Analyse & Kritik

Journal of Philosophy and Social Theory


"Russell Powell"

Titel: Précis of The Evolution of Moral Progress: A Biocultural Theory
Autor: Allen Buchanan and Russell Powell
Seite: 183-193

The idea of moral progress played a central role in liberal political thought from the Enlightenment through the nineteenth century but is rarely encountered in moral and political philosophical discourse today. One reason for this is that traditional liberal theorists of moral progress, like their conservative detractors, tended to rely on under-evidenced assumptions about human psychology and society. For the first time, we are developing robust scientific knowledge about human nature, especially through empirical psychological theories of morality and culture that are informed by evolutionary theory. On the surface, evolutionary accounts of morality paint a rather pessimistic picture of human moral nature, suggesting that certain types of moral progress are unrealistic or inappropriate for beings like us. Humans are said to be ‘hard-wired’ for tribalism. However, such a view overlooks the great plasticity of human morality as evidenced by our history of social and political moral achievements. To account for these changes while giving evolved moral psychology its due, we develop a dynamic, biocultural theory of moral progress that highlights the interaction between adaptive components of moral psychology and the cultural construction of moral norms and beliefs, and we explore how this interaction can advance, impede, and reverse moral progress.

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Titel: Is There Moral Progress?
Autor: Eva Buddeberg
Seite: 195-203

Post- and decolonial theory have contested the idea of historical progress as a Eurocentric, hegemonic, or neocolonialist misconception. Does this imply that we should give up any idea of moral progress? This paper critically examines Allen Buchanan’s and Russell Powell’s book The Evolution of Moral Progress and their claim that there is still a need for a theory of moral progress. For Buchanan and Powell, such theory should allow and guide a better understanding of what moral progress consists of. Even though they do not claim to already provide us with such a comprehensive theory of moral progress they aim towork outwhether and how certain types of moral progress are possible and assess their limits. In doing so they mainly focus on improvements in terms of social participation as an uncontroversial type of moral progress. In the following, I will first discuss the characteristics of the authors’ notion of progress and then raise some critical concerns about the example they have chosen of the history of human rights as a history of progress and, particularly, about the history of the rights of people with disabilities.

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Titel: Moral Progress for Evolved Rational Creatures
Autor: William J. FitzPatrick
Seite: 217-237

Allen Buchanan and Russell Powell have developed a rich ‘biocultural theory’ of the nature and causes of moral progress (and regress) for human beings conceived as evolved rational creatures with a nature characterized by ‘adaptive plasticity’. They characterize their theory as a thoroughly naturalistic account of moral progress, while bracketing various questions in moral theory and metaethics in favor of focusing on a certain range of more scientifically tractable questions under some stipulated moral and metaethical assumptions. While I am very much in agreement with the substance of their project, I wish to query and raise some difficulties for the way it is framed, particularly in connection with the claim of naturalism. While their project is clearly naturalistic in certain senses, it is far from clear that it is so in others that are of particular interest in moral philosophy, and these issues need to be more carefully sorted out. For everything that has been argued in the book, the theory on offer may be only a naturalistic component of a larger theory that must ultimately be non-naturalistic in order to deliver the robust sort of account that is desired. Indeed, there are significant metaethical reasons for believing this to be the case. Moreover, if it turns out that some of the assumptions upon which their theory relies require a non-naturalist metaethics (positing irreducibly evaluative or normative properties and facts) then even the part of the theory that might have seemed most obviously naturalistic, i.e., the explanation of how changes in moral belief and behavior have come about, may actually require some appeal to non-naturalistic elements in the end.

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Titel: Reply to Comments
Autor: Allen Buchanan and Russell Powell
Seite: 287-300

Commentators on The Evolution of Moral Progress: A Biocultural Theory raise a number of metaethical and moral concerns with our analysis, as well as some complaints regarding how we have interpreted and made use of the contemporary evolutionary and social sciences of morality. Some commentators assert that one must already presuppose a moral theory before one can even begin to theorize moral progress; others query whether the shift toward greater inclusion is really a case of moral progress, or whether our theory can be properly characterized as naturalistic’. Other commentators worry that we have uncritically accepted the prevailing evolutionary explanation of morality, even though it gives short shrift to the role of women or presupposes an oversimplified view of the environment in which the core elements of human moral psychology are thought to have congealed. Another commentator laments that we did not make more extensive use of data from the social sciences. In this reply, we engage with all of these constructive criticisms and show that although some of them arewell taken, none undermine the core thesis of our book.

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