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Thomas Nagel reviews an evolutionary psychology book on morality

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Nagel, the author of “most despised book” Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, reviewing Harvard evolutionary psychologist Joshua Greene’s Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them, offers

One of the hardest questions for moral theory is whether the values tied to the personal point of view, such as partiality toward oneself and one’s family, and special responsibility for refraining from direct harm to others, should be part of the foundation of morality or should be admitted only to the extent that they can be justified from an impersonal standpoint such as that of impartial utilitarianism.

To dismiss our counter-utilitarian attachments and intuitions, as Greene does, as “species-typical moral limitations,”* which must be seen as obstacles to the realization of the moral ideal, is to identify ideal morality as something more, or perhaps less, than human. A more attractive alternative would be to combine some of the values that form a natural part of the personal point of view with universal and impartial values of the kind Greene believes that we are also capable of. A project of this kind would require more subtlety about the different possible interpretations of impartiality than Greene displays: he identifies impartiality with happiness-maximization, and his brief discussions of Kant and Rawls show that he does not really understand their alternative conceptions—though I suspect that even if he did, he would still reject them in favor of utilitarianism.

Greene’s debunking arguments add an empirical dimension to a venerable utilitarian tradition, but they certainly do not settle the question. It is possible to defend a universal system of individual rights as the expression of a moral point of view that accords to each individual a sphere of autonomy in the conduct of life, free from interference by others, defined in such a way that the same sphere of autonomy can be accorded to everyone without inconsistency.

*Note: “species-typical moral limitations”—as opposed to what? A tomcat?A cobra? An insect?

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

Speaking for historic Christianity, I presume the election, ALL concepts of morality are from Gods conclusions. anything other then Gods conclusions is worthless. The bible is the origin of morality and so case closed. Are these people of the true christian faith??? If not what do they have to say to teach us. Except to beat up worse ideas then their own. Stick with the tried and true. Who has been the most moral people in history and did they create the best society and get the best rewards for their lives. It follows true morality tends toward a better life for the people. Evolutionary effects on morality will hurt mankind. I don't see it however as affecting mankind. The educated classes have little effect in reality Robert Byers
I'm having trouble, based on Nagal's review, of distinguishing Greene's utilitarian rationales as anything other than half-lame retreads of the collectivist rationales that propped up the scourges of totalitarianism which plagued the 20th century. Just like your favorite laundry detergent, they're always New! and Improved!, notwithstanding it's really just a pile of the same-old same-old inside the box. You can bet the farm that in the case of the trolly problem -- as it works itself out in real situations in the real world -- that "our (Harvard-trained) betters" will see no one other than themselves -- whether on the bridge or at the switch -- deciding who lives and who dies. So do your part, and sign up for Obamacare today! (Or else.) jstanley01

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