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Naturalizing Ethics: the Biology and Psychology of Moral Agency

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Abstract:

Moral agency is a central feature of both religious and secular conceptions of human beings. In this paper I outline a scientific naturalistic model of moral agency making use of current findings and theories in sociobiology,developmental psychology, and social cognitive theory. The model provides answers to four central questions about moral agency: (1) what it is, (2) how it is acquired, (3) how it is put to work, and (4) how it is justified. I suggest that this model can provide religious and secular moral theories with a basis for a common understanding of moral agency.

Keywords: Albert Bandura; Martin Hoffman; altruism; ethics and science; evolutionary ethics; genetic selfishness; moral agency; moral agency and biology; moral agency andpsychology; moral development; naturalistic fallacy; naturalized ethics; religion, ethics, and science; social cognitivetheory; sociobiology

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/0591-2385.00276

Affiliations: Professor of Philosophy at Lewis and Clark College

Publication date: June 1, 2000

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