I have a question from the studio audience.

Beepbeepitsme asked, “What do you think about morality/ethics as a result of natural selection?”

Answer: About the same as what I think about round squares. The concept is incoherent.

Okay, let me back up a moment.

Natural selection has certainly had an effect on our dispositions to desire. We are disposed to acquire those desires that tended to keep our ancestors alive and reproducing. This includes an aversion to pain, a desire for sex, a ‘comfort zone’ regarding temperature, thirst, a desire for high-calorie foods, affection for one’s children, and the like.

These dispositions are morally relevant. That is to say, any moral theory that ignores these facts would go as far as a theory that concludes that an agent ought to alter the gravitational constant to one that better maximizes utility, or ought to ignore the second law of thermodynamics in case of extreme emergencies.

However, when people talk about morality itself being a result of natural selection, they tend not to be talking about the fact that evolutionary pressure has shaped the desires we are disposed to have. They tend to be talking about something more specific – the evolution of what our ‘moral sentiments’ pick out as good or bad.

The claim is that evolution caused us to develop moral sentiments (in the same way it caused us to develop eyes, nipples, and an appendix) and to link those moral sentiments to objects that tended to promote genetic replication. In other words, we are disposed to perceive something as being wrong because the perception that it was wrong helped our ancestors reproduce, and we acquired the same dispositions.

Read the rest here.

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Replies to This Discussion

CARTA: Is the Human Mind Unique? -- Patricia Churchland: Moral Sense

"Morality is a social behavior seen in mammals, and some birds, which depends on an interlocking brain organization shaped by four factors. Patricia Churchland (UC San Diego) discusses how the importance of these factors can vary between species, as a function of natural selection operating on subcortical structures, and of the degree of flexibility of the cortical organization.

"For example, increased capacity for impulse control is a feature of frontal brain expansion. Social benefits are accompanied by social demands; we have to get along, but not put up with too much. Hence impulse control -- being aggressive or compassionate or indulgent at the right time -- is hugely advantageous.

"In different contexts and cultures, expression of sociality may vary, as local factors limit solutions to the social problems of getting along and prospering despite competition between individuals.

"Series: "CARTA - Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny"

Ego: I am better than you! My clan is better than your clan! My prayers are better than your prayers. 

Naure evolves from abandonment of independent offspring, to care for dependent offspring. Homo sapiens is part of living things in a network of life. 

Ego: Hierarchy: aquatic, insects, amphibians, flora, fauna, mammals, Homo sapiens. 

Nature, network of life, Indra's Net 

Thank you so much Joan - I am clicking on that video now.




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