Friday, April 28, 2017

Choice Magazine Book Review of: Mizzoni, John. Evolution and the foundations of ethics: evolutionary perspectives on contemporary normative and metaethical theories. Lexington Books, 2017

Reviewer: White, Ronald F. Mount St. Joseph University      

This ambitious, interdisciplinary work explains how evolutionary ethics might elucidate recent philosophical debates over alternative normative and metaethical theories. It is conveniently divided into three parts: Part I. Evolution and Metaethics (Error Theory, Expressivism, Moral Relativism, and Moral Realism); Part II. Evolution and Normative Ethics (Virtue Ethics, Natural Law, Social Contract, Deontology, Utilitarianism, and Care Ethics); and, III. Evolution and Ethics (Conclusion).  The predictable conclusion is that that evolutionary ethics neither confirms nor disconfirms any one metaethical or normative theory. Critics will observe that this book focuses more on ethical theories than evolutionary ethics; and that there’s an over-emphasis on 20th century evolutionary scientists such as Dawkins, Wilson, and Gould. Consequently, there’s much more to be said about state-of-the-art evolutionary ethics; most notably, evolutionary leadership theory, cultural evolution, and the “mismatch theory.” Despite the above limitations, this is a good, broad-based introduction to the interface between moral theory and evolutionary ethics. It provides and especially lucid summary of twentieth-century moral philosophy. It will be most useful for evolutionary scholars (and upper level/grad students) who have never studied ethical theories, in depth. For a more concise textbook in this genre, check out Scott James’ An Introduction to Evolutionary Ethics (Wiley-Blackwell: 2011).

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