Butchering Benevolence Moral Progress beyond the Expanding Circle

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 22 (1):153-167 (2019)
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Abstract

Standard evolutionary explanations seem unable to account for inclusivist shifts that expand the circle of moral concern beyond strategically relevant cooperators. Recently, Allen Buchanan and Russell Powell have argued that this shows that that evolutionary conservatism – the view that our inherited psychology imposes significant feasibility constraints on how much inclusivist moral progress can be achieved – is unjustified. Secondly, they hold that inclusivist gains can be sustained, and exclusivist tendencies curbed, under certain favorable socio-economic conditions. I argue that Buchanan and Powell concede too much to the evolutionary conservative, because their second point shows that conservatives are right about the first: inclusivist shifts are unrealistic where it matters most, namely under harsh social, political and economic conditions. I suggest two promising strategies for solving this problem. One is to focus on different forms of moral progress to secure the same moral gains. The other is to look beyond possible extensions of our psychological capacities altogether, by providing institutional support that renders them irrelevant. We should bypass, rather than further stretch, the constraints of our evolved psychology to make moral progress possible.

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Hanno Sauer
Utrecht University

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