Re: ESSAY: 'Debunking Hippy-Dippy moral philosophy'

From: Marc Geddes (
Date: Wed Jun 16 2004 - 02:52:28 MDT

--- Keith Henson <> wrote: >
> Replying to this as well as several other postings.
> What are humans? They are survival machines built
> by genes that have been
> selected by evolution.
> Survival for *what*? According to modern
> evolutionary theory, survival to
> propagate the genes that built them. (It *is*
> circular, but that's the
> nature of evolution.)
> If you buy into this view, then what people find
> "moral" should be highly
> shaped by what promoted the survival of the genes
> they carry.
> But as Hamilton figured out, the situation is more
> complicated than just
> the genes they carry personally. The genes you
> carry are also carried in
> your relatives, first your family, second your
> tribe, third your nation or
> ethnic group and finally, the whole human race. If
> your sacrifice results
> in a net gain in the number of surviving copies of
> your genes (compared to
> the alternative) then behavior to sacrifice even
> your life will become more
> common by simple evolution.
> I remember years ago being disconcerted for reasons
> I could not express at
> the time by some hard core Libertarians who made the
> claim that the proper
> view for a person was to value their life above the
> entire rest of the
> human race. That's not true. It is proper *from
> the gene's view* to risk
> your life and even die so that copies of your genes
> in [family, tribe,
> nation, race] may survive. To the considerable
> extent our mental biases
> are shaped by our genes, this gene based rule
> determines what we find
> "moral," and thus provides an objective basis for
> "moral."
> Was the suicidal defense by the Greeks at
> Thermopylae against the Persians
> in 480 BCE a moral act? Yes from the viewpoint of
> their genes. That is
> one of the reasons the story is attractive and has
> stayed alive in human
> culture for 2,500 years.
> Keith Henson

Keith, evolutionary psychology is all very
interesting, but I think you give far too much weight
to it. It can be useful for understanding some of the
underlying motivations as to why people behave they
do, but it is of little use as a guide to moral
behaviour. What is natural is not neccesserily good!

Further, what evolutionary psychology fails to
consider is the power of memes and the feed-back loop
between the conscious and unconscious mind. Sure I'm
prepared to believe that our immediate conscious
experience is largely just a reflection of our
sub-conscious impluses aka Libet , but what shaped
those sub-conscious impluses in the first place?
Answer: Conscious belief putting feed-back into the
unconscious mind. In fact conscious belief might well
be the most important factor. So even as a guide to
explaining behaviour, evolutionary psychology fails.

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