The Containment Problem and the Evolutionary Debunking of Morality

Evolution of Morality (2016)
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Machery & Mallon [The moral psychology handbook (pp. 3–47). New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010] argue that existing evidence does not support the claim that moral cognition, understood as a specific form of normative cognition, is a product of evolution. Instead, they suggest that the evidence only supports the more modest claim that a general capacity for normative cognition evolved. They argue that if this is the case then the prospects for evolutionary debunking arguments are bleak. A debunking argument which relied on the fact that normative cognition in general evolved might threaten all areas of normative belief, including the epistemic norms upon which the argument relies. For the sake of argument, we accept their claim that specifically moral cognition did not evolve. However, we reject their contention that this critically undermines evolutionary debunking arguments of morality. A number of strategies are available to solve what we call the “containment problem,” or how to effectively debunk morality without thereby debunking normative cognition tout court. Furthermore, debunking arguments need not rely on the claim that normative cognition in general evolved. So long as at least some aspects of moral cognition have evolved, this may be sufficient to support an evolutionary debunking argument against many of our moral beliefs. Thus, even if Machery & Mallon are right that specifically moral cognition did not evolve, research in evolutionary psychology may have radical implications for moral philosophy.



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David Moss
Cambridge University

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Objectivity.Ross Colebrook & Hagop Sarkissian - 2018 - In Todd K. Shackelford & Vivian A. Weekes-Shackelford (eds.), Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science.

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