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24th April - Ethics, Cooperation and Human Motivation: Assessing the Project of Evolutionary Ethics

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Published on May 2, 2012

In her third lecture of the Aberdeen Gifford Lecture Series 2012, Professor Sarah Coakley tackles more explicitly the problem of how to build an ethical system in conversation with the deliverances of evolutionary biology on "cooperation" and (human) "altruism". The failure of much evolutionary theory to take account of the difference between pre-human and human forms has resulted in some spectacular philosophical mistakes: choices have to be made between different meta-ethical theories to account for these phenomena, and a narrow utilitarian calculus is by no means obviously the most successful meta-ethic in taking account of the evidences. Coakley returns then to the neo-Aristotelian and Kantian options, but pointedly enquires in closing whether either of them can do full justice to the "excessive" altruism of Jesus's command to "love one's enemies". Does this lie outside the spectrum of "evolutionary" developments altogether?

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