On the Functions of Morality

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Date

2015

Authors

Conrad, Aryn Ashley

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Neander, Karen L

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Abstract

This dissertation seeks to bring together two philosophical literatures: the functions literature from the philosophy of biology, and the functionalist literature in naturalistic metaethics. Biological function suggests both objectivity and normativity: “the function of the heart is to pump blood” is an objective fact, and yet, hearts may malfunction—and malfunctioning is normative. Many ethicists wish to naturalize ethics—to help find a place for human normative lives in the objective natural world. In order to do so, they need tools to analyze humans as the products of evolutionary processes. Humans have a dual inheritance system involving both cultural and genetic inheritance that makes analysis of function for them particularly complex. In this dissertation, I develop a set of conceptual tools for those who wish to naturalize. I begin by developing an account of inheritance that can handle culture. Then, I elaborate the selected effects account of function so that it can handle all the evolutionary strangeness of culture. I then introduce the monolith fallacy—an error often committed by those studying human evolution—a tendency to oversimplify—to emphasize the high degree of complexity involved in any naturalizing project. Finally, I introduce the notion of value-guided functions—a kind of functioning not tied to our intentions, but to our values to round out the picture. I then apply the whole framework to the work of the functional metaethicists: Allan Gibbard, David Wong, Richard Joyce, and Philip Kitcher.

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Citation

Conrad, Aryn Ashley (2015). On the Functions of Morality. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/11384.

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