Philosophy of Biology Ethics and Evolution

Morality could be explained as a system of ideas about righteous behavior that was emerged over the course of human evolution. Now whether or not it has evolved directly as a result of natural selection has been an argument between many philosophers after Darwins proposal of natural selection. Francisco J. Ayala argued that ethical behavior come about in evolution not because it is an adaptive process, but because ethical behavior is a necessary consequence of humans prominent intellectuality. Hence, moral behavior is an attribute indirectly promoted by natural selection that is morality evolved as an exaptation and not adaptation, with respect to the consequences of the behaviors. On the other hand, the proponents argue that ethical morality is an adaptation for human because we are social animals. In short, ethics is an illusion put in place by natural selection to make us good cooperators.   These adaptations are evolved exactly like teeth, hand and human genitalia, which is a direct product of natural selection. I, on the other hand, am saying that both arguments are very closely related. Because if there wasnt a direct adaptation and biological evolution of human brain then the cultural evolution among human would have never occurred and vice versa. In addition, morality is not a biological feature like hand or penis. It is something that was taught through religion and social contracts as well.  Whereas, many people also believe that progression in cultural evolution cannot explain certain feelings such as love and hate. For instance, the feeling of love is so strong that people would scarify themselves for the ones they love. How would this be compatible with their survival

As explained above, ethics is the consideration of the rightness or wrongness of human actions, as well as their identification of what is good and evil. Mackenzie (2008 1) noted that it is the science of conductmens habits and customsthe principles on which they habitually act. An action is considered as rightful if it is a good thing. A good thing has a desirable and valuable end. Since human societies have different values and desires, it is inevitable that their ethical principles differ.

Michael Ruse noted that philosophical systems have normative ethics and meta-ethics. Considering that this paper would like to show the function of evolution in ethics, it is worthy to look into the whats and whys of ethical principles. Normative ethics, according to Steve Olson (76) is largely concerned with what a person should do. Dwelling further unto this matter yields at least four different schools of normative ethics consequentialism, nonconsequentialism, distributive justice and virtue. A short introduction of these concepts is important to realize how normative ethics work.
Stephan Darwall (2003, 1) introduced the concept of consequentialism as the result of good and bad things. He argued that things events have values of either good or bad despite the absence of morality. The idea of consequentialism revolves on the idea that human action is good or bad depending on the result of their conduct. This means that if the action produces good consequence then the act is moral while if it produces bad things, then it is immoral.

Obviously, nonconsequentialism proposes a contradictory claim. According to Frances Myrna Kamm, nonconsequentialism do not believe that it is the consequences that determine the goodness or the wrongness of action. The act in itself is either right or wrong. For example, lying and killing are actions that are wrong in themselves. Even though the act of lying could save a billion lives, it is an immoral act in itself.

The notion of right and wrong is also seen from the perspective of justice. This is how distributive justice came about. According to Robert Nozick, individuals are entitled to the goods that they justly possess (Gensler et al. 235), if the goods are not distributed properly then the act is immoral. Virtue ethics, on the other hand, emphasizes the role that diverse habits and dispositions play in moral decisions.

Michael Ruses arguments maintained that normative ethics are mere illusions if ethics are rooted in evolutionary biology. He tried to prove this claim by stressing the role of meta-ethics. Steve Olson (76) pointed out that meta-ethics is concerned with why a person should follow those rules with justification for ethical codes of conduct. For example, consequentialists would act morally to maximize happiness while non-consequentialist would act morally out of obligation to protect human life.

The concept of evolution had its consequences on ethical principles, particularly because it suggests that humans act in certain ways to adapt to their environment. The primary reason why living things ought to survive, in evolutionary perspective, is to preserve the species. Scary enough, even Aristotle who had lived more than two thousand years ago acknowledged this fact. Therefore, it is not a product of mere human imagination but a factual statement verified throughout history. Evidences of the concept of survival of the fittest abound not only in the flora and fauna environments but also within human societies. This was the foundation of Social Darwinism. Accordingly, an action is morally right if it leads to evolutionary progress (Olson, 76). Following Ruses argument, ethics only exists as a tool towards self-preservation.

Michael Ruse argues that common-sense morality is an illusion due to our genetic construction, which is a direct outcome of biology and hence natural selection. It is an adaptation like hand, teeth, and penis or vagina. It is a social adaptation like pheromone trails that the leaf-cutter ants leave to direct their nest-mate to the price. Morality has an objective base, meaning that the incomes are relating to an object of thought without consideration of independent existence of genes, and therefore successfully adapted because we believe substantive morality has an objective basis. We feel to do the right thing because it truly is the right thing to do, not as a consequence of our emotion. Consequently if no justification implied then the ethical morality would fall down into futility. For example if someone steals your money, you would dislike the person not because you do not want to lose your money but because you think that person has truly done something wrong in objective sense. We are people with a genuine sense of morality that is real feeling of recognizing right or wrong and obligation. Human with respect to morality is not transcending from animal world whatsoever but rather completely the same.

In order to work together socially we have made an innate capacity that is put there by natural selection as morality. This means morality is hard-wired into humanity and just shaped by culture. We do not have the moral senses because we decide to be moral creatures but because we are humans. Aristotle pointed out that humans are moral animals. The existences of psychopaths who do not have moral sense are biological exceptions or mutations.

When suggesting that morality is hard-wired to humanity, it implies that right and wrong are manifestations of the genetic origin. Now, Richard Dawkins is the well-known author that tried to prove the existence of this gene. The argument is based upon the notion that human behavior and other human qualities are merely genetic expressions. As could be observed, humans have different appearances despite the similarities in their genetic codes. Humans differed from one another in complexion, height, body mass, and sex organs. There are several ways human varies and all of these variations make each human a unique living organism. Particularly, all of human traits are product of genetic make-up. This was long been proven by Gregor Mendel and other geneticists. It is also considered as a fact that some traits of the persons lineage are pass down to the next generation. Traits like selfishness had always been present to humans. Dawkins declared that we are the survival machines of genes. Selfishness is an attribute opposite of altruism. Selfishness involved doing whatever is needed to benefit oneself. If this term would be use to describe evolutionary processes and element, it merely suggest that the process and the element aims to benefit themselves. Thus, the notion of selfish gene merely implies that the genes selfishly want to exert its survival. The gene is programmed by nature to do whatever it takes to survive. This is what Dawkins is talking about when he referred to humans as survival machines. Since the framework of every human body are the genetic codes embedded in the DNA, Dawkins analogy accurately described the situation.

Whenever cooperation has beneficial consequences human seem to be willing to accept the moral codes and therefore consistent with their survival as social animals. It is true that we have selfish genes but that does not necessarily generate selfish people because these people tend to be expelled from groups rather quickly. It is a social contract that is brought about not by our ancestral or modern leaders but it is rather advanced as biologically evolved genes selected by natural selection.
Further analysis would reveal that all of the body functions are also manifestations of the genes. The amount of hormonal secretions was also determined inside the genetic code. The structures of each hormone as well as the corresponding functions were largely determined by the genes. Hormones are essential part of the human system. They function interactively and independently from each other. In the documentary What the Bleep do we Know, the hormones were portrayed to affect even the persons mood. This idea is backed up by several studies showing how the levels of hormones affect the persons disposition. For instance, a depressed person has lower levels of serotonin, while a happy person has high levels. A person is also driven to the sleepy state with higher levels of melatonin. Overall, the persons mood is very dependent on hormonal levels.

This analysis reflects that the genes, which are evolutionary mechanisms of survival, affect behaviors. Morality is also seen as an evolutionary mechanism. While genes operate internally it expresses outward actions that could be evaluated in the society. Nevertheless, this generalization only confers that implications of morality is something that must not be followed because it is merely a manifestation of evolution. The implications of morality are the rules and the laws that were made and followed because they are considered rightful and good.

One way to enlighten this particular concept is to look back on the formation of societies. Societies were creates laws based on morality. This could be verified by the writings of Thomas Hobbes. According to him, laws are the rules of just and unjust.  Laws were established to maintain peace in the Commonwealth or the society. Laws provide security because in the state of nature the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short (86).  Hobbes further argued that men are selfish and insatiable. To control human passions, laws were established. However, as discussed above. Human passion is a part of the survival mechanism. This further enlightens the uselessness of following moral codes because they merely restrain the persons natural ability to survive.

If the above case will be considered, the justification of morality as a result of evolution would only lead to its dismissal. This is the argument the Michael Ruse had expound. Therefore, ethics could not be explained and justified through evolution.

Nevertheless, genes are not the only thing that could affect ethical consideration. Genes might have functioned selfishly throughout human history but its manifestations changes over time. As evidence, one could look into the fact that genes could evolved or even mutate. Every living thing has the ability to adapt to its surroundings. This means that other factor besides the genes affects a human being.
Human evolution differs from other organism due to humans capacity to interact and learn from their previous mistakes. Humans could communicate what they learned not only to their offspring or immediate relatives but also to several people. Humans work together but they could decide independently from one another. In a sense, humans adapt to specific situations but they are informed and they learned in collective groups.

In a strict discussion of evolutionary ethics, it is inevitable to stumble upon the works of Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin. Darwin is famous for the idea of adaptation and evolution of all living organisms. Darwin noted that organisms are able to adapt into their environment and this process could improve their chances of survival. John Wright (125), in his attempt to explain Social Darwinism argued that the focus on human evolution was Spencers work, focusing on mental characteristics. Thomas Malthus heavily influenced Spencer and Darwin.  Malthus is concerned about the connection between human consumerism and the availability of resources, emphasizing the effect of the increasing population to limited resources. Spencer noted that humans who possess the skill intelligence, self-control and the power to adapt through technological innovation would survive in the struggle for scarce resource.

This idea was the central theme on Francisco Ayalas work What the Biological Sciences Can and Cannot Contribute to Ethics. Francisco J. Ayala argues that the high intellectual capability of human beings force them to have a preferred moral judgment and to accept the good or bad moral values.  He proposed that moral behaviors are rational behaviors. In general human evaluate their actions as either right or wrong according to their intellectual ability, which includes self-awareness and death-awareness, the most important difference between human and animals. Human also evaluate abstract thinking such as creation of mathematical formulas and most of the science to the present day. These behaviors are particularly characteristic of human among all the other social animals.

Rational behavior implies that the actions are base on informed decisions. Ayala explained that evolution actually reflect the development of ethical principles. His discussion was not narrowly framed on biological evolution per se, but on the idea of the process of adaptation. To explain his idea, Ayala cited three conditions that contribute to the ethical behavior of human beings.

These three conditions are (i) the ability to anticipate the consequences of ones own action (ii) the ability to make values judgments and (iii) the ability to choose between alternative course of action, which all three are the consequence of human intellectual capability that results in cultural evolution rather than biological evolution of ethics.

The ability of human to anticipate the consequences of ones own action is the most fundamental of the three conditions required for ethical behavior as if one could anticipate to pull the trigger will shoot the bullet, which as a result can kill ones enemy. That is one would only kill the enemy if he or she anticipates pulling the trigger, therefore the ability of human to produce images of realities happening in the future serves as a mean to whether or not anticipate the action in the present, which in turn provides a connection between means and ends at the fundamental intellectual capability. It is believed that cultural evolution was the remote evolutionary root to be found by the evolution of bipedal-gait by natural selection, which promoted the intellectual abilities of the bipedal ancestors. It is because bipedal ancestors were able to improve the perception of tools as tools and therefore their construction and use in terms of biological survival and reproduction.

The second condition for existence of ethical behavior is the ability to make value judgments and therefore to perceive certain objects as more desirable than others. Making value judgments depend on the capacity to perceive and compare actions or objects in abstraction, concluding whether or not they are desirable. Ayala gives an example that  only if I can see the death of my enemy as preferable to his or her survival can the action leading to his or her demise be thought as moral. In other words, if an action has a neutral consequence for an alternative action, the action couldnt be distinguished to have any ethical value. Morally best action is the one having the most beneficial consequence to others however this cannot be defined as a measurement of morality of actions, which in turn does not necessarily involve utilitarianism.

The last condition is the ability to choose between two different courses of action. He argues with the same example that pulling the trigger can be a moral action only if one has the option not to pull it. This mean that if people do not have the ability to choose between two alternative actions then the action can not be considered as ethical, where an immoral action would be blood circulation. He further explains that making a decision is genuine and not apparent. Also, since we are able to mentally explore alternative courses of action, we can actually exercise our free will. For example our ancestor were able to improve survival in the wild by creating more advanced tools to defend themselves from the predators.

Peter Singer, according to Kamm (418), also discussed how judgments are affected by evolution. Judgment depends on moral principles. Singer focused on the idea of killing. He distinguished how people kill today from how they attacked in ancient times.  According to Singer, psychological studies revealed that most people believed that attacking a person face-to-face is intuitively wrong while killing a person in long distances are permissible.

Singers finding is compatible with the conditions presented by Ayala. First, the person prefers long distance attack after analyzing the possible consequences of his action. By doing so, the person engages himself with making value judgment by comparing the desirability of the act. The desirability is extended by the notion of permissibility attached to long distance attacks. The third condition is already fulfilled because no one compel the person to choose one over the other and alternative choices are present.

The fact that people of current generation choose differently from people who lived during the primeval era exposes a change in moral judgment. This change may be biological. Maybe, toxins, vaccines and several genetically modified products affected the level of hormones inside the body causing disruption in their amount and function. Nevertheless, this is very hard to prove and somehow trivial. What Ayala had been emphasizing was the ability of the mind to contemplate and process information. This ability is innate. However, the environment is the only thing that could affect the observation and problem solving process that occurs in the mind of the person. Therefore, Ayala implies that throughout history humans do not only adapt in the biological level but also in the cultural level. Culture is composed of the societal beliefs, rules, norms and traditions that changes as human progresses.

Adaptation is the evolutionary process whereby a population becomes better suited to its habitat. It is a gradual process, taking place over many generations that improve organisms survival and reproduction. On the other hand, exaptation is defined as features of organisms that evolved because of the function they serve for the organism, but was used later to serve another function, totally different from the original function targeted by natural selection. For example feathers have evolved to conserve the temperature but later was used in birds to fly with.

Cultural adaptation happens when the culture or the conditions in the society changes as a response to the scarcity and manner of acquiring resources. Like biological evolution, cultural evolution also includes the aspect of inheritance. The cultural inheritance was in the form of language, laws, conventions, and traditions.

Ayala suggests that literature, arts, religion, and human cultural activities were also not created because they were favored by adaptation to human but because they are expressions of high intellectual capability and tool making generated by exaptation. It means that moral sense was evolved in human by a rather more indirect evolutionary process brought about by intelligence, which is a selection-produced adaptation and hence in realm of culture not biology. It does not seem that making moral decisions would advertise the reproductive fitness for those who judge an action as good or bad. Neither is morality a developing feature as a result of natural selection but rather as a result of advanced intelligence, which is targeted by natural selection. Advanced intelligence is then favored by natural selection because it improved the human ability to construct more advance tools. Evolution of bipedalism followed by advance construction and use of tools, provided an increased possibility of biological fitness among Homo sapiens.

Morality developed because it is beneficial for the welfare of the social group and indirectly individuals as a member of the group. For example reducing crime would protect private properties. However, group selection based on altruistic behavior is an unstable evolutionary strategy because selfish mutations favor over altruistic behavior by natural selection and therefore the rate of multiplication of selfish individuals would predominate over altruist individuals. Fortunately, in human altruistic behavior is advantageous over the selfish ones because human can understand and comprehend the benefits of altruistic behavior to the group and indirectly to them and hence implement altruism by laws and etc against the socially harmful selfish behavior.

Ayala suggested that the cultural evolution surpassed biological evolution because it is a more effective faster and it can be directed (Ayala, 328). The cultural inheritance is not limited by biological mechanisms. It could affect millions of people from different places in a single generation. On the other hand, biological evolution is restricted by genetic inheritance, which could only be passed down from parents to child. Spencer is correct in his assessment that evolution would lead mankind onward and upward (Wright, 126). Human history showed how civilizations learned from previous mistakes. Darwin, according to Ayala, had made the same assertion towards morality. Darwin acknowledged, morality will tend to improve over human history and it contributes to the success of a tribe (society) (Ayala, 328). Taken together, evolution and morality, both improve humanity.

He concludes that if one looks at todays life, one would realize a radical breach between human intelligence and other animals like chimpanzees, whose elementary culture does not require advance intelligence and thus moral behavior. Human society had successfully intertwined cultural evolution with biological evolution. After the recognition that abnormalities may occur to the child of people with the same genetic history, incest were regarded as a taboo. The current ethical standards are considerably favored by cultural evolution (Ayala, 333).

Darwinian approach to moral ethics leads to a sort of moral non-realism whereas Ruse believes that morality exist, if without foundation, such as in psychological reasoning Games. Researchers have shown that different parts of the brain come together to make judgment decision based on emotion and logic, where emotion can be decisive over logic in different scenarios. For instance researchers shown that people would choose to kill one person and save the life of five other people by hitting a switch that set the points to send an out-of-control trolley to the side-line towards one person and away from the other five (Kamm, 418). However, in the other scenario, people chose not to push the sixth person physically off a bridge that is about to fall, in order to save the life of the five other people. Researchers concluded the only crucial difference between the two cases is the emotional response and not just some objective reason.

Michael Ruse concludes that morality is an illusion. The reason morality is successfully adapted is because we believe substantive morality has an objective foundation. For Ruse substantive ethics is due to emotions, which could mean moral principles are substantive but their meanings are objective. Our beliefs are based on our biology and we think because of our biology we should justify our normative morality objectively, which is self-revealing to human beings. However, morality is a result of psychology rather than an expression of non-natural objective property and a direct product of natural selection.

It does not seem like our moral ethics are solely to preserve genes and hence only based on human biological nature, because this would mean that racism is ok and therefore to protect the social ethics, different races with certain people cannot exist since they have undesirable genes and therefore the natural selection acts against them. We see that this not true now a day but it could have been accepted maybe hundreds of years ago. However, genes play a very important role in the development of social ethics. The most important difference in human is the evolution bipedal-gait that leads to the evolution of tool making and therefore a larger brain consequently.  Ayalas argument is the most acceptable theory after these adaptations were made. Since these adaptations were made at the beginning of human evolutionary tree and remained until now, we cant say that these adaptations would serve us no function and therefore of no importance. For example, the feather was first evolved to serve as temperature regulation but than gained other function totally different from the first function. But feather still serves as a temperature regulator for the birds. In human the adaptation that made us so distinct cannot be excluded since we have gained additional function for it and therefore could be directly a product of natural selection. After all, since the cultural evolution is at the fastest, currently it seems to dominate all the other theories and therefore most of our moral values are being determined by passing generation to generation as a Lamarckian evolution.


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