Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Darwin as Moral Sense Theorist
Re-reading my critique of Madigan, I'm not wholly satisfied with it; in part because the nonsensical misuse of Darwin's moral speculations by people like Rachels and Madigan obscures the fact that Darwin is actually quite interesting on this subject. His views are somewhat derivative; they are amateur; and they are speculative -- just as I said. But Darwin, unlike some of his followers, doesn't pretend to be making any major innovations in moral thought. He doesn't have in mind a particular set of evolutionary assumptions to which he is trying to make moral theory conform; he is, on the contrary, trying to show that a reasonable moral theory (one already in existence and already developed) characterizes moral life in such a way that a selectional theory of the descent of man can shed light on the development of the human sense of morals by shedding light on the development of our intellectual abilities and social tendencies. He faces the problems of not having an adequate anthropology or psychology, but Darwin always has a good sense of argument (I wish most people trying to build an evolutionary ethics had half his logical sense) and makes a very interesting case. Try Descent of Man, Chapter IV; his argument on the superiority of moral sense theory to utilitarianism, toward the end, is especially interesting and, I think, worth further exploration by someone.