What it is not

Evolutionary Morality is not a morality that provides imperative oughts that are mysteriously binding regardless of our needs and preferences. Nor does it provide full answers to the broad ethical questions “What is good?” and “How should I live?”

Yes, it is a universal morality based on the universal function of all past and present enforced cultural norms.

Yes, it provides a universal solution for a universal problem for all independent agents, intelligent or not, biological or machine based, who have ever lived or who will ever live.

Yes, it provides a definition of morality whose core forces largely shaped our biological based emotional lives regarding beneficial interactions with other people and therefore it is a definition of morality uniquely matched to our emotional needs.

Yes, Evolutionary Morality summarizes the forces that shaped us to be social animals.

Regardless, as a matter of logic and rational thought, Evolutionary Morality provides no imperative oughts.

The only rational basis for a group deciding to use it as a moral reference for defining enforced cultural norms, or for an individual to use it in deciding which moral standards to accept the burdens of, is as an instrumental ought. An instrumental ought is an ought of the form, just as an example, “If you desire to increase your experience of well-being over your lifetime, then, based on science from evolution, psychology, and game theory, you ought (instrumental ought) to accept the burdens of Altruistic Cooperation morality”.

Perhaps some clever philosopher in the future will be able to either 1) make convincing arguments that some other moral principle is a better instrumental choice, perhaps for some other overriding desire, or 2) show some other moral principle actually is, by some remarkable means, binding on people regardless of their needs and preferences and their favored instrumental oughts.

If either of these events happened, Evolutionary Morality could became irrelevant. Based on the history of philosophy to date, I think neither is likely.

Until either event occurs, I expect Evolutionary Moralityto be the best instrumental choice of all available alternatives both for groups to enforce and individuals to accept.

As mentioned above, the broad ethical questions “What is good?” and “How should I live?” range far beyond Evolutionary Morality’s more narrow scope, the sub-category of interactions with other people.

However, suppose, as instrumental choices, some groups decide to adopt something like Evolutionary Morality as a moral reference for enforced norms and individuals decide to accept its burdens.  How might they rationally deal with the broader aspects of the question “How should I live?”

A culture’s answers to this question might be in the form of unenforced cultural norms about ‘proper’ balancing of obligations to one’s self and obligations to family, friends, community, and so forth.  These unenforced norms would be chosen based on whatever was expected to best meet (as an instrumental choice) the common overriding desires of group members, for example durable well-being.

An individual’s answers to these questions might be in the form of personal value judgments based again on an instrumental choice, whatever the individual expected would best met their personal overriding needs and preferences.

There could thus be constructed a hierarchy of norms in answer to the question “How ought I live?” That hierarchy of norms based on instrumental choices would be: enforced cultural norms based on something like Evolutionary Morality, unenforced cultural norms based on the common needs and preferences of the groups, and personal value judgments based on personal needs and preferences.

Obviously, such sets of norms would not be conflict free. There is overlap in establishing the balance between obligations to one’s self and to other people. Personal needs and preferences may be in conflict with the group’s enforced and unenforced norms. But at least it could offer a consistent approach for answering the broad question “How should I live?”

Where is the science in basing cultural and personal norms on instrumental choices?

In the decision to go with instrumental oughts, nowhere.

Science’s utility comes to the forefront in defining how to best meet human needs and preferences, as in the form of Evolutionary Morality and insights into our emotional experiences of durable well-being or happiness. 


Ritual dance at Machu Pichu

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