Evolutionary models and the normative significance of stability

Biology and Philosophy 33 (5-6):33 (2018)
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Many have expected that understanding the evolution of norms should, in some way, bear on our first-order normative outlook: How norms evolve should shape which norms we accept. But recent philosophy has not done much to shore up this expectation. Most existing discussions of evolution and norms either jump headlong into the is/ought gap or else target meta-ethical issues, such as the objectivity of norms. My aim in this paper is to sketch a different way in which evolutionary considerations can feed into normative thinking—focusing on stability. I will discuss two forms of argument that utilize information about social stability drawn from evolutionary models, and employs it to assess claims in political philosophy. One such argument treats stability as feature of social states that may be taken into account alongside other features. The other uses stability as a constraint on the realization of social ideals, via a version of the ought-implies-can maxim. These forms of argument are not new; indeed they have a history going back at least to early modern philosophy. But their marriage with evolutionary information is relatively recent, has a significantly novel character, and has received little attention in recent moral and political philosophy.

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Arnon Levy
Hebrew University of Jerusalem


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