Friday, 9 February 2007
Evolutionary Ethics: Past and Present
Fritz Allhoff, Department of Philosophy
Western Michigan University
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning
Abstract: My primary research project has to do with understanding the relationship between evolutionary biology and moral philosophy. In this talk, I want to accomplish several goals. First, I will look at some work in the 19 th (and very early 20 th) century to show what sort of intellectual tradition this investigation has. To this end, I will look at two “positive accounts”, those of Charles Darwin--especially writings from Descent (1871) and his notebooks--and Herbert Spencer. Then, I will look at “critics”, who include Thomas Henry Huxley, Henry Sidgwick, and G.E. Moore. These criticisms, largely against Spencer, were so compelling as to destroy much industry in evolutionary ethics until E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology (1975). Before moving to contemporary accounts, I will then try to extract the questions that evolutionary ethics seeks to address: this is a terribly vague part of the project and one which desperately needs to be clarified. Next, I will use to use those questions to motivate an analysis of some current literature, discussing at least the work of so-called “evolutionary error theorists” Michael Ruse and Richard Joyce as well as Robert Richards’ neo-Spencerian account. Time permitting, we might also discuss “evolutionary realists” (e.g., John Collier & Michael Stingl, William Casebeer). Finally, I will sketch my criticisms of the preceding accounts as well as gesture toward my alternative, which is a contract-based approach to morality predicated upon evolutionary considerations.