Moral Progress and Evolution: Knowledge Versus Understanding

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 24 (1):87-105 (2021)
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The paper explores the interplay among moral progress, evolution and moral realism. Although it is nearly uncontroversial to note that morality makes progress of one sort or another, it is far from uncontroversial to define what constitutes moral progress. In a minimal sense, moral progress occurs when a subsequent state of affairs is better than a preceding one. Moral realists conceive “it is better than” as something like “it more adequately reflects moral facts”; therefore, on a realist view, moral progress can be associated with accumulations of moral knowledge. From an evolutionary perspective, on the contrary, since there cannot be something like moral knowledge, one might conclude there cannot even be such a thing as moral progress. More precisely, evolutionism urges us to ask whether we can acknowledge the existence of moral progress without being committed to moral realism. A promising strategy, I will argue, is to develop an account of moral progress based on moral understanding rather than moral knowledge. On this view, moral progress follows increases in moral understanding rather than accumulations of moral knowledge. Whether an understanding-based account of moral progress is feasible and what its implications for the notion itself of moral progress are, will be discussed.



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Author's Profile

Eleonora Severini
Universita' degli Studi di Pavia

References found in this work

Moral realism: a defence.Russ Shafer-Landau - 2003 - New York: Oxford University Press.
The ethical project.Philip Kitcher - 2011 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
A Darwinian dilemma for realist theories of value.Sharon Street - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 127 (1):109-166.
“How to Be a Moral Realist.Richard Boyd - 1988 - In Geoffrey Sayre-McCord (ed.), Essays on moral realism. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. pp. 181-228.

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