Darwinian building blocks

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Although the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ and the is/ought distinction have often been invoked as definitive grounds for rejecting any attempt to bring evolutionary thought to bear on ethics, they are better interpreted as warnings than as absolute barriers. Our moral concepts themselves -- e.g. the principle that ‘ought implies can’ -- require us to ask whether human psychology is capable of impartial empathetic thought and motivation characteristic of normative systems that could count as moral. As the essay by Flack and de Waal shows, evolutionary theory and evidence can help us answer the question whether the psychological ‘building blocks’ needed for morality are indeed likely to be present in a given species, including Homo sapiens. It is important, however, not to think that a positive answer to this question commits us to attributing identifiable moral concepts to actual members.

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, 2215 Angell Hall, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1003, USA.

Publication date: January 1, 2000

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