This View of Life Anything and everything from an evolutionary perspective.
FIND tvol:
Profiles in Evolutionary Moral Psychology: Oliver Scott Curry
AUTHOR
Michael Price
Michael Price
is Senior Lecturer in Psychology, and co-Director of the Centre for Culture and Evolutionary Psychology, at Brunel University, London.

As part of the “Profiles in Evolutionary Moral Psychology” interview series, This View of Life had the opportunity to speak with Oliver Scott Curry. Dr Curry is Departmental Lecturer at the University of Oxford’s Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, as well as Research Associate at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science. His research has focused on altruism and cooperation in contexts such as kinship, social networks, and friendship, and in relation to topics such as patience, humour, and theory of mind. In his interview, Curry explains why David Hume is the founder of evolutionary psychology, why social constructivists are really just evolutionary psychologists who got carried away, and why nothing about morality makes sense except in the light of evolution.

MICHAEL PRICE: What can evolutionary approaches tell us about human moral systems that other approaches cannot tell us? That is, what unique and novel insights about morality does an evolutionary approach provide?

OLIVER SCOTT CURRY: Well, everything. It can tell us what morality is, where it comes from, and how it works. No other approach can do that.

Sign up for our newsletters

I wish to receive updates from:
Newsletter



The evolutionary approach tells us that morality is a set of biological and cultural strategies for solving problems of cooperation and conflict. We have a range of moral instincts that are natural selection’s attempts to solve these problems. They are sophisticated versions of the kind of social instincts seen in other species. These instincts motivate us to be social, cooperative, and altruistic, and they provide the criteria by which we evaluate the behaviour of others. And ever since entering the cognitive niche, humans have attempted to improve on nature’s solutions by inventing new rules and tools for social life.

The evolutionary approach also gives us a rich deductive theory about what kinds of morality to expect. Evolutionary game theory tells us that there are many different problems of cooperation and many different solutions. These problems (and their solutions) include: (1) the allocation of resources to kin (love, altruism, family values, and the prohibition of incest); (2) coordination to mutual advantage (teamwork, loyalty, perspective-taking, and conformity); (3) social exchange (trust, gratitude, reciprocity, revenge, guilt, and forgiveness); and (4) conflict resolution through (a) contests (bravery, generosity, and humility); (b) hierarchy (deference, respect, obedience, benevolence, and “noblesse oblige”); (c) division (equity, merit, and fairness); and (d) property (respect for prior ownership and territory). The theory tells us to expect not one monolithic moral sense or a simple combination of desires and beliefs but rather a vast Periodic Table of Ethics.

Above all, the evolutionary approach demystifies morality and brings it down to earth. It tells us that morality is just another adaptation that can be studied in the same way as any other aspect of our biology or psychology. This is a huge contribution. Of course, the theory may turn out to be wrong to a greater or lesser degree, but it is by far the best we have.

PRICE: The ordinary view in biology is that adaptations evolve primarily to promote individual fitness (survival and reproduction of self/kin). Do you believe that this view is correct with regard to the human biological adaptations that generate moral rules? Does this view imply that individuals moralize primarily to promote their own fitness interests (as opposed to promoting, e.g., group welfare)?

CURRY: No. Adaptations evolve to promote the replication of genes; natural selection cannot work any other way. Genes replicate by means of the effects that they have on the world; these effects include the formation of things like chromosomes, multicellular individuals, and groups. (My understanding is that everyone agrees about this, although there is some debate about whether groups are sufficiently coherent to constitute vehicles [1].) Thus, far from being opposed to groups, the gene-centred view explains why some kinds of groups form and persist – families, coalitions, and hierarchies. After all, what is a group but a collection of cooperating individuals? From this perspective, individuals moralize in order to promote and maintain cooperation (which redounds, ultimately, to the benefit of their genes). This often, but not always, promotes their own interests and those of other members of the group. But note that, whereas evolutionary theory makes clear what constitutes a benefit to a gene – replication – it is not at all clear what constitutes a benefit to an individual (let alone a group).

PRICE: What work by others on the evolution of morality (or just on morality in general) have you found most enlightening?

CURRY: David Hume’s work has been particularly inspiring. In many ways he is the great-great-great granddaddy of evolutionary psychology. He almost stumbled upon the theory of evolution. He undertook a comparative “anatomy of the mind” that showed “the correspondence of passions in men and animals.” His “bundle theory of the self” hints at massive modularity. His A Treatise of Human Nature [2] introduced “the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects,” and discusses relatedness, certainty of paternity, coordination and convention, reciprocal exchange, costly signals, dominance and submission, and the origins of property. He even anticipated by-product theories of religion, describing religious ideas as “the playsome whimsies of monkies in human shape” [3]. Remarkable.

When trying to understand human moral psychology, the work of Darwinians such as George Williams, Bill Hamilton, Robert Trivers, Richard Dawkins, Helena Cronin, and especially John Maynard Smith has been essential to grasping the underlying mechanics of evolution and the strategic aspect of social interaction [4-9]. Every social scientist should be locked in a room with a textbook on game theory for at least a week [10]. And the work of John Tooby and Leda Cosmides [11] and cybernauts like Rodney Brooks [12] has illuminated what kinds of things psychological adaptations might be and how to look for them. (A friend of mine once said that he found Leda’s paper on social exchange more enlightening than all the moral philosophy he had ever read.)

When trying to make sense of standard social science (and engineer a rapprochement with evolutionary psychology), two books have been a revelation. I never really understood what the social sciences were all about until I read Convention [13] and The Social Construction of Reality [14]. Now I get it. According to the original theory, social constructions are shared expectations of behaviour that are used to solve coordination problems. That’s it. I think evolutionary psychologists and social constructionists can be friends in the sense that an understanding of evolved social motives and adaptations like ‘theory of mind’ can help explain why and how some things are socially constructed. The social constructionists err only when they get carried away and start thinking that everything is a social construction. As George Williams would say, “Social construction is a special and onerous concept that should not be used unnecessarily.”

Most recently, I’ve found work on the role of theory of mind in social interaction and morality [15-17] and on cultural transmission and cooperation [18-21] to be mind-expanding and very exciting.

PRICE: Which of your own publications are most relevant to an evolutionary understanding of morality? Which results or ideas from your work do you regard as most significant?

CURRY: My PhD thesis pulled together a lot of disparate material on the evolution of cooperation, and showed how it could provide a coherent framework for morality that made sense of much of moral philosophy [22]. One spin-off paper from the thesis argued that conflict resolution was an overlooked domain of cooperation that could account for many of our otherwise peculiar ideas about moral virtues – the virtues of the hawk and the virtues of the dove [23]. Another showed that the naturalistic fallacy is widely misunderstood and nothing to be afraid of – or rather, it does not present an obstacle to a fully naturalistic account of ethics [24]. (On the contrary, Hume’s famous is-ought paragraph is actually an argument in favour of a naturalistic ethics rooted in the passions.)

Since then, my empirical work has tried to open up new areas of cooperation, with forays into patience, coalitions, coordination, and friendship. I’m currently using this broader framework to conduct a large cross-cultural survey of moral values, and I hope to have some exciting results to report soon.

The overall message is that there’s more to morality than kinship and reciprocity, and evolutionists should make use of all the available theories when trying to explain ethics.

PRICE: What are the most important unsolved scientific puzzles in evolutionary moral psychology?

CURRY: The questions that keep me up at night include:

• If reciprocal altruism is so simple, why is it so rare?

• Why are people so quick to divide the world into “us and them”? Why not just have a bigger us? (I’d like to see an answer rooted in three-player game theory.)

• To what extent are the distinct types of cooperation solved by distinct mechanisms, as opposed to a shifting constellation of mechanisms? For example, is sympathy one thing (that solves lots of problems) or is it a catch-all term for several different things?

• Why do we care how other people treat other people? Why do we care if B is unfair to C, or if D commits incest with E? Is it a by-product of having evolved in small groups, do I have a strategic interest in others’ behaviour, or is it something else? (I know that there are some very clever people working on this, and I look forward to having the complete answer.)

• Is purity really a moral domain, or is disgust just a generic response to lots of things we don’t like? (Ditto.)

• How does the evolutionary approach make sense of political values such as justice and rights?

• Do we have a separate set of moral instincts for dealing with cooperation between groups?

• Is there an intrinsic link between religion and ethics, or is it just a temporary historical contingency like the link between religion and cosmology?

• And finally, James Laidlaw has said that “ethics” is the question (“how should I live?”), and “moral” is but one answer [25]. What other answers are there?

Answers on a postcard please!

Links

Oliver’s Scott Curry’s personal page

Bibliography

1. Dawkins, R., Burying the Vehicle. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1994. 17(4): p. 616-617.
2. Hume, D., A Treatise of Human Nature1739/1985: Penguin Classics.
3. Hume, D., The Natural History of Religion1757/1889, London: Freethought.
4. Dawkins, R., The Selfish Gene. 3rd ed1976/2006, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
5. Williams, G.C., Adaptation and Natural Selection: A critique of some current evolutionary thought1966, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
6. Hamilton, W.D., The evolution of altruistic behavior. The American Naturalist, 1963. 97: p. 354-356.
7. Trivers, R.L., The evolution of reciprocal altruism. Quarterly Review of Biology, 1971. 46(1): p. 35-57.
8. Axelrod, R. and W. Hamilton, The evolution of cooperation. Science, 1981. 211: p. 1390-1396.
9. Cronin, H., The ant and the peacock1992, Cambridge: CUP.
10. Dixit, A. and S. Skeath, Games of Strategy1999, New York: W W Norton & Company.
11. Barkow, J.H., L. Cosmides, and J. Tooby, eds. The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. 1992, Oxford University Press: New York. 666.
12. Brooks, R.A., Cambrian Intelligence: The early history of the new AI1999, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
13. Lewis, D.K., Convention: a philosophical study1969, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
14. Berger, P.L. and T. Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality1966, London: Allen Lane The Penguin Press.
15. Saxe, R. How we read each other’s minds. TED Talks 2009; Available from: http://www.ted.com/talks/rebecca_saxe_how_brains_make_moral_judgments.html.
16. Tomasello, M., et al., Understanding and sharing intentions: The origins of cultural cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2005. 28(5): p. 675-+.
17. Young, L., et al., The neural basis of the interaction between theory of mind and moral judgment. PNAS, 2007. 104(20): p. 8235-8240.
18. Henrich, J. and R. McElreath, The evolution of cultural evolution. Evolutionary Anthropology, 2003. 12(3): p. 123-135.
19. Boyd, R., P.J. Richerson, and J. Henrich, The cultural niche: Why social learning is essential for human adaptation. PNAS, 2011. 108: p. 10918-10925.
20. Pinker, S., The cognitive niche: Coevolution of intelligence, sociality, and language. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2010. 107: p. 8993-8999.
21. Boyd, R. and P.J. Richerson, Culture and the evolution of human cooperation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2009. 364(1533): p. 3281-3288.
22. Curry, O.S., Morality as Natural History: An adaptationist account of ethics, in Government2005, London School of Economics: London.
23. Curry, O.S., The conflict-resolution theory of virtue, in Moral Psychology, W.P. Sinnott-Armstrong, Editor 2007, MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts. p. 251-261.
24. Curry, O.S., Who’s afraid of the naturalistic fallacy? Evolutionary Psychology, 2006. 4: p. 234-247.
25. Laidlaw, J., For an Anthropology of Ethics and Freedom. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2002. 8(2): p. 311-332.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Mark Sloan says:

    Oliver,
    I have been a fan of your work since I read your thesis several years ago.
      In my own work as a non-professional in the science of morality, I have been reading moral philosophy and posting on moral philosophy forums in order to better understand how this science might be culturally useful.
      If I made your claim “(Science) can tell us what morality is, where it comes from, and how it works. No other approach can do that” I would, figuratively, have my head handed to me on those forums. I know what you mean, but moral philosophy majors will not.
      Here is how I address this topic on those forums. The science of morality has discovered the universal function of social morality – morality concerning interactions between people. That function is to increase the benefits of cooperation in groups by in-group-cooperation strategies.
      However, the science of morality is silent about the specific ultimate goal of moral behavior and cannot tell us if that goal ought to be overall well-being, personal well-being, fairness, or something else. This science is also silent regarding individualistic morality – your moral obligations to yourself relative to others.
      Science proves a strange form of moral naturalism. The function of social morality is reducible to natural phenomena. However, the ultimate goal of morality and the related topic of individualistic morality are not yet, and may never be, reducible to natural phenomena.
      So far, I have not had much buy-in to this view on the philosophy forums, but feel I am making progress.

  2. Mark Sloan says:

    I’d also like to have a go at a simple ‘postcard’ level set of answers to three of your questions. I expect we may not be too far apart.
            Why are people so quick to divide the world into “us and them”? Why not just have a bigger us?
    Dividing the world into us and them was critical to the survival of the small, sometimes competitive, groups our ancestors evolved in. Therefore Jonathan Haidt’s “us versus them” moral foundations of loyalty, respect for authority, and ‘purity’ (as an arbitrary marker strategy) are highly psychologically motivating.  For example, political ‘conservatives’ in the US shamelessly exploit this motivation by inciting false moral indignation against out-groups. 
          Why do we care how other people treat other people?
    This concern is not a by-product. It is critical to successful indirect reciprocity. A reputation for membership in and commitment to a more cooperative sub-group is highly valuable for avoiding exploiters and maximizing the benefits of cooperation.
        Is purity really a moral domain, or is disgust just a generic response to lots of things we don’t like?
    “Purity” as culture specific arbitrary definitions is part of the moral domain as marker strategies for membership in and commitment to a more cooperative sub-group.

  3. Tristan Tempest says:

    Majoring in Practical philosophy at Stockholm University, my thesis was about the ethic whose behaviour tends to be maximized as a consequence of natural selection. According to this ethic, which I call ‘the ethic of animals’, ‘ethical fitnessism’, or ‘fitnessism’ for short, an action is right for an individual if and only if the action maximizes the survival of the genes for this individual’s behaviour, i.e. if and only if the action maximizes this individual’s behavioural fitness.

    Compare this to Richard Dawkins’s “[…] central theorem of the extended phenotype: An animal’s behaviour tends to maximize the survival of the genes ‘for’ that behaviour, whether or not those genes happen to be in the body of the particular animal performing the behaviour.” (“The Extended Phenotype”, 1982, p. 248). An animal’s behaviour does therefore not tend to maximize the fitness of this animal, but rather tends to maximize the fitness of itself.

    Fitnessism is as selfish (and as altruistic) as natural selection causes animals to be, and is therefore indexical and non-universalizable, and a middle course between ‘impartial altruism’ and ‘all-out selfishness’, neither of which individuals actually tend to live by. Its human social and political decision method ‘fitnessistic contractualism’, whose self-interest is Darwinian, is however universalizable, and advocates among other things democracy and capitalism. Lacking neither hedonism, altruism, intuitiveness, nor consideration of future generations, and being complete, consistent, to the purpose, and non-dependent on indoctrination, fitnessism is the ethic which I believe humans have reason to believe in.

    Which ethic do you believe humans have reason to believe in?

  4. Mark Sloan says:

    Tristan, claims about the relationship of morality and evolution can be usefully divided into three categories – the evolution of morality, morality from evolution, and the morality of evolution. (I prefer the word morality to ethics when talking about evolution because many people use “ethics” to mean the study of morality, not moral behavior itself.)

    The first category, the evolution of morality – understanding moral behavior as the product of biological and cultural evolution – is the main topic of discussion in the science of morality field and this morality section of the TVOL website.

    The second category, morality from evolution, are claims (based on understanding the origins and functions of our sense of right and wrong and experience of well-being) about what moral norms ought to be enforced (such as the Golden Rule) in order to achieve a separately defined ultimate goal such as a utilitarian “maximize overall well-being”. This is the category I am most interested in.

    Your claim about the ultimate goal of moral behavior, something like “what increases fitness, for example cooperation and eugenics, is moral” is in the “morality of evolution” category of claims, claims that the process of evolution itself (the process by which fitness is increased) is somehow moral.  But what about greed, a desire to dominate others through violence, and a natural willingness to exploit others who are not in your in-group? These also can increase fitness, but I doubt either of us would call them moral. You are making a claim about the ultimate goal of morality without supplying compelling reasons justifying that claim. I expect you have not shown how to leap the barrier between what ‘is’ – evolutionary processes – and what we ‘ought’ to do – morality.

  5. Tristan Tempest says:

    Mark, you seem to have somewhat misunderstood me. I’m not especially concerned with the relationship of morality and evolution. Specifically, fitnessism doesn’t claim that the process of evolution itself is moral. It doesn’t advocate eugenics either, since it advocates behavioural gene survival.

    Your second category, ‘morality from evolution’, interests me too. Fitnessistic contractualism deals with precisely this: identifying which universalizable moral norms ought to be enforced in order to achieve the ultimate goal, namely the fitnessistic “maximize individual behavioural gene survival”. Surely these norms are not to dominate other humans through violence, nor to exploit other humans who are not in your own in-group.

    The argumentation for fitnessism neither violates Hume’s law nor commits G. E. Moore’s naturalistic fallacy, since it’s a normal, standard argumentation. Which are the arguments for hedonistic utilitarianism? They are, among other things, that utilitarianism is complete, consistent, ultimately hedonistic, impartially altruistic, and universalizable. Does that argumentation violate Hume’s law, i.e. the is–ought problem? No. Which are the arguments for fitnessism? They are, among other things, that fitnessism lacks neither hedonism, altruism, intuitiveness, nor consideration of future generations, and is complete, consistent, to the purpose, and non-dependent on indoctrination. Does that argumentation violate Hume’s law? No; no more than the argumentation for utilitarianism.

    Which are the arguments against hedonistic utilitarianism? They are, among other things, that utilitarianism lacks individualism and proper consideration of inter-personal relationships, and is ultimately hedonistic, impartially altruistic, dependent on indoctrination, and unrealistically demanding. This more or less boils down to the fact that utilitarianism is pre-Darwinian. That a moral theory is ultimately hedonistic, i.e. ultimately takes pleasure and suffering into consideration, isn’t properly thought out, since the Darwinian explanation for individuals to seek pleasure and shun suffering is that they by doing so increase their behavioural fitnesses, which is more properly thought out for a moral theory to ultimately take into consideration. Compared to hedonistic utilitarianism, fitnessism therefore takes a last step further in its motivation of its intrinsic value.

    That a moral theory ultimately is impartially altruistic isn’t properly thought out either, since natural selection causes impartially altruistic behaviour to be self-defeating and to undermine its own existence. The only moral theory which isn’t self-defeating and doesn’t undermine its own existence is the moral theory whose behaviour tends to be maximized as a consequence of natural selection. This moral theory is fitnessism.

  6. Mark Sloan says:

    Tristan, so you are not making a claim about the “morality of evolution”. Good. I don’t see that as a useful approach.

    However, you still need to define your version of “fitnessism” in a way that excludes behaviors such as dominating other humans through violence and exploiting other humans who are not in your own in-group. These inclinations are encoded in our biology due to their ability to “maximize individual behavioural gene survival.” 

    I’m glad to hear you find the concept of “morality from evolution” interesting. I do too.

    However, you appear to be still thinking philosophy or science’s “morality from evolution” will somehow provide us with a fact of the matter about an ultimate goal of moral behavior – such as increasing fitness, or durable well-being, or even ‘happiness’ as hedonistic Utilitarianism. As I understand it, all claims about ultimate moral obligations and required ultimate moral goals (including Utilitarianism) have to date failed to satisfactorily explain how they derived their moral ‘oughts’ from what we know about what ‘is’. For example, there are arguments for Utilitarianism, Kantianism, virtue ethics, and theistic moralities (all in myriad forms) but there is no generally accepted fact of the matter about what our ultimate moral goals must be. Nobody has convincingly (to most philosophers) derived an ultimate ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ – that is why Hume’s guillotine is so famous.

    So how might we proceed to define the “best” social norms? Obviously this is a topic still in debate, but my view is as follows:

    Mainstream philosophy provides reasons, such as logical consistency and harmony with our innate sense of right and wrong, to prefer some ultimate goals of morality to others. For example, we have reasons to prefer durable well-being of everyone to individualistic hedonistic ‘happiness’.

    Assume you are in a group and want to define moral norms. I expect the most common consensus you would get (based on both philosophy and our moral sense) would be to define the moral code that is expected to be most likely to achieve durable well-being for everyone. With that chosen goal and understanding from the evolution of morality and its relationship with durable well-being, it should be relatively straightforward to define an effective moral code.

    You talk about going “up a level” to evolution to clarify moral values.

    Actually, it is arguably possible to go up a level to clarify moral values, but that higher level is not found in the mechanisms of evolution as you propose. That is, evolution (or on an even lower level, our biology) is not the ultimate source of morality in our universe.

    I argue work in the science of morality and game theory shows the following is true.

    In our physical reality, cooperation often produces many more benefits than individual efforts; this aspect of reality is what made us the incredibly cooperative social animals we are. However, that cooperation commonly exposes cooperators to exploitation. That exploitation is almost always a winning strategy in the short term and sometimes is even in the long term (as shown by game theory). But exploitation destroys future benefits of cooperation, which produces the dilemma of how to obtain the benefits of cooperation without being exploited –  a cross species universal cooperation/exploitation dilemma that is an innate aspect of our physical reality. 

    The science of morality further shows that solutions to this dilemma have been encoded by biological evolution in our empathy, loyalty, guilt, shame, and indignation (that together motivate indirect reciprocity strategies) and by cultural evolution into our moral norms such as “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (that advocate indirect reciprocity strategies). So, by going up a level (or two), we can understand that what we call “moral behaviors” are solutions to this cross species universal cooperation/exploitation dilemma.

    Evolution (or increasing fitness) is the means of encoding morality (and our moral sense) in our biology, not morality’s ultimate source.

    • Tristan Tempest says:

      Fitnessism needs no reformulation. It is the moral theory whose behaviour tends to be maximized due to natural selection. No more, no less. Natural selection is the ultimate creator of moral value, and only fitnessists value it fully, by neither relying on or hoping for the supernatural lapse or demise of it. What we want is that humans come to terms with reality. What life on Earth needs is that moral philosophers stop dreaming of a future Garden of Eden on Earth where lions are satisfied vegetarians, peacefully co-existing with sheep. For our long term survival we’d better truly embrace natural selection.

      Realistic morals, adapted to natural selection, cannot be universalizable, i.e. cannot without ethical disagreement be believed in by each and every individual. I may think that a certain work of art or a certain action is good, whilst you think it’s bad. It’s good for my own part and it’s bad for your own part; it neither is good nor is bad in any higher, objective, universal sense. In this way ethics, just like aesthetics, is indexical, not universalizable. For a red fox catching a mallard this catching is good; for the mallard it’s bad. Even so, both animals are fitnessists. They disagree morally, but share the same moral theory. This is possible since this moral theory is indexical.

      Behold the creation of morals! When a predator is about to catch a fleeing quarry the two animals have incompatible interests. The interest of the predator is to catch and eat the quarry, whose interest is to get away unharmed. The predator shows by its behaviour that for its own part it would be right and good to eat the quarry, who by its behaviour shows that for its own part it would be wrong and bad to be eaten. Before the existence of organic life no morals whatsoever existed. With the evolution of organic life, indexical, non-universalizable morals slowly came into existence. They are the consequence of natural selection in the real world, not the consequence of ‘beautiful thoughts’ in a fairy tale land.

      Fitnessism doesn’t tell us to simply follow the instincts which have evolved due to natural selection. Since we humans have radically changed our environment with the emergence of modern society and technology, and since we have such a decisive impact on the future of life on Earth, we have to think much further ahead and afar than other animals. To exploit other individuals for selfish short-term gains at the expense of what we hold dear and valuable in the long term, is morally wrong. Rather than maximizing the number of her own offspring, a fitnessist acts so as to increase the probability of the long-term existence of the body of organic life which we’re all part of and related to. The moral difference between humans and other animals is that when we humans apply the moral theory which we share with the other animals, namely fitnessism, our scope and responsibility is so much deeper and further. By realizing that we all share common behavioural genes we can on a global scale sanction and compromise us through the tragedy of commons and the prisoners’ dilemma, which both constitute genuine problems. Due to the universalizability of fitnessistic contractualism, they’re luckily both solvable.

      If we would abandon indexical morals and collectively subscribe to a universalizable moral theory, what would be the consequences? What would democracy and capitalism be any good for if we all agree on all values? Democracy and capitalism would not only be superfluous if there never were any conflicts of interest, but are together the most stable compromise between all those who themselves wouldn’t say no to more political power and economic assets. If each person would claim to always act in accordance with a common impartially altruistic interest and, to add injury to insult, would be universally believed, it would be hard to avoid creating a global communistic dictatorship under the motto “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, effectively curbing human advancement. Competition surely is better than that. But what actually is the competition of votes, sales and labour? It’s a conflict of interest. It’s development due to a diversity of values. A world full of fitnessists is a pluralistic world of conflicting values.

      Again I’m afraid that you seem to somewhat have misunderstood me. I’m not thinking that science “will somehow provide us with a fact of the matter about an ultimate goal” of moral behaviour. Neither am I trying to derive an ultimate ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. Universalizable morals are not implied by facts; they’re in fact not implied at all. Neither do I “talk about going ‘up a level’ to evolution to clarify moral values”, even though I believe that natural selection should be the ‘weapon of choice’, i.e. the preferred field of study, in the investigation of the ultimate justification of morals. After all, natural selection is the ultimate biological cause of the behaviour of individuals.

    • Cathy says:

      I bow down humbly in the presence of such grseanest.