Evolutionary ethics: The nuts and bolts approach

9:00, Friday, 20 July 2018 to 17:00, Saturday, 21 July 2018

Evolutionary ethics

Who this event is for

  • Prospective students - undergraduate
  • Prospective students - postgraduate taught
  • Prospective students - postgraduate research
  • Staff - teaching
  • Staff - research
  • Current students - undergraduate
  • Current students - postgraduate taught
  • Current students - postgraduate research
  • Academic community
  • Public


John Henry Brookes Building, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane site


A growing body of evidence from the sciences suggests that our moral beliefs have an evolutionary basis. To explain how human morality evolved, some philosophers have called for the study of morality to be naturalized, i.e., to explain it in terms of natural causes by looking at its historical and biological origins. The present literature has focused on the link between evolution and moral realism: if our moral beliefs enhance fitness, does this mean they track moral truths? In spite of the growing empirical evidence, these discussions tend to remain high-level: the mere fact that morality is evolved is often deemed enough to decide questions in normative and meta-ethics.

This conference starts from the assumption that the details about the evolution of morality do make a difference, and asks how. We welcome philosophical papers that engage with the sciences, and empirical papers that engage with philosophical themes to naturalize ethics. We are looking for speakers from a wide range of disciplines, including but not limited to, philosophy, developmental and comparative psychology, cognitive anthropology, archaeology, evolutionary biology, and behavioral economics. We are particularly interested in papers that bridge philosophy with one or more of these disciplines.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Evolutionary debunking arguments that engage with the empirical literature
  • Companions in guilt arguments
  • Modeling the cultural evolution of morality 
  • Gene-culture co-evolution of morality 
  • Archaeological studies of cooperation and care
  • Developmental psychology of morality and its philosophical implications
  • The plausibility of historical ethical theories as gauged by the sciences (e.g., Mengzi’s moral sprouts theory, Adam Smith’s theory of moral sentiments)
  • Experimental philosophy of morality
  • Cross-cultural differences in moral systems

This event is part of the Evolution, ethics, and human origins: A deep-time perspective on human morality project:

For more information, please contact the organizers:

Plenary speakers

  • Neil Levy, Oxford Centre for Neuroethics
  • Penny Spikins, University of York

Scientific committee

  • Johan De Smedt, Oxford Brookes University
  • Helen De Cruz, Oxford Brookes University
  • Emily Burdett, Coventry University
  • Richard Rowland, Australian Catholic University  

Call for papers

Please place the title of your abstract in the subject line of your e-mail. Submit abstracts in one of the following formats: pdf, rtf, docx, or doc. Do not put the abstracts in the body of the e-mail, but send them as an attachment.   

Abstracts should be on average 500 words (max. 750 words, references do not count towards the word count). They should be prepared for anonymous review.

Please send your abstracts to: deeptimemorality@gmail.com      

  • Deadline for submission: 1 February 2018   
  • Notification by 15 March 2018   

We aim to publish papers from the conference as an edited volume. Please indicate in your email if you do not wish your paper to be considered for the volume.

Registration costs £35 and includes lunch for two days and coffee/tea. There is also an optional conference dinner. 

More information and how to book

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Email: hde-cruz@brookes.ac.uk