Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 41–57

Methodological Problems in Evolutionary Biology. XII. Against Evolutionary Ethics

  • Wim J. van der Steen

DOI: 10.1023/A:1002074110459

Cite this article as:
van der Steen, W.J. Acta Biotheor (1999) 47: 41. doi:10.1023/A:1002074110459


Evolutionary ethics has recently become popular again. Some of its representatives elaborate new attempts to derive ethics from evolutionary biology. The attempts, like previous ones, fail because they commit the naturalistic fallacy. Premises from evolutionary biology together with normative premises also do not justify ethical principles. Other representatives argue that evolutionary considerations imply that ethics cannot be justified at all. Their arguments presuppose an unacceptable form of foundationalism. In principle, evolutionary biology might explain some aspects of morality, but in practice explanations are hard to come by. All this does not imply that evolutionary theory is irrelevant in normative settings. To the contrary, it may help us devise guidelines in environmental policy and health care policy. It is to be hoped that evolutionary ethicists will divert their research efforts to the elaboration of such guidelines.

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wim J. van der Steen
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculties of Biology and Philosophy, and Institute of EthicsVrije UniversiteitAmsterdam

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