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C H A P T E R T H I R T E E N Evolutionary Ethics A Metaphysical Evaluation F R A N O ’ R O U R K E The Origin of Species introduced a mode of thinking that in the end was bound to transform the logic of knowledge, and hence the treatment of morals, politics and religion. —John Dewey Darwin’s theory has no more to do with philosophy than any other hypothesis in natural science. —Ludwig Wittgenstein One’s only owned by naturel rejection. Charley, you’re my darwing. So sing they sequent the assent of man. —James Joyce Evolution is the prevailing paradigm for today’s understanding of human nature. It is championed by some not only as a biological explanation for the origin and unity of living beings but as a response to all questions of human life and the universe itself, as well as its purpose—or absence thereof. It is rejected by others, who fear that acceptance of the biological 323 324 FRAN O’ROURKE theory of evolution entails a naturalistic vision of the world, and of man as a product of nature no different from other animals. Both see in evolutionary theory the equivalent of a metaphysical claim to total explanation. Ethics unsurprisingly has been brought into engagement with evolution, in both dialogue and dispute. Systematic attempts have been made by some theorists to ground morality entirely upon evolutionary principles. Evolution, it is claimed, is the key to all moral questions; ethical norms are laws of evolution: biology is our destiny, morality “a legacy of evolution.”1 Others fear that evolutionary interpretations of human nature must inevitably lead to the obliteration of uniquely human morality. In this essay I will outline one twentieth-century approach to evolutionary ethics and examine some assumptions of evolutionary theory that have a bearing upon the ethical evaluation of man. Although I will not explicitly develop the context in detail, my evaluative comments are largely from an Aristotelian viewpoint. The wider perspective is that of the question of being, which features neither in Aristotle nor in evolutionary theory, but which must finally be confronted to respond ultimately to the ethical question. My wider theme is thus the metaphysical background to the intersection of ethics and evolution.2 Evolutionary Ethics of Sociobiology Among Darwin’s disciples who have in recent decades sought to ground ethics upon the biological theory of evolution, the most prominent has been Edward O. Wilson, a renowned Harvard entomologist; other wellknown representatives are Michael Ruse and Richard Dawkins.3 In 1975 Wilson published his monumental work Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, which defined sociobiology as “the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior.”4 His aim was to lay bare the biological underpinnings of animal behavior and to apply these to man. This was a revolutionary renewal, following upon the Modern Synthesis, which a generation earlier had fortified Darwinism with the insights of molecular genetics. The new discipline of sociobiology sought to integrate the social and human sciences into evolutionary theory. Novelist Tom Wolfe proclaimed: “There’s a new Darwin. His name is Edward O. Wilson.” Having catalogued in great detail the “social” features of animal behavior, in the final chapter Wilson applied his conclusions to homo sapiens: all human behavior , including morality and religion, is based upon genetics. Sociobiology was founded on the conviction that behavior may be explained in terms of basic universal features of human nature laid down by evolution. The implications for moral philosophy are stark, the claim is ambitious: “Scientists and humanists should consider together the possibility that the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of philosophers and biologicized.”5 By presenting a selection of passages from the authors under consideration I will first outline the claims of evolutionary ethics. One of the attractions of their writing, frequently lacking in mainstream philosophers , is its clarity; Wilson twice won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction .6 In the opening paragraphs of On Human Nature, written as a popular introduction to sociobiology, he summarizes the essentials of his evolutionary naturalism: “If humankind evolved by Darwinian natural selection, genetic chance and environmental necessity, not God, made the species. . . . The human mind is a device for survival and reproduction , and reason is just one of its various techniques. . . . The intellect was not constructed to understand atoms or even to understand itself but to promote the survival of human genes.”7 Michael Ruse...


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