The Limits of Evolutionary Explanations of Morality and Their Implications for Moral Progress

ETHICS 126.1 (2015): 37-67

Abstract: Traditional conservative arguments against the possibility of moral progress relied on underevidenced assumptions about the limitations of human nature. Contemporary thinkers have attempted to fill this empirical gap in the conservative argument by appealing to evolutionary science. Such “evoconservative” arguments fail because they overstate the explanatory reach of evolutionary theory. We maintain that no adequate evolutionary explanation has been given for important features of human morality, namely cosmopolitan and other “inclusivist” moral commitments. We attribute these evolutionarily anomalous features to a capacity for open-ended normativity, which presents a serious obstacle to theorists who wish to draw substantive moral and political lessons from human evolutionary history.