Neo-Aristotelian Naturalism and the Evolutionary Objection: Rethinking the Relevance of Empirical Science

In John Hacker-Wright (ed.), Philippa Foot on Goodness and Virtue. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 277-307 (2018)
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Neo-Aristotelian metaethical naturalism is a modern attempt at naturalizing ethics using ideas from Aristotle’s teleological metaphysics. Proponents of this view argue that moral virtue in human beings is an instance of natural goodness, a kind of goodness supposedly also found in the realm of non-human living things. Many critics question whether neo-Aristotelian naturalism is tenable in light of modern evolutionary biology. Two influential lines of objection have appealed to an evolutionary understanding of human nature and natural teleology to argue against this view. In this paper, I offer a reconstruction of these two seemingly different lines of objection as raising instances of the same dilemma, giving neo-Aristotelians a choice between contradicting our considered moral judgment and abandoning metaethical naturalism. I argue that resolving the dilemma requires showing a particular kind of continuity between the norms of moral virtue and norms that are necessary for understanding non-human living things. I also argue that in order to show such a continuity, neo-Aristotelians need to revise the relationship they adopt with empirical science and acknowledge that the latter is relevant to assessing their central commitments regarding living things. Finally, I argue that to move this debate forward, both neo-Aristotelians and their critics should pay attention to recent work on the concept of organism in evolutionary and developmental biology.

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Parisa Moosavi
York University


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