Nature, Value, and Virtue: An Evolutionary Defense of Moral Realism

Thomas Kiefer, Fordham University


What do scientific discoveries entail for the possibility of an objective moral theory? Numerous philosophers have recently argued that empirical findings imply that morality is at best a human creation and at worst a useful fiction. Others, accepting this argumentation, defend objectivity but only at the cost of rejecting a scientific approach altogether. In “Nature, Value, and Virtue: An Evolutionary Defense of Moral Realism,” I propose that these commonly accepted views amount to a false dilemma. Rather than being forced to choose between naturalism and objectivity, I argue that morality is a real feature of the natural world that concerns social cooperation and conflict. Thus we can discover scientific answers to ethical questions that hold true universally by referring to recent findings in evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, and social psychology. My view combines two approaches often deemed to be incompatible: an Aristotelian focus on human nature as the basis for ethical claims and a Humean understanding of moral psychology. By uniting evolutionarily-informed versions of these approaches, I establish that moral facts are real, natural facts concerning social cooperation and conflict. These facts result from our evolved human nature and inform ethical decision-making by way of certain prosocial emotions and desires. I conclude that scientifically discovering objective answers to ethical questions can improve the application of morality in a number of areas, specifically virtue ethics and bioethics.

Subject Area

Biology|Ethics|Philosophy of Science

Recommended Citation

Kiefer, Thomas, "Nature, Value, and Virtue: An Evolutionary Defense of Moral Realism" (2017). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10278297.