25 February 2008

The second reading by H. Philipse was on Darwin and the evolution of morality from the perspective of The Descent of Man (1871). In this book Darwin wants to approach morality 'exclusively from the side of natural history'.

Philipse started his lecture with a reading on Darwin's Origin of Species (1859), which embeds The Descent of Man as the role of man and his morality in evolution. The theory of evolution synthesized a great deal of ideas and had implications far beyond the realm of natural history. Influences on Darwin were Paley (argument for adaptive complexity: Watchmaker analogy), Malthus (struggle for life), geology (fossils), breeding and tilling, and the voyage of the Beagle. This knowledge was incorporated into the foundations of evolution: 1) variation under domestication & in nature; 2) struggle for life; 3) natural selection; 4) heritability of traits; 5) descent with modification.

How did Darwin explain human morality from this? He was one of the first to give morality a "lower" origin. Unlike the three moral systems discussed last week, where rationality or God were the origin of morality, Darwin concludes that human nature and morality are bound to its evolution. Animals, developing their intellectual powers, could get moral sense or conscience as well. He defines four elements of morality: a) social instincts (sympathy, love, trust, sensibility to affirmation and rejection); b) highly developed mental faculties, such as "inward monitor"; c) language (the wishes of the community can be expressed); d) habit.

Darwin rejects the ethics of Kant and Mill because 'man seems often to act impulsively, that is from instinct or long habit, without any consciousness of pleasure.' Behaviour seems to preceed thought. With his evolutionary ethics he constructed a explanation of morality, undermining its eternally and necessary validity. Darwin included a normative check in his evolutionary ethics. His theory of evolution were to have great impact on later thinkers and their systems of morality. Coming tuesday: Spencer and Nietzsche. Van 20.00 tot 21.30 uur in de Aula van het Academiegebouw, Domplein 29, Utrecht.


Chunk said...

wherewhen is spencer/nietzsche?

Dirk said...

Van 20.00 tot 21.30 uur
Aula van het Academiegebouw,
Domplein 29, Utrecht


Dirk said...

Or England / Germany late nineteenth century

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