Recent debate in metaethics over evolutionary debunking arguments against morality has shown a tendency to abstract away from relevant empirical detail. Here, I engage the debate about Darwinian debunking of morality with relevant empirical issues. I present four conditions that must be met in order for it to be reasonable to expect an evolved cognitive faculty to be reliable: the environment, information, error, and tracking conditions. I then argue that these conditions are not met in the case of our evolved (...) faculty for moral judgement. (shrink)
The partner choice approach to understanding the evolution of cooperation builds on approaches that focus on partner control by considering processes that occur prior to pair or group formation. Proponents of the partner choice approach rightly note that competition to be chosen as a partner can help solve the puzzle of cooperation. I aim to build on the partner choice approach by considering the role of signalling in partner choice. Partnership formation often requires reliable information. Signalling is thus important in (...) the context of partner choice. However, the issue of signal reliability has been understudied in the partner choice literature. The issue deserves attention because – despite what proponents of the partner choice approach sometimes claim – that approach does face a cheater problem, which we might call the problem of false advertising in biological markets. Both theoretical and empirical work is needed to address this problem. I will draw on signalling theory to provide a theoretical framework within which to organise the scattered discussions of the false advertising problem extant in the partner choice literature. I will end by discussing some empirical work on cooperation, partner choice, and punishment among humans. (shrink)
In this paper, I distinguish between two error theories of morality: one couched in terms of truth (ET1); the other in terms of justification (ET2). I then present two arguments: the Poisoned Presupposition Argument for ET1; and the Evolutionary Debunking Argument for ET2. I go on to show how assessing these arguments requires paying attention to empirical moral psychology, in particular, work on folk metaethics. After criticizing extant work, I suggest avenues for future research.
Mercenaries are the target of moral condemnation far more often than they are subject of moral concern. One attempt at morally condemning mercenaries proceeds by analogy with prostitutes; mercenaries are ?the whores of war?. This analogy is unconvincing as a way of condemning mercenaries. However, careful comparison of mercenarism and prostitution suggests that, like many prostitutes, some mercenaries may be vulnerable individuals. If apt, this comparison imposes a consistency requirement: if one thinks certain prostitutes are appropriate subjects of moral concern (...) in light of their vulnerability, then one must think that mercenaries who are likewise vulnerable are also appropriate subjects of moral concern. In this paper I elucidate the relevant, morally significant sense of ?vulnerability?, and present evidence suggesting that at least some mercenaries are vulnerable in this sense. (shrink)
This collection reports on the latest research on an increasingly pivotal issue for evolutionary biology: cooperation. The chapters are written from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and utilize research tools that range from empirical survey to conceptual modeling, reflecting the rich diversity of work in the field. They explore a wide taxonomic range, concentrating on bacteria, social insects, and, especially, humans. -/- Part I (“Agents and Environments”) investigates the connections of social cooperation in social organizations to the conditions that make (...) cooperation profitable and stable, focusing on the interactions of agent, population, and environment. Part II (“Agents and Mechanisms”) focuses on how proximate mechanisms emerge and operate in the evolutionary process and how they shape evolutionary trajectories. Throughout the book, certain themes emerge that demonstrate the ubiquity of questions regarding cooperation in evolutionary biology: the generation and division of the profits of cooperation; transitions in individuality; levels of selection, from gene to organism; and the “human cooperation explosion” that makes our own social behavior particularly puzzling from an evolutionary perspective. (shrink)
Two recent overviews of costly signalling theory—Maynard-Smith and Harper ( 2003 ) and Searcy and Nowicki ( 2005 )—both refuse to count signals kept honest by punishment of dishonesty, as costly signals, because (1) honest signals must be costly in cases of costly signalling, and (2) punishment of dishonesty itself requires explanation. I argue that both pairs of researchers are mistaken: (2) is not a reason to discount signals kept honest by punishment of dishonesty as cases of costly signalling, and (...) (1) betrays too narrow a focus on certain versions of costly signalling theory. In the course of so arguing, I propose a new schema for classifying signal costs, which suggests productive research questions for future conceptual and empirical work on costly signalling. (shrink)
A key question for research on the evolutionary origins of morality concerns just what the target of an evolutionary explanation of morality should be. Some researchers focus on behaviors, others on systems of norms, yet others on moral emotions. Richard Joyce (2006) offers an evolutionary explanation for the trait of making moral judgments. Here, I defend Joyce’s account of moral judgment against two objections from Stephen Stich (2008). Stich’s first objection concerns the supposed universality of moral judgments as Joyce conceives (...) of them. I respond by undermining the empirical evidence upon which this objection is based. Stich’s second objection concerns the extent of the moral domain, which he takes to include far more than the considerations of harm and fairness central to Joyce’s account. In response, I outline several strategies for reconciling Stich’s observations with Joyce’s account. (shrink)
Paul Seabright argues that strong reciprocity was crucial in the evolution of large-scale cooperation. He identifies three potential evolutionary explanations for strong reciprocity. Drawing (like Seabright) on experimental economics, I identify and elaborate a fourth explanation for strong reciprocity, which proceeds in terms of partner choice, costly signaling, and competitive altruism.
Adaptationist accounts of morality attempt to explain the evolution of morality in terms of the selective advantage that judging in moral terms secured for our ancestors (e.g. Ruse 1998; Joyce 2006; Street 2006). So-called by-product explanations of morality have been presented as an alternative to adaptationist accounts (e.g. Prinz 2009; Ayala 2010; cf. Darwin 2004/1871). In assessing the relationship between adaptationist and by-product accounts, care must be taken to distinguish several related but importantly different notions: innateness, adaptation, exaptation, spandrel, and (...) by-product. (shrink)
The Argument from Disagreement (AD) (Mackie, 1977) depends upon empirical evidence for ‘fundamental’ moral disagreement (FMD) (Doris and Stich, 2005; Doris and Plakias, 2008). Research on the Southern ‘culture of honour’ (Nisbett and Cohen, 1996) has been presented as evidence for FMD between Northerners and Southerners within the US. We raise some doubts about the usefulness of such data in settling AD. We offer an alternative based on recent work in moral psychology that targets the potential universality of morally significant (...) distinctions (e.g. means vs. side-effects, actions versus omissions). More specifically, we argue that a recent study showing that a rural Mayan population fails to perceive as morally significant the distinction between actions and omissions provides a plausible case of FMD between Mayans and Westerners. (shrink)
It has long been known that people’s causal judgments can have an impact on their moral judgments. To take a simple example, if people conclude that a behavior caused the death of ten innocent children, they will therefore be inclined to regard the behavior itself as morally wrong. So far, none of this should come as any surprise. But recent experimental work points to the existence of a second, and more surprising, aspect of the relationship between causal judgment and moral (...) judgment. It appears that the relationship can sometimes go in the opposite direction. That is, it appears that our moral judgments can sometimes impact our causal judgments. (Hence, we might first determine that a behavior is morally wrong and then, on that basis, arrive at the conclusion that it was the cause of various outcomes.). (shrink)