About this topic
Summary This category includes work on two main questions: (1) Can morality be given an evolutionary explanation? (2) What implications for moral philosophy would such an explanation have? Work addressing (1) must clearly specify the explanatory target. An important challenge here is to distinguish morality from related notions: altruism (biological and psychological), cooperation, prosocial emotions, and the capacity to follow norms more generally. Such work must also specify the relevant evolutionary mechanism(s). Options include kin selection, reciprocity, cultural group selection, sexual selection, costly signaling, and evolutionary constraint or accident. A useful broad distinction here is between adaptationist accounts, on which morality was selected for, and non-adaptationist accounts, on which morality is a by-product of some other trait(s). Work addressing (2) can be divided into that which considers implications for normative ethics, and for metaethics. The former is widely claimed to fall foul of the is/ought gap and the naturalistic fallacy, but the latter is immune to such charges (whatever they ultimately amount to). Work of the latter sort can be roughly but usefully divided into vindicating and debunking accounts. On the former, an evolutionary explanation for morality is at least compatible with - and may even positively support - the existence of moral facts and our possession of moral knowledge. On the latter, such an explanation somehow undermines morality, by giving reason to doubt the existence of moral facts, or our reliability as moral judgment makers, or both.
Key works Ruse & Wilson 1986 made an early, flawed but still instructive attempt to link evolutionary biology with moral philosophy. More recently, Kitcher 2005 and Joyce 2005 have offered adaptationist accounts of the evolution of morality; see Prinz 2008 for a non-adaptationist account. Kahane 2011 provides a useful framework for considering the metaethical implications of an evolutionary explanation for morality. Joyce 2005 and Street 2006 are two prominent evolutionary debunkers of morality. For a vindicating account, see Copp 2008.
Introductions Encyclopedia entries include Fitzpatrick 2008 and Schroeder 2001. For article-length overviews of the empirical and metaethical issues, see Allchin 2009 and Levy 2010, respectively. For a book-length treatment, see James 2010.
Related categories

1054 found
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  1. Modeling Rationality, Morality, and Evolution.Peter A. Danielson - 1998 - Oxford University Press USA.
    This collection focuses on questions that arise when morality is considered from the perspective of recent work on rational choice and evolution. Linking questions like "Is it rational to be moral?" to the evolution of cooperation in "The Prisoners Dilemma," the book brings together new work using models from game theory, evolutionary biology, and cognitive science, as well as from philosophical analysis. Among the contributors are leading figures in these fields, including David Gauthier, Paul M. Churchland, Brian Skyrms, Ronald de (...)
  2. Mayan Morality: An Exploration of Permissible Harms.Linda Abarbanell & Marc D. Hauser - 2010 - Cognition 115 (2):207-224.
    Anthropologists have provided rich field descriptions of the norms and conventions governing behavior and interactions in small-scale societies. Here, we add a further dimension to this work by presenting hypothetical moral dilemmas involving harm, to a small-scale, agrarian Mayan population, with the specific goal of exploring the hypothesis that certain moral principles apply universally. We presented Mayan participants with moral dilemmas translated into their native language, Tseltal. Paralleling several studies carried out with educated subjects living in large-scale, developed nations, the (...)
  3. The Evolution of Morality by Joyce, Richard. [REVIEW]Zed Adams - 2007 - Ethics 117 (2).
  4. Frans de Waal, Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved:Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved.Zed Adams - 2007 - Ethics 117 (3):552-555.
  5. Richard Joyce, The Evolution of Morality. [REVIEW]Zed Adams - 2007 - Ethics 117 (2):363-369.
  6. Agar's Review of Katz. [REVIEW]Nicholas Agar - 2002 - Biology and Philosophy 17 (1):123-139.
  7. Book Review. Beyond Evolution: Human Nature and the Limits of Evolutionary Explanation Anthony O'Hear. [REVIEW]Nicholas Agar - 2001 - Mind 110 (438):534-537.
  8. From Game Theoretical Accounts of Cooperation to Meta-Ethical Choices.Arif Ahmed - 2013 - Studies in Christian Ethics 26 (2):176-183.
  9. Evolution of Hindu Moral Ideals.Sivaswamy Aiyer & S. P. - 1935 - [Calcutta]Calcutta University.
  10. Debunking "Conservative" Arguments Against the Federal Marriage Amendment.W. Akin - 2004 - Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy 18 (1):219-224.
  11. Indirect Reciprocity, Golden Opportunities for Defection, and Inclusive Reputation.Max Albert & Hannes Rusch - 2013 - MAGKS Discussion Paper Series in Economics.
    In evolutionary models of indirect reciprocity, reputation mechanisms can stabilize cooperation even in severe cooperation problems like the prisoner’s dilemma. Under certain circumstances, conditionally cooperative strategies, which cooperate iff their partner has a good reputation, cannot be invaded by any other strategy that conditions behavior only on own and partner reputation. The first point of this paper is to show that an evolutionary version of backward induction can lead to a breakdown of this kind of indirectly reciprocal cooperation. Backward induction, (...)
  12. Cooperation in Primates: A Critical, Methodological Review.Anna Albiach-Serrano - 2015 - Interaction Studies 16 (3):361-382.
  13. Cooperation in Primates: A Critical, Methodological Review.Anna Albiach-Serrano - 2015 - Interaction Studiesinteraction Studies Social Behaviour and Communication in Biological and Artificial Systems 16 (3):361-382.
  14. Review: Evolutionary Cynicism and Moral Realities. [REVIEW]John Alcock - 1990 - Behavior and Philosophy 18 (2):89 - 96.
  15. Reconciling Morality with the Theory of Rational Choice Via Evolution.J. McKenzie Alexander - unknown
  16. The Evolutionary Foundations of Strong Reciprocity.J. McKenzie Alexander - unknown
    : Strong reciprocators possess two behavioural dispositions: they are willing to bestow bene ts on those who have bestowed bene ts, and they are willing to punish those who fail to bestow bene ts according to some social norm. There is no doubt that peoples' behaviour, in many cases, agrees with what we would expect if people are strong reciprocators, and Fehr and Henrich argue that many people are, in fact, strong reciprocators. They also suggest that strongly reciprocal behaviour may (...)
  17. Random Boolean Networks and Evolutionary Game Theory.J. McKenzie Alexander - 2002 - Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1289-1304.
    Recent years have seen increased interest in the question of whether it is possible to provide an evolutionary game-theoretic explanation for certain kinds of social norms. I sketch a proof of a general representation theorem for a large class of evolutionary game-theoretic models played on a social network, in hope that this will contribute to a greater understanding of the long-term evolutionary dynamics of such models, and hence the evolution of social norms.
  18. Evolutionary Game Theory.J. McKenzie Alexander - unknown
  19. Evolutionary Explanations of Distributive Justice.J. McKenzie Alexander - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (3):490-516.
    Evolutionary game theoretic accounts of justice attempt to explain our willingness to follow certain principles of justice by appealing to robustness properties possessed by those principles. Skyrms (1996) offers one sketch of how such an account might go for divide-the-dollar, the simplest version of the Nash bargaining game, using the replicator dynamics of Taylor and Jonker (1978). In a recent article, D'Arms et al. (1998) criticize his account and describe a model which, they allege, undermines his theory. I sketch a (...)
  20. The (Spatial) Evolution of the Equal Split.Jason Alexander & Brian Skyrms - unknown
    The replicator dynamics have been used to study the evolution of a population of rational agents playing the Nash bargaining game, where an individual's "fitness" is determined by an individual's success in playing the game. In these models, a population whose initial conditions was randomly chosen from the space of population proportions converges to a state of fair division approximately 62% of the time. (Higher rates of convergence to final states of fair division can be obtained by introducing artificial correlations (...)
  21. The Biology of Moral Systems.Richard Alexander - 1987 - Aldine de Gruyter.
    Despite wide acceptance that the attributes of living creatures have appeared through a cumulative evolutionary process guided chiefly by natural selection, many human activities have seemed analytically inaccessible through such an approach. Prominent evolutionary biologists, for example, have described morality as contrary to the direction of biological evolution, and moral philosophers rarely regard evolution as relevant to their discussions. -/- The Biology of Moral Systems adopts the position that moral questions arise out of conflicts of interest, and that moral systems (...)
  22. Biological Considerations in the Analysis of Morality.Richard D. Alexander - 1993 - In Matthew Nitecki & Doris Nitecki (eds.), Evolutionary Ethics. Suny Press. pp. 163--196.
  23. A Biology of Moral Systems.Richard D. Alexander - 1990 - Behavior and Philosophy 18 (2):89-96.
  24. Natural Selection in Morals.S. Alexander - 1892 - International Journal of Ethics 2 (4):409-439.
  25. The Evolution of Morality.Douglas Allchin - 2009 - Evolution 2 (4):590-601.
    Here, in textbook style, is a concise biological account of the evolution of morality. It addresses morality on three levels: moral outcomes (behavioral genetics), moral motivation or intent (psychology and neurology), and moral systems (sociality). The rationale for teaching this material is addressed in Allchin (2009). Classroom resources (including accompanying images and video links) and a discussion of teaching strategies are provided online at: http://EvolutionOfMorality.net.
  26. Teaching the Evolution of Morality: Status and Resources.Douglas Allchin - 2009 - Evolution 2 (4):629-635.
    Recent studies now provide a relatively robust explanation of how moral behavior evolved, perhaps not just in humans. An analysis of current biology textbooks shows that they fail to address this critical topic fully. Here, I survey resources—books, images, and videos—that can guide educators in meeting the challenge of teaching the biology of morality.
  27. Rethinking the Origin of Morality and Moral Development. Alldredge - 2000 - Journal of Mind and Behavior 21 (1-2):105-128.
    This article discusses moral development in light of recent advances in biofunctional cognition. We begin by discussing moral development from three contemporary approaches, namely, the cognitive-developmental, narrative, and educational perspectives. Clearly, these perspectives have changed substantially our understanding of moral development. However, they also share the limitation that they have each focused on some aspect of moral development in isolation. To try to unify what is already known without losing sight of the holistic essence of morality, one must address moral (...)
  28. Animal Play and the Evolution of Morality: An Ethological Approach.Colin Allen & Marc Bekoff - 2005 - Topoi 24 (2):125-135.
    In this paper we argue that there is much to learn about “wild justice” and the evolutionary origins of morality – behaving fairly – by studying social play behavior in group-living mammals. Because of its relatively wide distribution among the mammals, ethological investigation of play, informed by interdisciplinary cooperation, can provide a comparative perspective on the evolution of ethical behavior that is broader than is provided by the usual focus on primate sociality. Careful analysis of social play reveals rules of (...)
  29. The Evolution of the Moral Sentiments and the Metaphysics of Morals.Fritz Allhoff - 2009 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 12 (1):97-114.
    So-called evolutionary error theorists, such as Michael Ruse and Richard Joyce, have argued that naturalistic accounts of the moral sentiments lead us to adopt an error theory approach to morality. Roughly, the argument is that an appreciation of the etiology of those sentiments undermines any reason to think that they track moral truth and, furthermore, undermines any reason to think that moral truth actually exists. I argue that this approach offers us a false dichotomy between error theory and some form (...)
  30. Evolutionary Ethics From Darwin to Moore.Fritz Allhoff - 2003 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 25 (1):51 - 79.
    Evolutionary ethics has a long history, dating all the way back to Charles Darwin.1 Almost immediately after the publication of the Origin, an immense interest arose in the moral implications of Darwinism and whether the truth of Darwinism would undermine traditional ethics. Though the biological thesis was certainly exciting, nobody suspected that the impact of the Origin would be confined to the scientific arena. As one historian wrote, 'whether or not ancient populations of armadillos were transformed into the species that (...)
  31. Cooperation, Evolution, and Culture.Michael Alvard - 2003 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (2):153-154.
    Rejecting evolutionary principles is a mistake, because evolutionary processes produced the irrational human minds for which Colman argues. An evolved cultural ability to acquire information socially and infer other's mental states (mind-reading) evokes Stackelberg reasoning. Much of game theory, however, assumes away information transfer and excludes the very solution that natural selection likely created to solve the problem of cooperation.
  32. 10. Richard Joyce, The Myth of Morality Richard Joyce, The Myth of Morality (Pp. 182-184).Kevin A. Ameriks, Tad R. Brennan, Ann E. Cudd, Kirk A. Greer, Bart Gruzalski, David P. McCabe, John McCumber, Richard Sherlock & Ira J. Singer - 2003 - Ethics 114 (1).
  33. The Evolution and Development of Human Cooperation.Federica Amici - 2015 - Interaction Studiesinteraction Studies Social Behaviour and Communication in Biological and Artificial Systems 16 (3):383-418.
  34. The Evolution and Development of Human Cooperation.Federica Amici - 2015 - Interaction Studies 16 (3):383-418.
  35. Understanding Norms Without a Theory of Mind.Kristin Andrews - 2009 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 52 (5):433-448.
    I argue that having a theory of mind requires having at least implicit knowledge of the norms of the community, and that an implicit understanding of the normative is what drives the development of a theory of mind. This conclusion is defended by two arguments. First I argue that a theory of mind likely did not develop in order to predict behavior, because before individuals can use propositional attitudes to predict behavior, they have to be able to use them in (...)
  36. Morality and the Philosophy of Life in Guyau and Bergson.Keith Ansell-Pearson - 2014 - Continental Philosophy Review 47 (1):59-85.
    In this essay I examine the contribution a philosophy of life is able to make to our understanding of morality, including our appreciation of its evolution or development and its future. I focus on two contributions, namely, those of Jean-Marie Guyau and Henri Bergson. In the case of Guyau I show that he pioneers the naturalistic study of morality through a conception of life; for him the moral progress of humanity is bound up with an increasing sociability, involving both the (...)
  37. Intuition in Moral Theory.Thomas Kent Appleberry - 1996 - Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin
    I argue that an examination of the nature of moral intuition shows it to be unsuitable as a basis for moral theory. I draw a comparison between moral and mathematical intuition based on theories concerning the evolutionary formation of the capacities for each. In this context I develop a theory of the evolutionary origin of guilt that serves as a model for some general proposals about the origin of moral experience and intuition. I conclude from the comparison that the capacities (...)
  38. Frans de Waal. The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates.Neil Arner - 2014 - Philosophy, Theology and the Sciences 1 (2):276-280.
  39. Thomistic Natural Law as Darwinian Natural Right.Larry Arnhart - 2001 - Social Philosophy and Policy 18 (1):1-33.
    The publication in 1975 of Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology provoked a great controversy, for in that work Wilson claimed that ethics was rooted in human biology. On the first page of the book, he asserted that our deepest intuitions of right and wrong are guided by the emotional control centers of the brain, which evolved via natural selection to help the human animal exploit opportunities and avoid threats in the natural environment. In 1998, the publication of Wilson's Consilience renewed the (...)
  40. The Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of Darwinism.Larry Arnhart - 2001 - Zygon 36 (1):77-92.
  41. Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature.Larry Arnhart - 1998 - State University of New York Press.
    This book shows how Darwinian biology supports an Aristotelian view of ethics as rooted in human nature. Defending a conception of "Darwinian natural right" based on the claim that the good is the desirable, the author argues that there are at least twenty natural desires that are universal to all human societies because they are based in human biology. The satisfaction of these natural desires constitutes a universal standard for judging social practice as either fulfilling or frustrating human nature, although (...)
  42. The New Darwinian Naturalism in Political Theory.Larry Arnhart - 1998 - Zygon 33 (3):369-393.
  43. The Debunking Challenge to Realism: How Evolution (Ultimately) Matters.Levy Arnon & Yair Levy - 2016 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy:1-8.
    Evolutionary debunking arguments (EDAs) have attracted extensive attention in meta-ethics, as they pose an important challenge to moral realism. Mogensen (2015) suggests that EDAs contain a fallacy, by confusing two distinct forms of biological explanation – ultimate and proximate. If correct, the point is of considerable importance: evolutionary genealogies of human morality are simply irrelevant for debunking. But we argue that the actual situation is subtler: while ultimate claims do not strictly entail proximate ones, there are important evidential connections between (...)
  44. Rescuing Tracking Theories of Morality.Marc Artiga - 2015 - Philosophical Studies 172 (12):3357-3374.
    Street’s :109–166, 2006) Darwinian Dilemma purports to show that evolutionary considerations are in tension with realist theories of value, which include moral realism. According to this argument, moral realism can only be defended by assuming an implausible tracking relation between moral attitudes and moral facts. In this essay, I argue that this tracking relation is not as implausible as most people have assumed by showing that the three main objections against it are flawed. Since this is a key premise in (...)
  45. The Evolution of Cooperation.Robert Axelrod - 1984 - Basic Books.
    The 'Evolution of Cooperation' addresses a simple yet age-old question; If living things evolve through competition, how can cooperation ever emerge? Despite the abundant evidence of cooperation all around us, there existed no purely naturalistic answer to this question until 1979, when Robert Axelrod famously ran a computer tournament featuring a standard game-theory exercise called The Prisoner's Dilemma. To everyone's surprise, the program that won the tournament, named Tit for Tat, was not only the simplest but the most "cooperative" entrant. (...)
  46. What the Biological Sciences Can and Cannot Contribute to Ethics.Francisco Ayala - 2008 - In Francisco José Ayala & Robert Arp (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology. Wiley-Blackwell.
    The question whether ethical behavior is biologically determined may refer either to the capacity for ethics (i.e., the proclivity to judge human actions as either right or wrong), or to the moral norms accepted by human beings for guiding their actions. I herein propose: (1) that the capacity for ethics is a necessary attribute of human nature; and (2) that moral norms are products of cultural evolution, not of biological evolution. Humans exhibit ethical behavior by nature because their biological makeup (...)
  47. Biology to Ethics: An Evolutionist's View of Human Nature.Francisco Ayala - 2006 - In Giovanni Boniolo & Gabriele De Anna (eds.), Evolutionary Ethics and Contemporary Biology. Cambridge University Press. pp. 141--158.
  48. The Biological Foundations of Ethics.Francisco J. Ayala - 2010 - Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 66 (3):523 - 537.
    Erect posture and large brain are two of the most significant anatomical traits that distinguish us from nonhuman primates. But humans are also different from chimpanzees and other animals, and no less importantly, in their behavior, both as individuals and socially. Distinctive human behavioral attributes include tool-making and technology; abstract thinking, categorizing, and reasoning; symbolic (creative) language; self-awareness and death-awareness; science, literature, and art; legal codes, ethics and religion; complex social organization and political institutions. These traits may all be said (...)
  49. The Biological Roots of Morality.Francisco J. Ayala - 1987 - Biology and Philosophy 2 (3):235-252.
    The question whether ethical behavior is biologically determined may refer either to thecapacity for ethics (e.i., the proclivity to judge human actions as either right or wrong), or to the moralnorms accepted by human beings for guiding their actions. My theses are: (1) that the capacity for ethics is a necessary attribute of human nature; and (2) that moral norms are products of cultural evolution, not of biological evolution.Humans exhibits ethical behavior by nature because their biological makeup determines the presence (...)
  50. Man in Evolution: A Scientific Statement and Some Theological and Ethical Implications.Francisco José Ayala - 1967 - The Thomist 31:1-20.
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