Natural Ethical Facts
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Natural Ethical Facts

Evolution, Connectionism, and Moral Cognition

By William D. Casebeer

A Bradford Book





In Natural Ethical Facts William Casebeer argues that we can articulate a fully naturalized ethical theory using concepts from evolutionary biology and cognitive science, and that we can study moral cognition just as we study other forms of cognition. His goal is to show that we have "softly fixed" human natures, that these natures are evolved, and that our lives go well or badly depending on how we satisfy the functional demands of these natures. Natural Ethical Facts is a comprehensive examination of what a plausible moral science would look like. Casebeer begins by discussing the nature of ethics and the possible relationship between science and ethics. He then addresses David Hume's naturalistic fallacy and G. E. Moore's open-question argument, drawing on the work of John Dewey and W. V. O. Quine. He then proposes a functional account of ethics, offering corresponding biological and moral descriptions. Discussing in detail the neural correlates of moral cognition, he argues that neural networks can be used to model ethical function. He then discusses the impact his views of moral epistemology and ontology will have on traditional ethical theory and moral education, concluding that there is room for other moral theories as long as they take into consideration the functional aspect of ethics; the pragmatic neo-Aristotelian virtue theory he proposes thus serves as a moral "big tent." Finally, he addresses objections to ethical naturalism that may arise, and calls for a reconciliation of the sciences and the humanities. "Living well," Casebeer writes, "depends upon reweaving our ethical theories into the warp and woof of our scientific heritage, attending to the myriad consequences such a project will have for the way we live our lives and the manner in which we structure our collective moral institutions."


$9.75 S | £7.99 ISBN: 9780262033107 224 pp. | 9 in x 6 in 2 illus.


$5.75 S | £4.99 ISBN: 9780262532785 224 pp. | 9 in x 6 in 2 illus.


  • Natural Ethical Facts is well-documented and makes a valuable contribution to the ongoing dialogue between biology and morality.

    Research News & Opportunities in Science and Theology


  • Here is a breath of fresh air: a morally sensitive and recognizable form of moral realism flowing naturally from contemporary cognitive neuroscience and modern evolutionary theory. Casebeer offers a striking intellectual synthesis that will surely move moral theory—though not without controversy—toward a more vigorous and scientifically informed future. It will also reconnect us to some of the proudest themes in our philosophical past: to the virtue ethics of Aristotle, and to the ever-practical ethics of John Dewey. For a new and revealing take on an old but vital problem, we commend to your attention Casebeer's lucid and ground-breaking book. This way lies the future of moral theory.

    Paul Churchland

    University of California, San Diego

  • Integrating evolutionary biology and connectionism with Neo-Aristotelian and Deweyan ethical theory, Bill Casebeer makes a powerful case for the scientific naturalization of ethics.

    William Rottschaefer

    Professor of Philosophy, Lewis and Clark College

  • The view that moral norms are best understood in terms of proper evolutionary function has languished as a wisp of a theory in the backwaters of moral psychology. Natural Ethical Facts provides a long overdue infusion of new life into the proper function account of morality. Thanks to William Casebeer we finally have a detailed and well-informed work that develops the view systematically in light of research on proper function and on connectionism. Casebeer shows an obvious command of the recent technical literature that underpins all this, but he has managed to produce a volume that is also thoroughly readable.

    Shaun Nichols

    Associate Professor, College of Charleston