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Pluralism and Ambivalence in the Evolution of Morality

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Much good work has been done on the evolution of human morality by focusing on how “selfish genes” can give rise to altruistic human beings. A richer research program is needed, however, to take into account the ambivalence of naturally evolved biopsychological motivators and the historical pluralism of human morality in religious systems. Such a program is described here. A first step is to distinguish the ultimate cause of natural selection from proximate causes that are the results of natural selection. Next, some proximate causes are suggested as possible conditions of biological and emotional valuing as well as of customary social morality and individual rational ethical thought. Finally, different moral perspectives of Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity are briefly presented in order to illustrate how one might inquire about the selection of a variety of biopsychological and cultural proximate causes that enable the evolution of a plurality of religious moral systems.

Keywords: Buddhism; Christianity; Confucianism; Hinduism; William Irons; altruism; ambivalence; attachment; biological valuing; customary morality; dharma; emotional valuing; ethics; evolution; harmony; jen; li; morality; natural selection; pluralism; proximate causes; reflective morality; ultimate causes; valuing

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Religion, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, and coeditor of Zygon.

Publication date: 2003-06-01

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