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Natural Ethical Facts: Evolution, Connectionism, and Moral Cognition (MIT Press) Paperback – August 12, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Here is a breath of fresh air: a morally sensitive and recognizable form of moral realism flowing naturally from contemporary cognitive neuroscience and modern evolutionary theory. Casebeer offers a striking intellectual synthesis that will surely move moral theory -- though not without controversy -- toward a more vigorous and scientifically informed future. It will also reconnect us to some of the proudest themes in our philosophical past: to the virtue ethics of Aristotle, and to the ever-practical ethics of John Dewey. For a new and revealing take on an old but vital problem, we commend to your attention Casebeer's lucid and ground-breaking book. This way lies the future of moral theory."--Paul Churchland, University of California, San Diego



Integrating evolutionary biology and connectionism with Neo-Aristotelian and Deweyan ethical theory, Bill Casebeer makes a powerful case for the scientific naturalization of ethics.

(William Rottschaefer, Professor of Philosophy, Lewis and Clark College)

The view that moral norms are best understood in terms of proper evolutionary function has languished as a wisp of a theory in the backwaters of moral psychology. Natural Ethical Facts provides a long overdue infusion of new life into the proper function account of morality. Thanks to William Casebeer we finally have a detailed and well-informed work that develops the view systematically in light of research on proper function and on connectionism. Casebeer shows an obvious command of the recent technical literature that underpins all this, but he has managed to produce a volume that is also thoroughly readable.

(Shaun Nichols, Associate Professor, College of Charleston)

"Natural Ethical Facts is well-documented and makes a valuable contribution to the ongoing dialogue between biology and morality." Research News & Opportunities in Science and Theology

About the Author

William Casebeer is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the US Air Force Academy.

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Product Details

  • Series: MIT Press
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: A Bradford Book (August 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262532786
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262532785
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,299,609 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Philosophical ethics generally takes the form of deriving moral principles from arguments based on reason alone. The only bow to empirical reality is, in Kant's phrase, "ought implies can"; i.e., a moral principle must be capable of being followed by normal mortals. This position is virtually forced upon philsophers who accept Hume's critique of the "naturalistic fallacy," according to which it is impossible to derive normative principles from empirical facts alone ("is" cannot imply "ought"), or Moore's argument that "the Good" cannot be reduced to a set of descriptions of the natural world.

Casebeer rejects both arguments, and attempts to develop a naturalistic ethical theory from human nature (evolution) and the structure of the human brain (connectionism), arriving at an Aristotelian "virtue theory" in which the virtuous person strikes the appropriate mean between possible extremes of social behavior. Casebeer's argument is an extended and rigorous defense of Paul Churchland's treatment of moral cognition as a "skill" that is learned by example. "Moral knowledge becomes" Casebeer concludes (p. 105) "...knowledge of the structure of our social environment and how to navigate effectively within it."

Casebeer is an intelligent and engaging writer, and there are many very interesting insights and arguments in this book, which I therefore recommend to others interested in ethics. However, I do not believe Casebeer succeeds in defending his position, and indeed, I think it is quite indefensible.

Ethics, for Casebeer, Churchland, and perhaps even Aristotle, is the study of how people should behave if they are to "flourish" in the sense of maximizing their human potential, which is what is meant by "navigating successfully" in society.
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