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“Nothing in Ethics Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution?? by Jay Odenbaugh (Lewis & Clark College)

Date: 4:35pm - 6:00pm PDT April 3, 2014 Location: Gregg Pavilion

Gregg Pavilion

Philippa Foot and Rosalind Hursthouse, along with other philosophers, have argued for a metaethical position, the natural goodness approach, that claims moral evaluations are, or are on a par with, teleological claims made in the biological sciences. Specifically, an organism’s flourishing is characterized by how well they function as specified by the species to which they belong. In this essay, I first sketch the Neo-Aristotelian natural goodness approach. Second, I argue that critics who claim that this sort of approach is inconsistent with evolutionary biology due to its species essentialism are incorrect. Third, I consider the prospects of understanding ethical normativity as a species of biological teleology claiming that this would be incompatible with our considered moral judgments. Fourth, after presenting gene-culture coevolution theory, I argue that the only way of reconciling naturalism and normativity in accordance with the natural goodness approach requires amending the selected effects function account to include cultural evolution. However, this approach, though not biologically reductionistic, still generates claims incompatible with our considered moral judgments. Finally, I end with a discussion of methodology and revisionistic moral theories.


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