Fall 2010

Evolution and Morality

Listed in: Philosophy, as PHIL-66


Nishiten Shah (Section 01)


Almost all human adults believe that:

(1) The fact that an action would promote one’s survival is a reason to do it.

(2) The fact that an action would promote the interests of a family member is a reason to do it.

(3) We have greater obligations to help our own children than we do to help complete strangers.

(4) The fact that someone has treated one well is a reason to treat that person well in return.

(5) The fact that someone is altruistic is a reason to admire, praise, and reward him or her.

(6) The fact that someone has done one deliberate harm is a reason to shun that person or seek his or her punishment.

Why do we accept these claims? Is it because they accurately describe a moral reality that we are able to perceive? (By what means do we perceive it? Do we have moral antennae?) Or is it because, as evolutionary biology leads many to believe, these beliefs tended to promote survival and reproduction? If the evolutionary explanation is correct, does this mean that these moral judgments are merely useful fictions that we would cease to accept if we were fully clear-eyed and rational? We will pursue these and related questions.

Requisite:  Two courses in Philosophy or consent of the instructor.  Limited to 15 students.  Fall semester.  Professor Shah.

If Overenrolled: Students who have taken the most philosophy courses will be given priority.


2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2010