Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Senior lecturer in philosophy is awarded Templeton grant to investigate human morality

Tuesday, 14 November 2017


Dr. Helen De Cruz has been awarded a prestigious Templeton Foundation grant worth £158,038 to undertake a philosophical investigation into the roots of human morality. The project is planned to take place over three years and will yield two conferences, a lecture series in addition to published research.

Combining linguistics and archeology with philosophy, Dr. De Cruz is developing an interdisciplinary approach along with co-investigator Dr. Johan De Smedt. Their research is based on the archaeological evidence that human moral development had diverged from our primate cousins relatively early, during the Middle Plasticine.

This research seeks to go beyond normative ethics into the domain of meta-ethics. It aims to assess when moral norms were established in human communities and what led to the  existence of these norms. As Dr. De Cruz tells us, “when people visit museums on human evolution, such as the Smithsonian Hall of Human Origins, they aren't so much interested in our physical development, but in what makes us human. This includes aspects such as morality, religion, and language." The project hypothesizes that human morality emerged gradually in human history, as is shown by sustained care for disabled group members since the Middle Pleistocene, and social security networks in the Late Pleistocene. Both kinds of cooperation require community-level norms, and go beyond what is observed among non-human primates. 

If Dr. De Cruz’s findings are as she predicts, then they would have considerable implications for political as well as moral philosophy: for instance, it would raise a tension with the ‘state of nature’ theory of Thomas Hobbes. Where, instead of a model where humans intrinsically are in conflict with one another, they are able to develop mutual support networks instead, in the absence of large-scale political systems. 

Dr. De Cruz and Dr. De Smedt plan to publish their research in a range of journals, including general journals and specialist journals in the philosophy of science and philosophy of religion. Two monographs are being written, one of which is under contract with Cambridge University Press. 

More information can be found on her staff page and her twitter can be found here. The project details are here.