Article ID: CBB000933655

Charles Darwin's Moral Sense---On Darwin's Ethics of Non-Violence (2005)


The overall aim of this article is to redress some of the deeply rooted and widely held prejudices against Charles Darwin's ethics and social theory. The topic is in particular Darwin's consideration of ethics as laid out most prominently in his book on the descent of man. By allowing Darwin to `speak for himself', I hope to deprive simplified biologistic interpretations of their basis. Moreover, my aim is to present some other, surprising results. In contrast to widely held expectations connected with Darwin, I want to show first of all, that his ethics is not primarily a biological ethics, that it, secondly, does not constitute an evolutionary ethics, and that thirdly, it does not constitute what is called `Social Darwinism'. The title of my article intends to emphasize how important Darwin thought it was for us to cultivate a moral sense and to refrain from violence in order to develop and preserve this moral sense. Although for explaining the possibility of natural selection among organisms Darwin drew on the population principle put forth by the British national economist Thomas Robert Malthus and adopted the idea of a struggle for life as the motor of natural selection, Darwin did not adopt the economist's theologico-metaphysical premises. For Malthus nature and its laws -- in this case the population principle -- are invested with a normative status whose recognition and description are at the same time the formulation of a norm prescribed by God. Darwin divorces Malthus' principle from its theologian and normative framework. This law serves him exclusively as a means for explaining the descent of species, not as a moral or ethical rule. This fact is significant for an adequate assessment of Darwin's ethics.

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Authors & Contributors
Kailer, Thomas
Paul, Diane B.
Rodgers, Terence
Greenslade, William
Crook, Paul
Duedahl, Poul
Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Journal of the History of Biology
Ashgate Publishing
Peter Lang
Odile Jacob
Lexington Books
University of Southern California
Social Darwinism
Science and society
Moral philosophy
Science and literature
Darwin, Charles Robert
Spencer, Herbert
Kingsley, Charles
Malthus, Thomas Robert
Haeckel, Ernst
Allen, Grant
Great Britain
19th century
21st century
20th century
18th century
20th century, early
20th century, late

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