In this article I sketch out evolutionary psychological explanations of ethical norms, concuring with the widespread view that they offer the best hope of an adequate explanation of moral intuition. I then argue that evolutionary strategies of kin selection and game-theoretic reciprocity are apt to generate agent-centered and agent-neutral intuitions, respectively. Such intuitions are the building blocks of moral theories, resulting in a fundamental schism between agent-centered theories on the one hand and agent-neutral theories on the other. An agent-neutral moral theory is one according to which everyone has the same duties and moral aims, no matter what their personal interests or interpersonal relationships. Agent-centered moral theories deny this and include at least some prescriptions that include ineliminable indexicals. I argue that there are no rational means of bridging the gap between the two types of theories; nevertheless this does not necessitate skepticism about the moral—we might instead opt for an ethical relativism in which the truth of moral statements is relativized to the perspective of moral theories on either side of the schism. Such a relativism does not mean that any ethical theory is as good as any other; some cannot be held in reflective equilibrium, and even among those that can, there may well be pragmatic reasons that motivate the selection of one theory over another. But if no sort of relativism is deemed acceptable, then it is hard to avoid moral skepticism.

"Moral Relativism and Evolutionary Psychology"

Steven D. Hales


volume 66, number 2, 2009

Pp. 431-448

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