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Morality on a leash : walking the dogma : a search for plausible connections between morality and biology

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Britton, Jillian Louise (2010) Morality on a leash : walking the dogma : a search for plausible connections between morality and biology. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

There have been numerous attempts to explain morality as a product of biology.
These accounts however do not do justice either to the nature of morality or the
biological mechanisms which are attributed to its origin. This thesis addresses these
problems and provides an account which satisfactorily explains morality as the
product of a number of human biological adaptations, but not as biological adaptation
itself. As such it is a rejoinder to prominent sociobiologists Michael Ruse, E.O.
Wilson and Richard Joyce who suggest the contrary.
This conclusion derives from a detailed exploration of morality as both a biological
and cultural phenomenon that seems to have strayed far from the Darwinian
evolutionary framework. Holding it back firmly, however, are a suite of emotions
which are here argued to be a primary source of belief in the prescriptive, categorical
nature of morality, a core feature of morality which distinguishes it from other human
rules. This account of moral motivation is not a novel account. What is new,
however, are the further conclusions that can be drawn from growing evidence for the
neurological bases of these emotions. Of particular relevance to this thesis is the
likelihood that emotions were not selected because of their role in generating
morality. Rather, emotions appear to be prerequisite for functions such as familial
bonding which predate morality. This hypothesis supports the main conclusion of
this thesis.
The human emotional reservoir is not taken to be the sole explanation for why we
have morality, however. Morality is a multi-facetted phenomenon which is also
formed and influenced by active reasoning and more passive processes such as social
learning. To demonstrate this, a significant portion of the thesis is devoted to
considering the connection between morality and human sociality. This will provide
subsidiary support for the conclusion that morality is a bi-product of a number of
different biological traits, in this case selected in humans for their contribution to
social learning, and kin bonding.
From these main areas of discussion, secondary conclusions emerge. Firstly, the
biological basis of the capacities involved in the generation of morality is also used as
the grounds for rejecting the commonly held belief that there are mind-independent
moral facts. Secondly, the range and complexity of these capacities in humans will
be used as an explanation for why morality appears to be a human phenomenon.
Finally, it will be argued that the conclusions reached in this thesis needn't undermine
the significance of morality in our lives: rather, morality requires redefinition which
recognises both its true origins and its role in protecting and promoting that which is
of utmost importance to us.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2010 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Available for use in the Library and copying in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968, as amended. Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2010. Includes bibliographical references

Date Deposited: 25 Nov 2014 00:58
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:53
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