Philosophical Studies

, Volume 174, Issue 5, pp 1127–1144 | Cite as

The function of morality

  • Nicholas SmythEmail author


What is the function of morality? On this question, something approaching a consensus has recently emerged. Impressed by developments in evolutionary theory, many philosophers now tell us that the function of morality is to reduce social tensions, and to thereby enable a society to efficiently promote the well-being of its members. In this paper, I subject this consensus to rigorous scrutiny, arguing that the functional hypothesis in question is not well supported. In particular, I attack the supposed evidential relation between an evolutionary genealogy of morals and the functional hypothesis itself. I show that there are a great many functionally relevant discontinuities between our own culture and the culture within which morality allegedly emerged, and I argue that this seriously weakens the inference from morality’s evolutionary history to its present-day function.


Meta-ethics Function of morality Philosophy of Science 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Brown UniversityProvidenceUSA

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