A couple of reading suggestions given the Wilson-Jesus86 debate

1.  Matt Ridley.  The Origins of Virtue (and Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments)

2.  Robert Nozick.  “The Genealogy of Ethics” in his book Invariances

I would enjoy hearing Sven’s thoughts on these three pieces, not to mention anyone else tuning in to Pileus.

Invariances is among the most difficult books I have ever read.  Fortunately, the chapter I recommended is not difficult to understand.  Some of the other chapters are very tough and very high powered philosophy.  But one is well-served to read, reread, and keep reading Nozick.  My favorite Nozick work is his classic book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia.  The last section on Utopia is very much underappreciated and had a huge influence on my view of the world.

3 thoughts on “A couple of reading suggestions given the Wilson-Jesus86 debate

  1. On these topics, I would recommend also having a look at Ken Binmore, Natural Justice (Oxford, 2005); Max Hocutt, Grounded Ethics (Transaction, 2000); and Richard Joyce, The Evolution of Morality (MIT, 2006).

  2. Robert H. Frank’s “Passions within Reason” and Robert Axelrod’s classic “The Evolution of Cooperation” are also important.

  3. And I would add Harvard biologist Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds that I picked up awhile back.

    But while there is certainly much I could gain from all these readings, the likely result is that they will just show me in more detail what I am already convinced of: that biological theory can be used to develop a rich description of how human beings ended up with moral sentiments and, to an extent, a variation in moral sentiments, and how those sentiments relate to each other and work to determine our ethical behavior, often in ways we are unconscious of.

    But I don’t think this science-based naturalism has anything to do with the larger question (call it an ethical question, a meta-ethical question, or a meta-meta-ethical question, I don’t care) of why the human species should matter in the first place. If mankind came out (no one is quite sure how) from a random, purposeless and dead universe, what does it matter? Natural selection can explain the factors that promote change in and survival of the species, but why would those matter either?

    I think if one considers the possibility of a purposeful universe, where humans exist because humankind matters, then the nature of ethical thinking might be quite different, would it not? We might see the scientific data on natural history of our species differently, as well as the natural history of our moral development, and we might draw different implications from our science.

    So, please, spare me the lectures about how if I just were smart enough about evolution and the evidence for it, I would buy into naturalistic ethics. (I’m obtuse in many ways, but that isn’t one of them.)

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