Short Review: Naturalising Ethics: The Implications of Darwinism for the Study of Moral Philosophy. Cartwright, J.

Naturalising Ethics: The Implications of Darwinism for the Study of Moral Philosophy

John Cartwright, Springer

Attempts to place Darwinism and evolutionary ethics as an indispensible aid to ethical deliberations. Offers a considerable amount of useful research in support of evolutionary theory’s explanatory power while admitting that our initial reactions have evolved into something more. Attempts to rebut charges of the naturalistic fallacy with varying degrees of success.

Theses

  • Holds that the role of Darwinism has been overlooked by moral philosophers, possibly (and understandably) as a result of earlier misconceptions.
  • Outlines a number of interesting examples of the explanatory power of evolutionary theory, including: morality being species specific; kin altruism; tragedy of the commons; mirror neurons and the avoidance of incest.
  • Makes a number of claims concerning the naturalistic fallacy, some of which are more convincing than others. These include:
  • T1: The fact that early Social Darwinists “confused the consequences of natural processes with their values” i.e. that the fact that “unbridled competition” played a role in the formation of some of our ethical sentiments does not mean that it has any influence on them nowadays.
  • T2: That Hume was misunderstood and that he actually maintained that “moral truths are inherent facts about human nature”.
  • T3: Ethical reasoning must somehow take natural facts into account
  • T4: All ethical theories must, to some extent, rely on natural facts.
  • He also sketches the main viewpoints of leading Darwinists, presents an outline of the teaching implications posed by Darwinism (although this feels somewhat superfluous and contrived) and a brief segment of the Kantian Categorical Imperative, again somewhat misplaced.

Discussion

  • An interesting combination of useful scientific data on the impact/explanatory power of evolutionary theory and a critique of the naturalistic fallacy. The remainder of the article is somewhat superfluous.
  • T1 is a valid point and well justified- obviously he argues that contemporary Darwinists would never leap to such conclusions.
  • T2 is an intriguing notion and follows Walter. Combined with T3 and T4, we do have a convincing argument for considering the findings of evolutionary theory yet the questions remains as to exactly how. Furthermore, whilst they clearly have powerful explanatory and descriptive force, they do not address 2 key points: firstly, in the sense that whilst they provide a clear is about human nature i.e. we tend to protect our family more than strangers, there is no clear ought – we no longer enjoy the same kind of kinship groups that led to the development of such capabilities and they are frequently a source of injustice. Secondly, they offer little for the understanding of how moral and ethical concepts have themselves evolved – mirror neurons play a role in both face to face contact and also when we watch, for example, a televised appeal for aid in Haiti.
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