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Evolutionary debunking arguments and the explanatory scope of natural selection

  • Joeri WitteveenEmail author


An influential species of evolutionary debunking argument (EDA) against moral realism holds that since cumulative natural selection (likely) shaped the contents of our moral beliefs, those beliefs do not count as knowledge. Critics have taken issue with a range of empirical, epistemic, and metaphysical assumptions that EDAs are said to rely on, which has engendered a complex debate over whether and to what extent the debunking challenge succeeds. However, recently it has been argued that we can reject EDAs without having to enter this thicket of issues. EDAs supposedly fail at the outset, by trading on a glaring misunderstanding about the scope of natural selection explanations. I argue that this objection to EDAs fails, and itself rests on a mistaken view of natural selection explanation and its relation to justification.


Evolutionary debunking arguments Natural selection explanation Negative view Origin essentialism Moral realism Evolution of morality 



I thank Jonathan Birch, Daan Evers, Jeroen Hopster, Wouter Kalf and Michael Klenk for their helpful comments on a draft version.


Funding was provided by Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Grant No. 275-20-060).


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Science Education, Section for History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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