Evolutionary ethics

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Evolutionary ethics is a field of inquiry that explores how evolutionary theory might bear on our understanding of ethics or morality. The range of issues investigated by evolutionary ethics is quite broad. Supporters of evolutionary ethics have claimed that it has important implications in the fields of descriptive ethics, normative ethics, and metaethics.


  • That is, I suggest that we need not only an evolutionary epistemology but also an evolutionary account of moral traditions, and one of a character rather different than hitherto available. Of course the traditional rules of human intercourse, after language, law, markets and money, were the fields in which evolutionary thinking originated. Ethics is the last fortress in which human pride must now bow in recognition of its origins. Such an evolutionary theory of morality is indeed emerging, and its essential insight is that our morals are neither instinctual nor a creation of reason, but constitute a separate tradition – 'between instinct and reason', as the title of the first chapter indicates – a tradition of staggering importance in enabling us to adapt to problems and circumstances far exceeding our rational capacities. Our moral traditions, like many other aspects of our culture, developed concurrently with our reason, not as its product. Surprising and paradoxical as it may seem to some to say this, these moral traditions outstrip the capacities of reason.
    • Friedrich Hayek, The Fatal Conceit (1988), Introduction: Was Socialism a Mistake?
  • If evolutionary ethics were sound, we ought to be entirely indifferent as to what the course of evolution may be, since whatever it is is thereby proved to be the best.

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