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Evolution and Ethics is a book by Thomas Henry Huxley.
Evolutionary psychology studies how human behavior evolved. This includes the sense of right and wrong, feelings of "brotherly love", as well as inclinations for good or evil.
The primary question for the evolutionary psychologist to answer is:
- "How did feelings of brotherly love and a sense of right and wrong evolve out via natural selection which, by its nature, maximizes selfishness?"
The answer is two-fold:
1) Kin selection: Altruism can be selected for if the donor and recipient are more related than two individuals picked from the population at random. This is true, for instance, if individuals remain in groups of relatives. However, this idea has been criticised for being a variant of group selection.
2) Reciprocal altruism: This is the basic "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" relationship and lies at the heart of evolutionary ethics. It states that by helping others, we receive help in return.
Ethical fitnessism, or 'fitnessism' for short, is the ethic whose behaviour tends to be maximized as a result of natural selection, i.e. as a result of the 'survival of the fittest'. Ultimately fitnessism is defined as the ethic according to which the behaviour with maximal inclusive fitness is right. (Inclusive fitness is, simplified, the ability to pass on, and assist the passing on of, (copies of) one's genes in the long run.) In the words of Richard Dawkins (author of The Selfish Gene), being his 'central theorem of the extended phenotype', "An animal's behaviour tends to maximize the survival of the genes 'for' that behaviour, whether or not those genes happen to be in the body of the particular animal performing the behaviour." (Dawkins 1999 (1982), The Extended Phenotype, Oxford: O.U.P., p. 248). To maximize the survival of the genes for one's behaviour, or, in other words, to maximize one's behavioural fitness, is the behaviour of fitnessism, which more precisely is the ethic according to which:
- An action is right for an individual if and only if it maximizes this individual's behavioural fitness.
Please note that this 'rightness criterion' does not mean that an individual's action would be right if and only if it maximizes this individual's behavioural fitness. A fitnessist who regularly eats other individuals in order to survive himself would not consider it to be right or good for himself to be eaten. Consequently fitnessism is non-universalizable, i.e. could not be held as right by everyone simultaneously without (ethical) disagreement being present, and also is indexical: Not only aesthetical propositions, but also ethical propositions are indexical in the same way as the word 'I' is indexical, which it is because what it denotes (i.e. to whom it refers) depends on who says it or has written it.
A person who for example expresses the proposition: "No individual ought ever to produce offspring." can never show that this strange opinion would be anything "higher", or even anything else, than this person's own personal opinion. Rather it is for this person's own part wrong for any individual to ever produce offspring. A predator about to catch a fleeing quarry shows through its behaviour that for its own part it would be right or good to eat the quarry. The quarry, on the other hand, shows through its behaviour that for its own part it would be wrong or bad to be eaten. Such are the ethical effects of natural selection.
See also[edit | edit source]
Books, Articles[edit | edit source]
- Frans De Waal, Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved, Princeton University Press, 2006, ISBN: 0691124477 
- Edward O. Wilson, The Biological Basis of Morality (article is based on the book CONSILIENCE: THE UNITY OF KNOWLEDGE, CONSILIENCE, pp. 252-254:, Response of David Mertz, The Atlantic Monthly April, 1998)
- Bruce L. Benson, Endogenous Morality, Austrian Scholar Conference, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2002
- Anne Sullivan, The Mystery of Morality: Can Biology Help?, 2002
[edit | edit source]
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