* Duntley, J.D., & Buss, D.M. (2004). The evolution of evil. In A. Miller (Ed.), "The social psychology of good and evil". New York: Guilford. 102-123. [http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/Group/BussLAB/pdffiles/The%20evolution%20of%20evil.pdf Full text]


* Huxley, Julian. "Evolutionary Ethics 1893-1943". Pilot, London. In USA as "Touchstone for ethics" Harper, N.Y. (1947) [includes text from both T.H. Huxley and Julian Huxley]

* Katz, L. (Ed.) [http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/levy.html Evolutionary Origins of Morality: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives] Imprint Academic, 2000 ISBN 090784507X

* Krebs, D. L. & Denton, K. (2005). Toward a more pragmatic approach to morality: A critical evaluation of Kohlberg’s model. "Psychological Review, 112," 629-649. [http://www.sfu.ca/psyc/faculty/krebs/publications/Toward%20a%20More%20Pragmatic%20Approach%20to%20Morality.pdf Full text]

* Krebs, D. L. (2005). An evolutionary reconceptualization of Kohlberg’s model of moral development. In R. Burgess & K. MacDonald (Eds.) "Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Development", (pp. 243-274). CA: Sage Publications. [http://www.sfu.ca/psyc/faculty/krebs/publications/MacDonald.pdf Full text]

*Richerson, P.J. & Boyd, R. (2004). Darwinian Evolutionary Ethics: Between Patriotism and Sympathy. In Philip Clayton and Jeffrey Schloss, (Eds.), "Evolution and Ethics: Human Morality in Biological and Religious Perspective", Pp. 50-77. [http://www.des.ucdavis.edu/faculty/richerson/Dethics.pdf Full text] ISBN: 0802826954


*citation |last=Ruse |first=Michael |author-link=Michael Ruse |contribution=The New Evolutionary Ethics |editor-last=Nitecki |editor-first=Matthew H. |editor2-last=Nitecki |editor2-first=Doris V. |title=Evolutionary Ethics |place=Albany | publisher=State University of New York |publication-date=1993 |id=ISBN 0-7914-1499-X


* Teehan, J. & diCarlo, C. (2004). On the Naturalistic Fallacy: A conceptual basis for evolutionary ethics. "Evolutionary Psychology, 2," 32-46. [http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/ep023246.pdf Full text]


* Walter, A. (2006). The anti-naturalistic fallacy: Evolutionary moral psychology and the insistence of brute facts. "Evolutionary Psychology, 4," 33-48. [http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/ep043348.pdf Full text]

*Wilson, D. S., E. Dietrich, et al. (2003). On the inappropriate use of the naturalistic fallacy in evolutionary psychology. "Biology and Philosophy 18:" 669-682. [http://biology.binghamton.edu/dwilson/Wilson%20publications/DSW14.pdf Full text]

*Wilson, D. S. (2002). Evolution, morality and human potential. "Evolutionary Psychology: Alternative Approaches". S. J. Scher and F. Rauscher, Kluwer Press: 55-70 [http://biology.binghamton.edu/dwilson/Wilson%20publications/DSW16.pdf Full text]



External links

* [http://www.evolutionaryethics.com/ The Evolution of Ethics: An Introduction to Cybernetic Ethics] by S. E. Bromberg
* [http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/evol-eth.htm Evolutionary Ethics] at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
* [http://psychology.wikia.com/index.php?title=Forum:The_Ethics_of_Evolutionary_Psychology&t=20070105233537 The Ethics of Evolutionary Psychology forum] at [http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page The Psychology Wiki]
*sep entry|altruism-biological|Biological Altruism|Samir Okasha

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