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Biology and the justification of ethics


Evolutionary ethics has long been concerned with explanations of ethics and ethical systems. However, it seems that, from that standpoint, no satisfactory account of the justification of ethics has yet been given. This raises the questions whether such explanations really engage with our ethical systems as such, i.e. as systems of norms.

On the other hand, classical justifications of ethical behaviour and ethical systems based on the normativity of human agency normally fail to recognize any role for scientific knowledge in the justificatory process, although it seems that what sciences teach us about ourselves should matter for the way in which we conceive our moral agency.

This project aims at developing a framework for ethical justification, which might make room for considerations to be derived from scientific knowledge. The desired account should be sensitive enough to scientific knowledge to let it make a difference on how we think of our moral obligations, but it should also be careful to avoid question-begging reductive stands about mentalistic descriptions of human agency and morality.

In order to reach the desired result, the attempt will be made to offer an account of human agency based on a non-reductive, but scientifically informed conception of mental causation.

The idea is that biological sciences can teach us how our moral capacities evolved, and what the physiological conditions for their correct functioning are. This can set some constraints on human agency, which are relevant both in assessing an agent's behaviour, and in evaluating the bearings of one's actions on other humans.

Field of science

  • /humanities/philosophy, ethics and religion/philosophy/metaphysics
  • /natural sciences/biological sciences

Call for proposal

See other projects for this call

Funding Scheme

EIF - Marie Curie actions-Intra-European Fellowships


The Old Schools, Trinity Lane
United Kingdom