Do evolutionary debunking arguments rest on a mistake about evolutionary explanations?
- 822 Downloads
Many moral philosophers accept the Debunking Thesis, according to which facts about natural selection provide debunking explanations for certain of our moral beliefs. I argue that philosophers who accept the Debunking Thesis beg important questions in the philosophy of biology. They assume that past selection can explain why you or I hold certain of the moral beliefs we do. A position advanced by many prominent philosophers of biology implies that this assumption is false. According to the Negative View, natural selection cannot explain the traits of individuals. Hence, facts about past selection cannot provide debunking explanations for any of our moral beliefs. The aim of this paper is to explore the conflict between the Debunking Thesis and the Negative View.
KeywordsMoral epistemology Philosophy of biology Evolutionary debunking arguments Natural selection
For helpful comments on previous drafts of this paper, I'm grateful to Krister Bykvist, Ellen Clarke, Daan Evers, Hilary Greaves, participants at the 2014 Philosophy of Biology in the UK conference in Cambridge and at the 2014 Experiments and Intuitions conference at Ertegun House, Oxford, as well as to students participating in my graduate seminar on evolutionary debunking arguments at Oxford in Hilary Term 2015. Last but not least, I would like to thank an anonymous referee at this journal for insightful comments.
- Ariew, A. (1999). Innateness is canalization: In defense of a developmental account of innateness. In V. G. Hardcastle (Ed.), Where biology meets psychology: Philosophical essays (pp. 117–138). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Darwin, C. (1879/2004). The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex (2nd ed.). London: Penguin.Google Scholar
- Dawkins, R. (1986). The blind watchmaker. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
- de Waal, F. B. M. (1996). Good natured: The origins of right and wrong in humans and other animals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Gibbard, A. (1990). Wise choices, apt feelings: A theory of normative judgment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Gould, S. J. (1994). Hooking Leviathan by its past. In his (2011) Dinosaur in a haystack: Reflections in natural history (pp. 359–376). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Henrich, N., & Henrich, J. (2007). Why humans cooperate: A cultural and evolutionary explanation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Joyce, R. (2006). The evolution of morality. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Joyce, R. (forthcoming). Evolution, truth-tracking, and moral skepticism. In B. Reichardt (Ed.), Problems of goodness: New essays in metaethics.Google Scholar
- Kripke, S. (1981). Naming and necessity. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Mogensen, A. (2014). Evolutionary debunking arguments in ethics. D. Phil. thesis, University of Oxford.Google Scholar
- Nozick, R. (1981). Philosophical explanations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Parfit, D. (1984). Reasons and persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Pollock, J. L. (1970). The structure of epistemic justification. American Philosophical Quarterly, 4, 62–78.Google Scholar
- Pollock, J. L. (1986). Contemporary theories of knowledge. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
- Richerson, P. J., & Boyd, R. (2005). Not by genes alone: How culture transformed human evolution. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Rosenberg, A. (2011). The atheist’s guide to reality: Enjoying life without illusions. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.Google Scholar
- Ruse, M. (1986). Taking Darwin seriously: A naturalistic approach to philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Singer, P. (1981). The expanding circle: Ethics and sociobiology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
- Singer, P. (2006). Review: Richard Joyce, The evolution of morality. Notre dame philosophical reviews. http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/25012/?id=6383. Last accessed October 24, 2013.
- Sober, E. (1984). The nature of selection: Evolutionary theory in philosophical focus. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Sober, E. (1998). Innate knowledge. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy. http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/P027. Last accessed December 13, 2011.
- Sober, E., & Wilson, D. S. (1998). Unto others: The evolution and psychology of unselfish behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Stich, S. (1975). Introduction. In S. Stich (Ed.), Innate Ideas (pp. 1–22). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Strevens, M. (2008). Depth: An account of scientific explanation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Sturgeon, N. L. (1985). Moral explanations. In G. Sayre-McCord (Ed.), Essays on moral realism (pp. 229–255). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
- Sturgeon, N. L. (2006). Moral explanations defended. In J. Dreier (Ed.), Contemporary debates in moral theory (pp. 241–262). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Turiel, E. (1983). The development of social knowledge: Morality & convention. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Turiel, E. (2006). The development of morality. In W. Damon, R. M. Lerner, & N. Eisenberg (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology, 6th ed., Vol. 3: Social, emotional, and personality development (pp. 789–857). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Williams, G. C. (1966). Adaptation and natural selection: A critique of some current evolutionary thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Wright, C. (1992). Truth and objectivity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar