moral evolution, back to Howie

Wed Aug 9 14:10:38 MDT 1995

Howie's post of Aug 2 is shortened and appended, hopefully coherent.

But how, Howie?  In what way shall we take "moral" causation or
questions into account?  And what do you think are the lessons to be
gleaned from Darwinian evolution?

Social causes of anything, in my mind, are not limited to humans,
BTW, unless you define social as human.  In evol-bio that is not the
definition, in every social species there are social effects on
members' fitnesses, as well as status differences and unequal food,
health, offspring, etc. [thinking mainly of mammals]

I'm sure that many people, think of hominid evolution in terms of
"when and how did our ancestors become human", but it's a bad
question; one of the problems with that is that it presumes to
already have a definition of "human" in mind.  All the work that I
follow focuses upon questions like what kind of locomotion/behavior
is compatible with Lucy's hips? [early hominid functional morphology]
or what are the metabolic costs of encephalization? etc, and from
these we try to build a bigger picture.  "Morality", language and
such do not fossilize, and any indirect traces they might produce are
unclear, at least.

Also, I wonder about your vision of pan-human morality.  Can we be
sure that all humans, including the first ones, really had familiar
notions of right, wrong, good, good-for-whom, etc??  I'm not sure
that even 19th-20th century cataloged peoples of the world all fit
that definition, although they may have the "capacity", they don't
all have the same moral traditions.

If I were to speculate on origins of morality/moral capacity in light
of evolution, I would probably ask questions like: how could one's
fitness benefit from one making moral claims or holding beliefs about
morality or promoting notions of morality?  because that is how
Darwinian selection works.


>>> Howie Chodos <howie at>  8/2/95, 10:38pm >>>
... Part of my argument is precisely that in translating lessons
gleaned from the study biological/genetic evolution to the social
domain we must take into account the causal efficacy of the moral
..... I have been trying to show that there are differences between
evolution in the human and non-human worlds, in terms of the causes
of death. My point is that once the issue of "social" causes is
raised one cannot avoid looking at moral questions.
But, even independently of the public interest, it seems to me to be
one of the concerns of these disciplines [archeology/paleontology]
(from the vantage point of an outsider, to be sure) is to try to
answer the question of how the transition from hominid to human took
place, no matter over what time frame.
If we can define the boundary between human and pre-human we define
that which distinguishes us from them. .... to have the capacity to
know that one is acting according to a conception of the good is a
feature that our species possesses that I cannot imagine attributing
to any other known species. .....

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