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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Moral sense and moral imperative : an analysis of the biological foundations of morality and their implications for moral theory Woolley, Michaela Leigh


I argue that morality is in significant part a biological phenomenon, and that this has implications for substantive moral philosophy. I begin the first chapter by arguing for the hypothesis that human morality is on a continuum with conflict reducing behaviours that have been extensively documented in some non-human primate species. These behaviours provide evidence of the presence of moral building blocks such as sympathy, empathy, and a sense of social regularity. In the second chapter, I take up the objection that morality must be conceptually distinct from social behaviour evident elsewhere in the animal kingdom because altruism is an essential component of morality, and genuine altruism cannot evolve in nature. I argue that the concept of group selection can be used to demonstrate that there is indeed room for biological altruism in nature. In the third chapter, I explain how moral building blocks such as sympathy, empathy, and a sense of social regularity provide elements from which moral systems can be constructed. In the fourth chapter, I investigate the implications that the biological nature of morality has for substantive moral philosophy. Here I argue that some highly exigent moral demands are disconfirmed on the grounds that they are not supported by our experience of moral phenomena.

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