Dinesh D’Souza, well-known American commentator, offers a few in his book Life After Death: The Evidence (Regnery 2009) reflects on evolutionary psychology accounts of morality, for example, unidirectional skeptic Michael Shermer’s claim that “The best way to convince others that you are moral person is not to fake being a moral person but actually to be a moral person.” To which evolutionary psychologist David Barash adds, “Be moral, and your reputation will benefit.”
Many find this sort of thing uplifting, but what does it mean? D’Souza, noting that this is a version of the “selfish gene” argument, replies,
Machiavelli argues that “the man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.” A rich man who is habitually generous, Machiavelli remarks, will soon become a poor man. Much better, Machiavelli craftily counsels, to acquire the image of magnanimity while giving away as little as possible. In other worlds, it is preferable to seem virtuous than to actually be virtuous. “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are. Machiavelli insists that the people who prosper most in the world are the ruthless people who employ virtue only occasionally and instrumentally for strategic gain. If Machiavelli is right, then under the rules of natural selection it is the moral pretenders, not the truly moral, who will prosper and multiply. And for empirical evidence Machiavelli could surely point to well-known successful connivers. ”(p. 177)
So here, we are not talking about morality at all, but about social advancement through successful deception. Shermer and Barash are no match for Machiavelli, and many have observed that the application of “science”1 to morality generally leads to less precise and salient ideas than one can find by reading the wily old foxes of yesteryear.