Evolutionary ethics: Its origins and contemporary face

Zygon 34 (3):473-484 (1999)
Abstract
The development of modern evolutionary ethics began shortly after the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. Early discussions were plagued by several problems. First, evolutionary ethical explanations were dependent on group-selection accounts of social behavior (especially the explanation of altruism). Second, they seem to violate the philosophical principle that “ought” statements cannot be derived from “is” statements alone (values cannot be derivedfrom facts alone). Third, evolutionary ethics appeared to be biologically deterministic, deemed incompatible with the free will required for ethics to be possible. Fourth, social policies based on evolutionary theory (for example, eugenics in the early part of this century) seemed patently unethical. Sociobiology (which coalesced as a field of study with Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, 1975) addressed several of these problems and provided a rich framework and a new impetus for evolutionary ethics. The lingering problems were the philosophical is-ought barrier and biological determinism. After tracing the early and more recent development of evolutionary ethics, I argue that the remaining problems can be surmounted and an incipient evolutionary ethics can be defended. Thoroughgoing evolutionaryethics must await theoretical developments in neurobiology and cognitive science.
Keywords biology of morality  ethics  evolution  evolutionary ethics  morality  naturalistic fallacy  sociobiology
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Robert Richards (1986). A Defense of Evolutionary Ethics. Biology and Philosophy 1 (3):265-293.
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