Paul Farber’s Lecture: “Evolution and Ethics: A Historian’s Perspective”

Monday, April 6th at 7pm in McIntyre 103

Ethical theories often rely on theories of human nature. For example, Hobbes thought that human beings were by nature self-interested, Aristotle thought that humans were essentially rational, and Hume thought that human beings shared a feeling of sympathy towards other human beings. Each of these authors develops a different ethical theory on the basis of what they think is characteristic of humanity. The theory of evolution has had a great effect in how we understand what human beings are like and what distinguishes them from other animals. If so, we can expect that it will also have an effect on theories of ethics. But what exactly the relation is between the theory of evolution and ethics remains a highly controversial issue which has interested philosophers, biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, etc. Some have argued that there is no relation between the two; others have argued that the theory of evolution promises a new basis for ethics; while still others have argued for a more qualified connection between the two.

Paul Farber will be talking about these issues from the perspective of a historian. He is the author of The Temptations of Evolutionary Ethics, Vice President of the History of Science Society, and Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at Oregon State University.

The lecture is part of the Collier Committee Lecture Series: Evolution and Ethics. The other two lectures that are part of the series will take place in the fall: one by biologist Marlene Zuk and the other by philosopher Geoff Sayre-McCord.