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Ruse and Wilson on Incest Essay

Uploaded by eCheater on Jun 13, 2004

Ruse and Wilson in “Moral Philosophy as Applied Science” give the example of brother-sister incest avoidance as being an ethical code motivated by an epigenetic rule that confers an adaptive advantage on those who avoid intercourse with their siblings. In this discussion, Ruse and Wilson argue that moral laws disallowing incest are redundant relics of mankind’s evolutionary history that provide nothing to mankind but explanations of a hard-wired evolutionary trait (179). I reject this argument. While Ruse and Wilson are undoubtedly correct in believing that mankind’s capacity for moral reasoning is a result of natural selection pressure and that most ancient moral laws have an evolutionary basis, I believe that describing the genesis of moral reasoning in this way provides no information about the content of our moral beliefs now. While our capacity for moral reasoning may have evolved for the purpose of informing our otherwise unjustifiable acts with a sense of objective certitude, it is not hard to imagine that this capacity, once evolved, would be capable of much more than simply rubber stamping mankind’s collective genetic predisposition. In this paper, I will use the example of an evolutionary explanation against intentional killing for personal gain to argue for the existence of a disconnect between evolutionary biology and ethics.

Ruse and Wilson might argue that human beings evolved with a genetic predisposition against murder for convenience. It is easy to see how this might be true. A person who kills others for convenience must live apart from society and apart from potential mates or else must be killed by society. This epigenetic rule “predisposes us to think that certain courses of action are right and certain courses of action are wrong (180).” These motivate ethical premises which “are the peculiar products of genetic history” and can “be understood solely as mechanisms that are adaptive for the species that possess them (186).”

I reject this notion that evolution completely prescribes ethics. Nature is amoral absent intelligent beings who make moral judgements. Once the capacity for moral reasoning is established, it does not follow that our ethical laws must necessarily mimic our evolutionary predisposition. While in the cases of selection against brother-sister incest avoidance or against murder for convenience it is easy to see how evolution can bring about an outcome that we now judge to be moral, it can just as easily effect traits that we now believe immoral. Few people would...

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Uploaded by:   eCheater

Date:   06/13/2004

Category:   Biology

Length:   8 pages (1,876 words)

Views:   5511

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