Biology and Philosophy 15 (5):713-732 (2000)

Suppose that the human tendency to think of certain actions andomissions as morally required – a notion that surely lies at the heart of moral discourse – is a trait that has been naturallyselected for. Many have thought that from this premise we canjustify or vindicate moral concepts. I argue that this is mistaken, and defend Michael Ruse's view that the moreplausible implication is an error theory – the idea thatmorality is an illusion foisted upon us by evolution. Thenaturalistic fallacy is a red herring in this debate,since there is really nothing that counts as a ‘fallacy’ at all. If morality is an illusion, it appears to followthat we should, upon discovering this, abolish moraldiscourse on pain of irrationality. I argue that thisconclusion is too hasty, and that we may be able usefullyto employ a moral discourse, warts and all, withoutbelieving in it.
Keywords Darwin  error theory  ethics  evolution  evolutionary ethics  Mackie  naturalistic fallacy  Ruse
Categories (categorize this paper)
Reprint years 2004
DOI 10.1023/A:1006742813396
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 55,935
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Modern Moral Philosophy.G. E. M. Anscombe - 1958 - Philosophy 33 (124):1 - 19.
How to Speak of the Colors.Mark Johnston - 1992 - Philosophical Studies 68 (3):221-263.
Values and Secondary Qualities.John McDowell - 1985 - In Ted Honderich (ed.), Morality and Objectivity. London: Routledge. pp. 110-129.
Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives.Philippa Foot - 1972 - Philosophical Review 81 (3):305-316.
Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics.Robert Shaver - 1992 - Philosophical Review 101 (2):458.

View all 23 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Evolutionary Debunking Arguments.Guy Kahane - 2011 - Noûs 45 (1):103-125.

View all 18 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
88 ( #111,980 of 2,403,163 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #552,147 of 2,403,163 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes