2010 | 3 | 13-57
Article title

Prawdziwie darwinowska etyka

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Darwin’s model for the evolution of morality as presented in Descent of Man (1871) is shown to comprise three major stages that are here referred to as empathic premorality, tribal morality, and universalizing morality. Empathy, the key component of Darwin’s “social instincts” that started moral evolution, is here recognized as the principal cognitive device that conveys epistemic credibility to moral agency. The two constitutive elements of the tribal morality are conscience that Darwin conceived of as a conflict between a lasting social motive and an immediate selfish impulse, and true altruism that evolved as a result of group (community) selection. Darwin’s genius recognized the uniqueness of group selection in human evolution as being dependent on mental faculties and speech that facilitated habit formation through praise and blame form other group members, with empathy as a gauge of others’ emotional reactions. Contrary to repeated claims, Darwin did not derive morality from reciprocity that he (and his contemporaries) considered to be “a low motive”, and adduced it only as a mechanism of habit formation. The universalizing morality was brought about by the increasing powers of intellect that led to respecting individual lives (rather than group interests only) and extending humane concerns beyond one’s group, ultimately to all sentient beings, which places Darwin among the spiritual fathers of modern humanitarianism. In terms of substantive ethics, Darwin’s views support moral individualism (Rachels, 1993) that requires to treat each subject according to his/her individual characteristics rather than any group membership. Darwin’s moral individualism and universalism have been elaborated by Peter Singer as the principle of equal consideration of interests and the expanding circle of ethics, respectively. Darwin’s model of moral evolution, which starts with intuitive but epistemically reliable moral agency and then allows for its rational improvement, provides a way out of the moral subjectivism of evolutionary ethics that reduces morality to an adaptation to social life. The primary or core morality that relies on empathy and implements reciprocity supports welfare (wellbeing) of a group and its members. Welfare (which has been defined by Darwin) is a basic “terminal” (ultimate) value that constitutes an objective, measurable fact. Since the primary morality supports welfare, it is objectively good, which justifies an ethical reasoning that such morality ought to be extended (with appropriate adjustments) to all sentient beings. Confusion over the status of morality is largely due to the lack of appreciation of its complexity: not only had its motivational apparatus (known as the moral agency) evolved by superposition of many emotional and pure cognitive mechanisms, but it has subsequently been co-opted to implement prudential, religious and possibly other norms that are accidental and sometimes contrary to its original social function. Those secondary morality norms are now enforced by the moral agency but lack moral objectivity and thus may support the perception of moral subjectivism and relativism. In short, true Darwinian ethics is based on the scientific axiology that recognizes evolutionary origins of all values, requires respecting all values that are experienced by each and every subject according to its individual characteristics, and calls for a critical assessment of each and every received morality.
Physical description
  • Muzeum i Instytut Zoologii, Polska Akademia Nauk, ul. Wilcza 64, 00-679 Warszawa, Poland,
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Publication order reference
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