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Biogeography and Evolutionary Emotivism

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Emotivism has enjoined a revival of sorts over the past few decades, primarily driven by a Darwinian interpretation of the Humean metaethic. Evolutionary ethics, the metaethical view that at the heart of our moral sense lies a set of moral sentiments whose existence 'pre-dates' in evolutionary terms our species' ability to engage in more explicit, cognitive moral deliberations and discourse, whether in the discovery of deontological rules or in the crafting of social contracts, figures prominently in Robert Solomon's work in justice theory and J. Baird Callicott's work in environmental ethics, to name just two efforts to revive emotivism. Though the idea that our moral sense is grounded in our evolved biology lies at the heart of the new ethical emotivism, there has been a curious lack of a truly evolutionary account of the origin of that biological predisposition in the work of Solomon, Callicott, and others involved in the revival. In particular, what is missing is an account of how we evolved our moral sense as an adaptation to the ecology in which our very early ancestors existed. The typical explanation is to treat it as selected for by the pressure to cooperate that bore upon our early ancestors; for example, the advantage that cooperative effort confers in bringing down big game or warding off competing groups. But this type of explanation, I hope to show, rather than providing an account of how our moral sense came to be, actually must presuppose the existence of a rudimentary moral sense. If so, then the origin of our moral sense must be accounted for as an adaptation to our pre-social, ecological environment. As a model for what such an explanation might look like I will use Jared Diamond's recent work in biogeography, Guns, Germs and Steel.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA, USA

Publication date: March 1, 2008

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