University Of Tasmania
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Morality on a leash : walking the dogma : a search for plausible connections between morality and biology

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posted on 2023-05-26, 22:30 authored by Britton, Jillian Louise
There have been numerous attempts to explain morality as a product of biology. These accounts however do not do justice either to the nature of morality or the biological mechanisms which are attributed to its origin. This thesis addresses these problems and provides an account which satisfactorily explains morality as the product of a number of human biological adaptations, but not as biological adaptation itself. As such it is a rejoinder to prominent sociobiologists Michael Ruse, E.O. Wilson and Richard Joyce who suggest the contrary. This conclusion derives from a detailed exploration of morality as both a biological and cultural phenomenon that seems to have strayed far from the Darwinian evolutionary framework. Holding it back firmly, however, are a suite of emotions which are here argued to be a primary source of belief in the prescriptive, categorical nature of morality, a core feature of morality which distinguishes it from other human rules. This account of moral motivation is not a novel account. What is new, however, are the further conclusions that can be drawn from growing evidence for the neurological bases of these emotions. Of particular relevance to this thesis is the likelihood that emotions were not selected because of their role in generating morality. Rather, emotions appear to be prerequisite for functions such as familial bonding which predate morality. This hypothesis supports the main conclusion of this thesis. The human emotional reservoir is not taken to be the sole explanation for why we have morality, however. Morality is a multi-facetted phenomenon which is also formed and influenced by active reasoning and more passive processes such as social learning. To demonstrate this, a significant portion of the thesis is devoted to considering the connection between morality and human sociality. This will provide subsidiary support for the conclusion that morality is a bi-product of a number of different biological traits, in this case selected in humans for their contribution to social learning, and kin bonding. From these main areas of discussion, secondary conclusions emerge. Firstly, the biological basis of the capacities involved in the generation of morality is also used as the grounds for rejecting the commonly held belief that there are mind-independent moral facts. Secondly, the range and complexity of these capacities in humans will be used as an explanation for why morality appears to be a human phenomenon. Finally, it will be argued that the conclusions reached in this thesis needn't undermine the significance of morality in our lives: rather, morality requires redefinition which recognises both its true origins and its role in protecting and promoting that which is of utmost importance to us.


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Copyright 2010 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2010. Includes bibliographical references

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