Do the evolutionary origins of our moral beliefs undermine moral knowledge?
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According to some recent arguments, (Joyce in The evolution of morality, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2006; Ruse and Wilson in Conceptual issues in evolutionary biology, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1995; Street in Philos Studies 127: 109–166, 2006) if our moral beliefs are products of natural selection, then we do not have moral knowledge. In defense of this inference, its proponents argue that natural selection is a process that fails to track moral facts. In this paper, I argue that our having moral knowledge is consistent with, (a) the hypothesis that our moral beliefs are products of natural selection, and (b) the claim (or a certain interpretation of the claim) that natural selection fails to track moral facts. I also argue that natural selection is a process that could track moral facts, albeit imperfectly. I do not argue that we do have moral knowledge. I argue instead that Darwinian considerations provide us with no reason to doubt that we do, and with some reasons to suppose that we might.
KeywordsEvolutionary ethics Moral realism Moral epistemology
I would like to thank Elliott Sober for his invaluable help with this paper, provided promptly at each of its many stages. For reading earlier drafts and for their helpful feedback, I’d like to thank Kim Sterelny, an anonymous referee from this journal, and: Alexander Bird, Alex Broadbent, David Copp, Daniel Guevara, Russ Shafer-Landau, Hallvard Lillehammer, William A. Rottschaefer, Mark van Roojen, and Ralph Wedgwood. I would also like to thank Sorin Bangu, Simon Blackburn, Steve John, Jonathan Ellis, and Richard Otte.
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