Can biology make ethics objective?

Biology and Philosophy 11 (1):21-31 (1996)
A familiar position regarding the evolution of ethics is that biology can explain the origin of morals but that in doing so it removes the possibility of their having objective justification. This position is set fourth in detail in the writings of Michael Ruse (1986, 1987, 1989, 1990a, 1990b) but it is also taken by many others, notably, Jeffrie Murphy (1982), Andrew Oldenquist (1990), and Allan Gibbard (1990), I argue the contrary view that biology provides a justification of the existence of morals which is objective in the sense of being independent of people's moral views and their particular desires and preferences. Ironically, my argument builds on the very premises which are supposed to undermine the objectivity of morals. But my argument stops short of claiming that biology can give us a basis for justifying some particular system of morals. Drawing on an analogy with social contract theory, I offer a general reason why this more ambitious project cannot be expected to succeed if the argument is pursued along the same lines. Finally, I give reasons why the possibility of objective justification for a particular morality cannot be ruled out in general on evolutionary grounds.
Keywords Morality  evolution  justification  objectivity
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/BF00127470
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 16,667
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

View all 13 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Richard Joyce (2006). Metaethics and the Empirical Sciences. Philosophical Explorations 9 (1):133 – 148.
Mason Cash (2008). Thoughts and Oughts. Philosophical Explorations 11 (2):93 – 119.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

35 ( #93,308 of 1,726,249 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

4 ( #183,615 of 1,726,249 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.