MA Philosophy 2017-2018 (Lancaster University) Grade: Distinction
Awards: Frank Sibley in Philosophy (for best philosophy MA performance)
BA Philosophy and Politics 2014-2017 (Lancaster University) Grade: 1st Class Hons
Awards: Highest grades in philosophy; best philosophy dissertation
Is Moral Realism Undermined by Evolutionary Debunking Arguments?
Dr Christopher Macleod (Senior Lecturer at Lancaster University)
Dr Brian Garvey (Lecturer at Lancaster University)
My main research interest is in the branch of philosophy known as metaethics, which asks several “higher order” questions about the nature of morality. These questions concern the meaning of moral statements, whether moral statements can be true, whether we can have moral knowledge, and if so, how we go about acquiring such knowledge. Are we, according to non-cognitivists, simply expressing our emotions or desires when we make moral pronouncements? Or alternatively, are moral assertions statements of fact, as cognitivists claim? I think that when we say things like “murder is wrong” and “altruism is desirable” we are – sometimes at least – trying to express facts. We are not always successful in this regard. Indeed, how could we be, given the wide array of conflicting moral beliefs out there in the world? Yet I believe that at least some moral propositions are true, and more importantly, that they are objectively true. This view goes by the name of moral realism and it is with defending this view that the bulk of my research consists in.
In recent decades, moral realism has been threatened by a new species of argument which claims that the fact human beings evolved in the way we did makes it unlikely that we could ever recognise moral facts. Proponents of this argument – the Global Evolutionary Debunking Argument – claim that our moral values were, by and large, shaped by the forces of natural selection. This claim has powerful implications for the possibility of moral truth. According to most scientists, evolution is directed toward survival and reproduction at the level of the gene. Supposing (plausibly) that the survival and reproduction of genes and moral truth are different things, it seems to follow that, if evolution did shape our moral values, it shaped them in ways that have nothing whatsoever to do with moral truth. The upshot: even if there are moral truths, the fact that our moral values were shaped by an amoral process means we probably do not know them. Therefore, moral realism is false. My thesis, which is an extension of my Master’s dissertation, consists in defending moral realism against this powerful argument.
- Moral Realism
- Moral Rationalism
- Normative Epistemology
- Philosophical Methodology
- Normative Ethics
- Environmental Philosophy