Tuesday, January 03, 2006

"The Better Angels of Our Nature": Evolution and Morality

I just received this from David Livingstone Smith, author of Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind. Looks like a promising lecture.

"The Better Angels of Our Nature": Evolution and Morality

St. Francis Room of the Ketchum Library
University of New England 11 Hills Beach Road
Biddeford, Maine
Feb. 21, 2006 at 6 p.m.

Evolutionary biologist David Lahti, Ph.D., will deliver a lecture on "'The Better Angels of Our Nature': Evolution and Morality" on Feb. 21, 2006 at 6 p.m. in the Lahti is an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The lecture, sponsored by New England Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Psychology and Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, is free and open to the public.

Are we humans essentially altruistic beings whose natural state is to care for others? Or are we ogres at heart, our moral codes the only thing holding us back from utter selfishness? Lahti argues that an evolutionary consideration of morality suggests a third alternative, that we are by nature moral strugglers and deliberators - that the relevant adaptive trait is neither altruism nor selfishness, but rather a refined ability to assess our social environments and make informed decisions about how altruistic or selfish to be. We tend, he believes, to make these decisions on the basis of two main variables: the anticipated effects of our behavior on our reputation and the perceived stability of the social groups on which we depend. Furthermore, what we often call morality is actually a conglomerate of tendencies and capacities, some of which are millions of years old and others just thousands. Many of its more recent features, including moral rules that are difficult for us to follow, are cultural surrogates for adaptation in an age when our social environments are changing too fast for us to adapt genetically to them.

Lahti received a Ph.D. in philosophy at the Whitefield Institute at Oxford in 1998, for work on the relationship between science and the foundations of morality; more recently his research in this area has focused on the evolution of morality. In 2003 he received a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Michigan, where he documented rapid evolution in the African village weaverbird. From 2003 to 2005 he held the Darwin Fellowship at the Program in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at University of Massachusetts Amherst, and has been studying the evolution and development of bird song.


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