Philosophy 560A: Evolution of Rationality and the Rationality of Evolution

Instructor: Christopher Stephens
Section: 001

Term: 2
Meets: Tuesdays 6:00-9:00pm

Note: This grad seminar is crosslisted with SFU and held at the SFU Harbour Centre campus.

The focus of this course will be on the relationship between evolution and morality. Ever since Darwin, philosophers and biologists have made myriad claims about the relationship between evolution and morality. In meta-ethics, some have argued that evolution shows (or provides evidence) that there are moral facts; others have argued that evolution shows that morality is an illusion, and others argued that evolution has no implications at all for meta-ethics. Within moral psychology, some have argued that evolution can help explain our moral psychology, while others have argued that its contribution is minimal. Some have argued that evolutionary theory helps us determine what human nature is, and others have argued that it undermines the idea of a human nature.

We will work through some of this voluminous literature. Along the way, we will discuss at least briefly traditional philosophical issues such as the is-ought gap, naturalism in ethics and Moores open question argument. Well also discuss philosophical issues that arise in evolutionary biology about adaptationism, the units of selection and population thinking. Our central question throughout will be this: what, if anything, are the implications of evolutionary theory for thinking about morality? Students will be required to write a couple of short papers (including a class presentation), as well as complete a term paper and a final exam.