Article

Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 189-202

Moral and nonmoral innate constraints

  • Kathryn Paxton GeorgeAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Idaho

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Abstract

Charles J. Lumsden and E.O. Wilson, in their writings together and individually, have proposed that human behaviors, whether moral or nonmoral, are governed by innate constraints (which they have termed “epigenetic rules”). I propose that if a genetic component of moral behavior is to be discovered, some sorting out of specifically moral from nonmoral innate constraints will be necessary. That some specifically moral innate constraits exist is evidenced by virtuous behaviors exhibited in nonhuman mammals, whose behavior is usually granted to be importantly governed by genetic factors. Propensities for such virtuous behaviors may have been passed to humans as highly conserved mammalian genes and continue to influence us. I propose that these constitute at least a “rudimentary morality” and may account in part for the moral intuitions. But other innate constraints which are nonmoral in nature interact with the specifically moral innate constraints and with culture to yield human moral decisions and actions. Any model which aims to identify the genetic component of moral behaviors or behaviors with moral import must provide not only a delineation of cultural causes but must also distinguish between those genetic causes which may have their origin in innate moral constraints from others which are fundamentally nonmoral because the critical faculty necessary to higher level human morality itself arises in part from innate constraints of a nonmoral type; i.e., the processes of inductive reasoning common to both ethics and science. Finally, humans who could bring the nonmoral evaluative capacities to bear upon whatever moral intuitions might be genetically conserved in mammalian heritage would have an advantage over similar beings who could not.

Key words

Epigenetic rule ethics human behavioral ecology innate constraint morality sociobiology