Saturday, January 19, 2008

John Hare on the evolutionary foundations of morality

John Hare is a Christian philosopher and the son of R. M. Hare.


Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

It's an interesting paper, but orthogonal to the claims of e-psych.

Evolutionary psychology does not claim to resolve any of the following questions:

1. What is the "morally good?"
2. Can we be "morally good?"
3. If so, should we be "morally good?"

These questions are not appropriate to a descriptive science, but to science or theology.

Fortunately, the actual claims of e-psych are more limited. E-psych has made some fairly significant progress in answering these questions, which are appropriate to a descriptive science:

1. Why (in evolutionary terms) do we feel that there is such a thing as the "morally good?"
2. Why do we feel that activity A is "morally good," but activity B is "morally evil?"
3. Are there any universal principles or meta-rules underlying the very different sets of "moral goods" and "moral evils" proposed by the different cultures, religions and philosophies of the world?
4. If so, can these meta-rules be explained in terms of our evolution?

One Brow said...

Hare’s article contains two specific flaws that I saw. The first is a reliance on adaptationism, and the second is the notion that the existence of an ideal means there is a source for that ideal.

There is no reason to assume that every behavior is the result of natural selection. Sexual selection and genetic drift have both played a significant part of the history of many species. For example, using the examples in the paper, it is quite possible that female bats are more fond of males (and/or vice-versa) that they have seen in the pseudo-parenting act of providing food to another bat, even if this behavior is otherwise a disadvantage. Similarly, Jimoh may will come from a long line of chimps that know you don’t get to have sex with females you upset regularly, even if that means your rivals have a few additional offspring.

Any species that regularly recognizes new patterns, such as humans, will also look at patterns in the abstract. These abstractions of patterns will become the ideals for that species. So, writers may talk of a perfect basketball player even thogh they have never seen one, or a perfect morality even though no one has it, or of perfectly living up to a moral position even though no one has.

IlĂ­on said...