Does Evolutionary Psychology Show That Normativity Is Mind-Dependent?


Berker, Selim. 2014. “Does Evolutionary Psychology Show That Normativity Is Mind-Dependent?.” Moral Psychology and Human Agency: Philosophical Essays on the Science of Ethics, edited by Justin D'Arms and Daniel Jacobson, 215–52. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 215–52.


Suppose we grant that evolutionary forces have had a profound effect on the contours of our normative judgments and intuitions. Can we conclude anything from this about the correct metaethical theory? I argue that, for the most part, we cannot. Focusing my attention on Sharon Street’s justly famous argument that the evolutionary origins of our normative judgments and intuitions cause insuperable epistemological difficulties for a metaethical view she calls "normative realism," I argue that there are two largely independent lines of argument in Street’s work which need to be teased apart. The first of these involves a genuine appeal to evolutionary considerations, but it can fairly easily be met by her opponents. The second line of argument is more troubling; it raises a significant problem, one of the most difficult in all of philosophy, namely how to justify our reliance on our most basic cognitive faculties without relying on those same faculties in a question-begging manner. However, evolutionary considerations add little to this old problem, and rejecting normative realism is not a way to solve it.

Last updated on 08/05/2015