The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science

The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science, “Evolution and Ethics” by Michael Ruse, pg. 855 to 862.[link]

Ruse begins by distinguishing between moral discourse, or that which when discussed becomes a morality. So that the content of moral discourse is ethics. Ethics which come in two flavors; normative or substantive (also called ethics or metaethics). These Ruse equates normal ethics and metaethics to the moral statements of; “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “God wants you to love your neighbor as yourself” which is the content of “what one ought to do” or “why one ought to do what one ought to do” as Ruse puts it.

It is then pointed by Ruse that if you link Darwinism and normative ethics it constitutes a moral system that allows the individual “to show how and why people feel about moral statements”. But this is puzzling because previously Ruse noted that normative ethics is the what, while metaethics is the why. How can normative ethics show why people feel about moral statements? That is a metaethical question, and seemingly the distinction setup by Ruse is violated by him in the same breath. It is showing the need for a transcendental element in order to allow any type of coherent ethical system. Although Ruse does not acknowledge this, it seems he has done just that. He subtly grounds his argumentation in an undefined metaphysical object, that seemingly would be exactly what he is trying to limit by staying within the realm of normative ethics. Theism allows this move, but it seems he goes out of the bounds of his worldview and brings in theistic elements while couching around it an evolutionary view that argues why the evolutionary normative ethic makes sense. This is done by the stroke of a pen by Ruse yet he seems cognitively unaware throughout the paper regarding it.

In the second paragraph Ruse mentions the explanation for the ontology of normative ethics, apparently they owe their origin to the driving force of Darwinism. Apparently in the 1970’s sociobiology allowed breakthroughs to accumulate that led to a type of social theory that was “if you scratch my back, i will scratch yours” essentially. An apparent enlightened self-interest of the genes Ruse says. That is an important bit that seems glossed over by him, because altruism is the “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others”[1] according to a standard dictionary. So I suppose we should take our definitions of altruism as biological evolution posits from Ruses’ conclusion, namely that altruism can be altruism by not being altruism as we know it and study it today because it maintains a “self-interest” admitted to by Ruse. This would seem if I am reading it correct as the product of trying to explain normative ethics as the result of evolution by way of natural selection as the dominant natural mechanism.


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