Dissertation, Washington University in St. Louis (2014)

Isaac Wiegman
Texas State University
I argue that the evolutionary history of anger has substantive implications for normative ethics. In the process, I develop an evolutionary account of anger and its influence on action. First, I consider a prominent argument by Peter Singer and Joshua Greene. They conclude that evolutionary explanations of human cooperation debunk – or undercut the evidential value of – the moral intuitions supporting duty ethics (as opposed to utilitarian or consequentialist ethics). With this argument they aim to defend consequentialist theories. However, their argument also threatens to debunk intuitions that support consequentialist theories. I give a novel argument that overcomes this difficulty. Specifically, I offer an evolutionary story about anger that can explain retributive, duty-oriented intuitions concerning punishment. This explanation debunks these intuitions (and not others) by showing that they were selected for their biological consequences rather than their accuracy (concerning duties to punish). I develop this explanation by raising and resolving three additional problems. First, prominent evolutionary explanations of retributive motives fail because they appeal to models that apply only to organisms with strategic insight. To mitigate this problem, I explain the existence of a retributive-like motive in rodents by appealing to an economic model of resource competition, which applies to organisms without strategic insight. Second, I show that human anger was shaped by resource competition of this kind. To do so, I develop evidential criteria to determine when psychological systems in different species share common evolutionary origins. I deploy these criteria to argue that human anger and the retributive motive in rodents derive from the same ancestral trait. Finally, the continuity of anger across human and nonhuman animals stands in tension with the idea that anger causes purposive behavior like retribution or retaliation. I argue that differences between the angry behaviors of human and nonhuman animals are differences in degree and not in kind. In the end, this evolutionary story both explains and undermines retributive intuitions, but not in the straightforward way that Singer and Greene suppose.
Keywords Anger  Punishment  Retribution  Evolutionary debunking  Evolutionary psychology  Cognitive homology  Evolutionary game theory  Animal Cognition  Theoretical terms  Comparative psychology
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Translate to english
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

The Evolution of Retribution: Intuitions Undermined.Isaac Wiegman - 2017 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 98 (2):490-510.
Ethics and Intuitions.Peter Singer - 2005 - The Journal of Ethics 9 (3-4):331-352.
Guit, Anger, and Retribution.Raffaele Rodogno - 2010 - Legal Theory 16 (1):59-76.
Evolutionary Debunking Arguments in Ethics.Andreas Lech Mogensen - 2014 - Dissertation, University of Oxford


Added to PP index

Total views
446 ( #21,775 of 2,519,272 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
58 ( #13,900 of 2,519,272 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes