Evolutionary ethics: Its origins and contemporary face

Zygon 34 (3):473-484 (1999)
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
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/1467-9744.00227
 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: 23,209
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

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Robert Richards (1986). A Defense of Evolutionary Ethics. Biology and Philosophy 1 (3):265-293.
Jason M. Byron (2005). Sociobiology. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

156 ( #26,453 of 1,940,986 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

20 ( #30,402 of 1,940,986 )

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.