Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 287–307 | Cite as

Moral Darwinism: Ethical evidence for the descent of man

  • Robert T. Pennock


Could an ethical theory ever play a substantial evidential role in a scientific argument for an empirical hypothesis? InThe Descent of Man, Darwin includes an extended discussion of the nature of human morality, and the ethical theory which he sketches is not simply developed as an interesting ramification of his theory of evolution, but is used as a key part of his evidence for human descent from animal ancestors. Darwin must rebut the argument that, because of our moral nature, humans are essentially different in kind from other animals and so had to have had a different origin. I trace his causal story of how the moral sense could develop out of social instincts by evolutionary mechanisms of group selection, and show that the form of Utilitarianism he proposes involves a radical reduction of the standard of value to the concept of biological fitness. I argue that this causal analysis, although a weakness from a normative standpoint, is a strength when judged for its intended purpose as part of an evidential argument to confirm the hypothesis of human descent.

Key Words

Charles Darwin Confirmation Descent of Man evidence evolutionary ethics human evolution Moral Darwinism 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert T. Pennock
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of TexasAustinU.S.A.

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