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The Biological Sciences Can Act as a Ground for Ethics

Ruse, Michael (2008) The Biological Sciences Can Act as a Ground for Ethics. [Preprint]


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This paper is interested in the relationship between evolutionary thinking and moral behavior and commitments, ethics. There is a traditional way of forging or conceiving of the relationship. This is traditional evolutionary ethics, known as Social Darwinism. Many think that this position is morally pernicious, a redescription of the worst aspects of modern, laissez-faire capitalism in fancy biological language. It is argued that, in fact, there is much more to be said for Social Darwinism than many think. In respects, it could be and was an enlightened position to take; but it flounders on the matter of justification. Universally, the appeal is to progress—evolution is progressive and, hence, morally we should aid its success. I argue, however, that this progressive nature of evolution is far from obvious and, hence, traditional social Darwinism fails. There is another way to do things. This is to argue that the search for justification is mistaken. Ethics just is. It is an adaptation for humans living socially and has exactly the same status as other adaptations, like hands and teeth and genitalia. As such, ethics is something with no standing beyond what it is. However, if we all thought that this was so, we would stop being moral. So part of the experience of ethics is that it is more than it is. We think that it has an objective referent. In short, ethics is an illusion put in place by our genes to make us good social cooperators.

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Item Type: Preprint
Ruse, Michael
Additional Information: This chapter is paired with Francisco Ayala,“What the Biological Sciences Can and Cannot Contribute to Ethics” (also in this Archive). Both are forthcoming in Francisco Ayala and Robert Arp, eds., Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). Two additional chapters to this volume, by Richard Burian and Carmen Sapienza, are also posted in this Archive. Ruse: Ayala: Sapienza: Burian:
Keywords: biology, evolution, ethics, progress, justification, objectivity
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
General Issues > Ethical Issues
Specific Sciences > Biology
Depositing User: Richard Burian
Date Deposited: 20 Jun 2008
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2010 15:16
Item ID: 4078

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