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Morality as natural history

Curry, Oliver (2005) Morality as natural history. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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What are moral values and where do they come from? David Hume argued that moral values were the product of a range of passions, inherent to human nature, that aim at the common good of society. Recent developments in game theory, evolutionary biology, animal behaviour, psychology and neuroscience suggest that Hume was right to suppose that humans have such passions. This dissertation reviews these developments, and considers their implications for moral philosophy. I first explain what Darwinian adaptations are, and how they generate behaviour. I then explain that, contrary to the Hobbesian caricature of life in the state of nature, evolutionary theory leads us to expect that organisms will be social, cooperative and even altruistic under certain circumstances. I introduce four main types of cooperation: kin altruism, coordination to mutual advantage, reciprocity and conflict resolution and provide examples of "adaptations for cooperation" from nonhuman species. I then review the evidence for equivalent adaptations for cooperation in humans. Next, I show how this Humean-Darwinian account of the moral sentiments can be used to make sense of traditional positions in meta-ethics; how it provides a rich deductive framework in which to locate and make sense of a wide variety of apparently contradictory positions in traditional normative ethics; and how it clearly demarcates the problems of applied ethics. I defend this version of ethical naturalism against the charge that it commits "the naturalistic fallacy". I conclude that evolutionary theory provides the best account yet of the origins and status of moral values, and that moral philosophy should be thought of as a branch of natural history.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2005 Oliver Curry.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Morality, evolution, game theory, animal behaviour, evolutionary psychology, moral philosophy, ethics, David Hume
Library of Congress subject classification: Q Science > QH Natural history
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
Sets: Departments > Government
Research centres and groups > Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science (CPNSS)
Research centres and groups > Darwin@LSE
Supervisor: Dowding, Keith

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