Evolutionary ethics: The nuts and bolts approach

July 20, 2018 - July 21, 2018
School of History, Philosophy and Culture, Oxford Brookes University

John Henry Brookes Building
Oxford OX3 0BP
United Kingdom

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

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Neil Levy
Oxford Centre for Neuroethics
Penny Spikins
University of York


Helen De Cruz
Oxford Brookes University
Johan De Smedt
Oxford Brookes University

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A growing body of evidence from the sciences suggests that our moral beliefs have an evolutionary basis. To explain how human morality evolved, some philosophers have called for the study of morality to be naturalized, i.e., to explain it in terms of natural causes by looking at its historical and biological origins. The present literature has focused on the link between evolution and moral realism: if our moral beliefs enhance fitness, does this mean they track moral truths? In spite of the growing empirical evidence, these discussions tend to remain high-level: the mere fact that morality is evolved is often deemed enough to decide questions in normative and meta-ethics.

This conference starts from the assumption that the details about the evolution of morality do make a difference, and asks how. We welcome philosophical papers that engage with the sciences, and empirical papers that engage with philosophical themes to naturalize ethics. We are looking for speakers from a wide range of disciplines, including but not limited to, philosophy, developmental and comparative psychology, cognitive anthropology, archaeology, evolutionary biology, and behavioral economics. We are particularly interested in papers that bridge philosophy with one or more of these disciplines.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Evolutionary debunking arguments that engage with the empirical literature
  •  Companions in guilt arguments
  • Modeling the cultural evolution of morality 
  • Gene-culture co-evolution of morality 
  • Archaeological studies of cooperation and care
  • Developmental psychology of morality and its philosophical implications
  • The plausibility of historical ethical theories as gauged by the sciences (e.g., Mengzi’s moral sprouts theory, Adam Smith’s theory of moral sentiments)
  • Experimental philosophy of morality
  • Cross-cultural differences in moral systems

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June 1, 2018, 5:00am BST

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Gordon Ingram
Rebecca Raper
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