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Evolutionary Ethics and the Moral Skeptic


Philip Yaure

University of Chicago, US
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In this paper, I examine the relation between moral skepticism and evolutionary ethics. I focus on Robert Richards’ ‘Revised Theory’ of evolutionary ethics (in his “A Defense of Evolutionary Ethics), and Robert Joyce’s introduction of the moral skeptic as an objection to Richards’ view (in his The Evolution of Morality). I argue that Joyce’s application of the moral skeptic (an individual who denies common-sense moral judgments) is misaimed—for Richards can utilize a traditional response in moral theory and simply consider the skeptic beyond the pale of moral discourse. I then proceed to argue that the skeptic can be reintroduced at a further point in Richards’ argument, where he attempts to tease out the imperative force of ‘ought’ in moral contexts by appealing to the ‘structured context’ in which those ‘ought’-propositions occur, and that, if we frame our application of the skeptic here carefully, a serious problem for Richards’ view (and by extension, naturalistic ethical programs generally). I conclude with an evaluation of a series of possible responses to the skeptic by a proponent of Richards’ view (most of which can be generalized to naturalistic ethical projects beyond his).

How to Cite: Yaure, P., 2013. Evolutionary Ethics and the Moral Skeptic. International Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities, 5(2), pp.9 (63–71). DOI:
Published on 19 Jun 2013.
Peer Reviewed


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