Master of Arts
Date of Defense
Eric Wiland, Ph.D.
It is uncontroversial to say that evolution has contributed little to the content of our factual judgments about the world. It is also uncontroversial to say that evolution has had a lot to contribute to the content of our non-factual judgments. What has been controversial is the extent to which evolution has influenced the content of our moral beliefs, and whether such influence has any metaethical implications. Sharon Street has received a lot of attention for her attempt to “debunk morality” in her paper, “A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value.” She argues that not only have evolutionary influences thoroughly saturated the content of our evaluative judgments, but that this fact leads to the rejection of moral realism. She claims the evidence of evolutionary psychology sets moral realists on the horns of a dilemma, a dilemma I will briefly elaborate below. Shafer-Landau has responded to Street’s dilemma with what he calls the “natural reply.” I accept that the natural reply successfully refutes Street’s argument. However, I do not take this as cause to give up on the project of evolutionary metaethics. To this end I will recast the Darwinian dilemma, focusing on just those moral judgments we have good reason to think are highly adaptive and aiming at the conclusion that there are unlikely to be moral truths to which these judgments correspond. Finally, I conclude with a pragmatic argument as to why we should not feel demoralized by the replacement of moral realism with evolutionary ethics for many of our most cherished moral beliefs. We need not conclude, as Jerry Fodor has, that in the absence of moral knowledge “practically everything I believe about anything is false and it’s the end of the world.”
Brummett, Abram L., "Recasting the Darwinian Dilemma" (2014). Theses. 243.