Under The Sun

Thursday, January 08, 2004

"Once character is put at the center of moral theory, its study must issue from reliable methods of inquiry. Those methods are largely empirical, and they must address two key issues: the natural process that gives us our natures and the actual results of that process. Aristotle was wrong about the process whereby we get our natures, and Darwin was right. We get our natures (our genotypic and phenotypic psychological traits) from the processes of evolution. Some traits have adaptive explanations; some do not. But all come from the vicissitudes of evolution. There is nothing about that process that guarantees that we will have a set of psychological traits that properly nurtured will be unconflicted. The process whereby we get our natures has a very limited interest in our happiness or our psychological flourishing. If reproduction is best achieved by psychopathic character traits, then the process whereby we get our natures is as open to that possibility as one that will make us contented cows. Any moral psychology associated with virtue ethics must recognize this fact and cannot rely on any articles of faith or postulates of practical reason about the ultimate reconciliation of morality and flourishing. To do so is to abandon the commitment to reliable methods of inquiry about what virtue ethics puts at the center of moral theory. But to suggest that naturalism only constrains what morality requires of us is to suggest that morality has some foundation outside our nature the demands of which must accommodate our frailties."

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