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The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory$
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David Copp

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195147797

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2006

DOI: 10.1093/0195147790.001.0001

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Biology and Ethics

Biology and Ethics

(p.163) Chapter 6 BIOLOGY AND ETHICS
The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory

Philip Kitcher (Contributor Webpage)

, David Copp
Oxford University Press

This chapter outlines three programs that aim to use biological insights in support of philosophical positions in ethics: Aristotelian approaches found, for example, in Thomas Hurka and Philippa Foot; Humean approaches found in Simon Blackburn and Allan Gibbard; and biologically grounded approaches found in of Elliott Sober and Brian Skyrms. The first two approaches begin with a philosophical view, and seek support for it in biology. The third approach begins with biology, and uses it to illuminate the status of morality. This chapter pursues a version of the third program. A major accomplishment of evolutionary biology has been the explanation of biological altruism, which opens the door to a similar explanation of psychological altruism, or “fellow-feeling.” The chapter conjectures that humans have evolved a capacity for normative governance by socially shared rules. A process of cultural evolution led to the social rules with which we are familiar. This genealogical story poses a challenge, for the idea of moral truth plays no role in it. The story therefore lends support to non-cognitivism or anti-realist expressivism. The chapter concludes by exploring the implications of the genealogical story for moral knowledge, moral objectivity, and the idea of moral authority.

Keywords:   biological altruism, Simon Blackburn, cultural evolution, Philippa Foot, game theory, Allan Gibbard, Thomas Hurka, non-cognitivism, normative governance, psychological altruism

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