Review of The Evolution of Moral Progress: A Biocultural Theory by Allen Buchanan and Russell Powell [Book Review]

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science Review of Books 1:1-14 (2019)
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Allen Buchanan and Russel Powell’s The Evolution of Moral Progress (EMP) is likely to become a landmark. It adeptly builds on much of the recent empirical work, weaving it together with philosophical material drawn from a series of essays published by the two authors. EMP makes the case that moral progress is not only consistent with human psychology but—under some conditions—likely. At its heart is a careful, well-developed rebuttal to the idea that there are evolved constraints endogenous to human minds that place significant limits on various forms of moral progress, especially on the spread and sustainability of inclusive values. The alternative picture they present acknowledges that evolutionary history has shaped how our minds produce behaviour, but emphasizes that the contexts in which they currently operate are just as pivotal. While safe and stable ecological and social circumstances are hospitable to cosmopolitanism and encouraging of inclusive values, dangerous and threatening circumstances are more favourable to parochialism, exclusivist values, and morally regressive outgroup hostility (also see Buchanan and Powell [2015], [2016], [2017]). Overall, EMP is a compelling, well-researched, and timely book. It articulates arguably the most persuasive naturalistic theory of moral progress to date, and lays the groundwork for important and impactful research.

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