Ruse on a Biological Foundation for Ethics

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Michael Ruse argues that "The Biological Sciences Can Act as a Ground for Ethics." (p.297) He begins with a distinction between the normative and the meta-ethical, and then sets out to lay the foundations for normative ethics as a biologically driven adaptive function. He then moves on to justifying why we ought to behave as biology influences us to do, where he runs into a problem.

People feel certain ways about what is right and what is wrong, Ruse begins, and these feelings are what become the moral maxims we follow (p299). We feel this way and obey our feelings because "it is in our interest to do so." (p.299) Ruse explores Rawls's theory of justice, citing game theory as a reason why fairness becomes normative. People don't know which position in life they'll end up with, so it's in their interest to choose a society that treats everyone fairly (p299-300). Ruse quotes Rawls, who says that fairness promotes both group stability and individual longevity within the group [which would tend to favor continued reproduction] (p300).

Ruse then illustrates how emotional response influences what we come to believe is ethically correct behavior. A parent, he says, feels more attachment to his or her own child than to children in another country. Normally, a parent will tend to his or her own child before attending to a stranger. And when a parent does the opposite, Ruse says, we tend to look on that person as being neglectful of his or her duty to family. That emotional attachment to family is biological, and so it makes sense that we would consider it the moral thing to ensure family welfare before general welfare (p301). Ruse expands on this, citing Singer's allusion to two moral dilemmas, in which the proposed action is logic...

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...stinction error, he's essentially removed the ethics from ethics. Behavior that doesn't have any more compulsory basis than eating, sleeping, or excreting doesn't seem to me to qualify as ethical in nature. Ruse doesn't seem to view this as much of a hurdle; he seems to feel that if one thinks his behavior is ethical, then it is ethical. Philosophically speaking, however, a system without any foundation can never leave the arena of the descriptive. Ruse may be comfortable with his argument as it is; however, I do not think that one can claim that there is no ground and then say in the same breath that Biology or any other science is the ground, for ethics or any other branch of reasoning.

Works Cited
Ruse, M. (2010). The Biological Sciences Can Act as a Ground for Ethics. In F. Ayala & R. Arp (Eds.), Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology, Wiley-Blackwell.

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