Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Evolutionary ethics: The nuts and bolts approach

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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


Headington Campus


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.


Day 1: Friday 20 July

Green Room G13, Dining Room G10, Music Room G11, Headington Hill Hall

09:00–9:10 Introduction: Helen De Cruz (Oxford Brookes University)
09:10–10:10 Neil Levy (University of Oxford and Macquarie University), The cultural evolution of morality… and hypocrisy
10:20–11:05 James Harrod (Maine College of Art), Chimpanzee stone caching and the evolution of morality and ethics
11:25–12:10 Matthew Braddock (University of Tennessee, Martin), Evolutionary debunking: The devil is in the details
12:20–13:05 Estelle Palao (York University), Morality as a cultural exaptation
14:00–14:45 Ben Kenward (Oxford Brookes University) and Cristine Legare (University of Texas at Austin), Dodging Hume’s guillotine: Apparently normative beliefs need not be motivated by reasons
14:55–15:40 Michael Klenk and Jeroen Hopster (Utrecht University), Evolution and the perceived objectivity of moral judgements
16:00–16:45 Alejandro Rosas Lopez (Universidad Nacional de Colombia), Moral authority: Beyond debunking
19:00Conference dinner (venue to be confirmed)

Day 2: Saturday 21 July

Clerici Learning Studio, Headington Campus

09:10–10:10 Penny Spikins (York University), Searching for the evolutionary basis of human morality: Neanderthals, apes, wolves, meerkats and other perplexing contradictions
10:20–11:05 Marcus Arvan (University of Tampa), Morality as an evolutionary exaptation
11:25–12:10 Andres Carlos Luco (Nanyang Technological University Singapore), The Noblest Virtue: A Cultural Evolutionary Explanation of Inclusive Moral Concern
12:20–13:05 Gordon Ingram (Universidad de los Andes), Why intentions are fundamental to moral reasoning: An evolutionary and developmental dual process model
13:05–14:00 lunch (provided)
14:00–14:45 Margaret Boone Rappaport (The Human Sentience Project) and Christopher Corbally (Vatican Observatory), Ethical systems evolve bio- culturally from theological thinking in the genus Homo
14:55–15:40 Antoine Marie (Frontières du Vivant (ED 474)), Explaining the evolution of sacralisation and extreme parochial altruism in humans from a mutualistic perspective
16:00–16:45 J. Alfredo Zamorra (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), Morality in Mesoamerica as a cognitive and cultural scaffold


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

    For moreinformation, please contact the organizers:

    Plenary speakers

    • NeilLevy, Oxford Centre for Neuroethics
    • PennySpikins, 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 forsubmission: 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.