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Abstract

Four decades ago, E.O. Wilson famously declared that “the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized." One still finds Wilson’s idea echoed frequently in popular science writing today. While I’m not going to deny that evolutionary biology and other sciences have important things to tell us about morality, I think there is a lot of confusion about what exactly they can tell us, and how much they can tell us. My aim here is first to make some distinctions and sort out some issues, and then to examine one overreaching claim in particular, about the explanation of our moral beliefs by appeal to evolutionary causal influences. That is a claim used by some philosophers to argue that evolutionary biology somehow forces on us either a skeptical or a purely subjectivist understanding of morality. I will explain why I think this is misguided and is a poor use of science in philosophy.

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