Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature / Edition 1

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Shows how Darwinian biology supports an Aristotelian view of ethics as rooted in human nature.
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Editorial Reviews

Arguing that Darwinian biology supports an Aristotelian view of ethics, Arnhart (political science, Northern Illinois U.) identifies 20 desires that are common to all human societies because they are based in human biology. He finds the fulfillment or frustration of those natural desires to constitute a universal standard for judging social practices, though cautions that some degree of prudence is required to judge what is best in particular circumstances. Parent/child and conjugal bonds conform to natural rights, he says, while slavery and psychopathy violate them. He points out that his system neither requires nor negates religious grounds for ethics. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780791436943
  • Publisher: State University of New York Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1998
  • Series: SUNY Series in Philosophy and Biology
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 332
  • Sales rank: 1,267,497
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents



1. Aristotle, Darwin, and Natural Right

An Intellectual Journey

Ten Propositions

Seven Objections

An Overview of the Book

2. Desire and Reason

The Nature of Desire

The Normative Structure of Animal Movement

Twenty Natural Desires

Nurturing Nature

Four Sources of Moral Disagreement


3. Political Animals

Ants, Bees, and Other Political Animals

The Hobbesian Critique

The Nature of Culture

4. The Human Nature of Morality and Freedom

Natural Morality

Natural Freedom


5. Parent and Child

Plato's Second Wave

Religious Communism in the Oneida Community

Secular Communism in the Kibbutz

Four Biological Causes

The Human Ecology of Parental Investment

Infanticide, Adoption, and Sexual Bonding

6. Man and Woman

Feminist Naturalism

The Biology of Sex Differences

Mating Desires

Male Dominance and Male Vulnerability

The Moral Complementarity of Male and Female Norms

Natural Genitals and Natural Feet

Feminist Culturalism

7. Master and Slave

Ant Slavery and Human Slavery






Racial Science


8. The Poverty of Psychopathic Desire

The Mask of Sanity

The Flat Soul Behind the Mask

An Evolutionary Niche for Machiavellians

To Know But Not to Feel

Moral Strangers

9. The Ends and Kinds of Life

Natural Kinds

Natural Ends

10. Nature and Nature's God

McShea, Masters, and Wilson

Aristotle and Augustine

Hume and Darwin

Moses and Aquinas

The Desire to Understand



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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2001

    A new look at evolutionary morality.

    This book looks at morality or ethics and tries to tie together an Aristotelian with what we now know is a moral system that was part of our primate past. Part evolutionary psychology and part philosophy, it is well written, cogent and easy to read. Its message is simply that humans are social and political animals that have innate desires, but need not act on them. Humans can choose to act contrary to their evolutionary past in ethical terms. But also, political systems must not IGNORE our human nature either, or they will fail. So even one of the first moral successful systems, the Mosaic Law, recognized the purpose of morality in an evolutionary form, survival of the group. This book tries to go beyond group interests and argues (not always persuasively in my opinion) that a Darwinian morality can subsume the current value system that we all want to see. The book covers the essence of an evolutionary morality. That is, humans evolved with social ranking, justice as reciprocity, political rule, war when group interests collide, religion to explain the fear of the unknown and eventual death, etc. Morality then became part of the pleasure of serving the tribe or belonging. Kin selection, inclusive fitness, reciprocal altruism, indirect reciprocity; these evolutionary processes required that humans have fear and guilt if they act against the tribe's rules. Morality included honor, fearlessness, willingness to die for the group -- that is what the communal sense was all about. Adherence to the tribes moral codes meant the group could fight of predators and other human groups when necessary. Those tribes that could not unify against a common enemy -- what we now call patriotism -- more than likely died out in favor of the more fearless tribes. And how does this morality come about? Well contrary to what folk psychology tells us, from Dr. Laura to President Clinton, both conservatives and liberals, infants are born with a moral nature and seek the rules naturally. That is, even when playing with other children, a child will develop proper behavior by observing others and learning what works and what doesn't, similar to chimpanzees. So the moral do not have to be taught so much as just observed by children. We are naturally moral animals, but the morals change over time and are different for different cultures. However this book argues that we can now change those moral rules that should be abandoned: slavery, clitoridectomy, circumcision, cannibalism, genocide, etc. Perhaps.

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