Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Evolution of Virtue 5

Here is the conclusion of my paper.  I note that notes are coming.  I also have inserted a lengthy bit from one of my previous posts on Julie Annas' excellent book, Intelligent Virtue
Skills such as painting, piano playing, and writing do not exist because they were selected for.  They emerge out of the wide palette of natural powers, appetites, and passions that were selected for.  The same is true of the virtues.  Our ability to feel love, anger, guilt, and compassion, among other moral emotions, are clearly based on common, heritable schema‑evolved psychological mechanisms as they are called in evolutionary psychology.  Just as painting depends on a spectrum of colors visible to the human eye, so virtue depends on a spectrum of moral emotions each of which may be adjusted in a number of ways.  When we ask what excellence is when it comes to bravery, we are not asking what kind of fear and response to fear are best for our genes; we are seeking what kind of soul is best for a good human life.  The moral dimension emerges as a tangent to the direct of human evolution. 

Aristotle attempted to understand moral virtues by grounding them in a biological account of animal souls.  Modern biology makes it possible for us to continuing deepening and broadening that account.  This approach as the benefit that it corrects one of the most common criticisms of Darwinian theory: that it is reductionist and thus destructive of human nobility.  The opposite is true.  Only by appreciating what is selected for can we fully appreciate what is beautiful and good beyond the dimensions of natural selection.  At the same time, this approach tells us something very interesting about the natural world out of which all living things emerge: it had within it, from the very beginning, the potential for producing irreducible beauty. 

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