The Moral Landscape, Evolution and Morality

Total Posts:  7
Joined  14-10-2010
09 November 2010 03:31

First off, Sam, I liked the book.

My only problem is the seemingly lack of deference given to an evolutionary explanation for our moral values.  The objection that if our morals evolved, it would be considered the height of morality to make daily deposits into the local sperm bank, strikes me as a simplistic straw man view of evolution.  It sounds like something a creationist would say about evolution.

We didn’t evolve with Sperm banks.  We evolved out of small hunter-gatherer bands.  We evolved to have long term pair bonding to maximize our child rearing capabilities.  Female bodies cannot bear self sufficient young.  The birth canal cannot handle our large brains.  That means we are all born very premature - even at 9 months, by other mammal standards.  As such we require extensive protection and taking care of for several years while we mature enough to be on our own.  Simply producing a lot of pregnant women isn’t going to improve one’s fitness in a hunter-gatherer society - you have to stick around.  So we’ve evolved feelings of love and reciprocity to maximize the chances for long term reproductive success.

It seems to me that a proper understanding of the relationship between our moral sense (which appears to be universal and not really cultural) and evolution can help us solve the problem of what is in our best interests and what morals we should hold on to.  What we are trying to do, consciously or unconciously, is maximize our reproductive success in the long term.  We want to see our genes first and foremost succeed, and then those who are closely related to us, and those of our tribe, nation, and all of humanity, in that order, succeed.  Ultimately we want life on earth to succeed and that requires an environmental ethic.

Reproduction isn’t just about sex, although that’s the first important step.  Long term reproduction requires us to raise our children right, to provide for our economic well being, to build a stable and just society, and to preserve our ecology.  That’s a moral statement that I think would get us to where we want to be a bit faster than Sam’s method.

But I’m interested in hearing other opinions.



Total Posts:  9
Joined  09-11-2010
10 November 2010 10:57

The paragraph you paraphrased as “the height of morality to make daily deposits into the local sperm bank”  is actually “if conforming to the dictates of evolution were the foundation of subjective well-being, most men would discover no higher calling in life than to make daily contributions to their local sperm bank”.  Later in that paragraph “But our minds do not merely conform to the logic of natural selection”.  The point is: evolutionary logic does not dictate our behavior, nor should the evolutionary roots of our moral sense provide a singular basis of a moral code.  Or “the view of “good” and “bad”, I am advocating, ... , cannot be directly reduced to instinctual drives and evolutionary imperatives”.  We do not live in our evolutionary environment, therefore the morals senses that evolved there are likely to fail us in modern society. (flown the perch built by evolution)

Recall the example of people giving more for an individual in-need than they give for two or more people in-need. In the limt, this trait seems to become a blind spot when we find whole populations in-need. (clearly a bug and not a feature)

You describe a very positive result from using our moral sense of kinship and expanding the definition of kin.  But it might also be possible to construct a very negative result from using of our moral sense of disgust or vengeance in new and novel ways.  Disgust and vengeance seem negative outright, and maybe they are, but they may be useful in certain contexts.  Disgust in people: bad. Disgust in behaviors: motivating.

I noted that the Moral Landscape offers few, if any, moral codes or even values that would proceed from the definition of a science of morality.  This seems to frustrate many reviewers, but maybe that’s another book or, more properly, a scholarly paper.  From the broad definition of a science of morality, the role of our evolutionary traits are yet to be seen.