Biology and Ethics

Philip Kitcher

in The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory

Published in print June 2007 | ISBN: 9780195325911
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Biology and Ethics

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This article argues that the best biological explanation for the existence of altruistic behavior supports noncognitivism. In its view, evolutionary biology supports the idea that the function of moral attitudes is to create motivation for the kinds of altruistic behavior that improve social cohesion. The criterion of success of a system of moral rules is not accurate representation, but the improvement of social cohesion in ways that promote the transmission of the system itself. One might combine the view of this article, according to which moral codes have the function of improving social cohesion, with the view that moral truths are “grounded in” the tendency of a system of moral rules to improve social cohesion. The result would be a cognitivist moral functionalism. However, there is no need to postulate the existence of moral truths in order to explain altruistic behavior.

Keywords: altruistic behavior; noncognitivism; evolutionary biology; moral attitudes; social cohesion

Article.  10991 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Moral Philosophy ; Philosophy of Science

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