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November 21, 2003

4:15-5:15pm
Little Theater, Quad 346, SJU

Charles Wright, Philosophy

The Intersection of Biology and Culture in Morality

Is morality innate, a kind of “moral instinct”? Is it a product of social learning? Or is it based on reason? It is common to treat these three perspectives as being mutually exclusive. I will try to show that they are mutually complementary. To make my case, I will review, first, evolutionary explanations for the origin of human morality and, second, a contemporary moral theory that weaves together the rational and learned dimensions of morality. By tying both approaches together, we can see that moral reasoning has roots in the human nature identified by evolutionary biologists, while the acquisition of emotional responses adequate to rational insight remains a task for social learning.