Our Moral Fate: Evolution and the Escape From Tribalism

Location: Zoom (register here)
Date: Thursday 22 October, 16:00 - 17:30
The new St Cross Special Ethics Seminars are jointly arranged by the Oxford Uehiro Centre and the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities.


Title: "Our Moral Fate: Evolution and the Escape From Tribalism"

Summary: Professor Buchanan introduces his latest book ‘Our Moral Fate: Evolution and the Escape From Tribalism’.  Is tribalism-the political and cultural divisions between Us and Them-an inherent part of our basic moral psychology? Many scientists link tribalism and morality, arguing that the evolved "moral mind" is tribalistic. Any escape from tribalism, according to this thinking, would be partial and fragile, because it goes against the grain of our nature. In this book, Allen Buchanan offers a counterargument: the moral mind is highly flexible, capable of both tribalism and deeply inclusive moralities, depending on the social environment in which the moral mind operates.0We can't be morally tribalistic by nature, Buchanan explains, because quite recently there has been a remarkable shift away from tribalism and toward inclusiveness, as growing numbers of people acknowledge that all human beings have equal moral status, and that at least some nonhumans also have moral standing. These are what Buchanan terms the Two Great Expansions of moral regard. And yet, he argues, moral progress is not inevitable but depends partly on whether we have the good fortune to develop as moral agents in a society that provides the right conditions for realizing our moral potential. But morality need not depend on luck. We can take charge of our moral fate by deliberately shaping our social environment-by engaging in scientifically informed "moral institutional design." For the first time in human history, human beings can determine what sort of morality is predominant in their societies and what kinds of moral agents they are.

Speaker: Professor Allen Buchanan (James B. Duke Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Duke University)

Allen Buchanan is Research Professor, Department of Philosophy and Freedom Center, Adjunct Professor, Department of Political Economy and Moral Science, University of Ariaona; and Distinguished Research Associate, Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. He works mainly in Bioethics, Political Philosophy, and Philosophy of International Law. His most recent work focuses on the question of what evolutionary thinking can tell us about large scale moral change. Buchanan's most recent books are THE EVOLUTION OF MORAL PROGRESS: A BIOCULTURAL THEORY (2019), co-authored with Russell Powell; INSTITUTIONALIZING THE JUST WAR (2018); and OUR MORAL FATE: EVOLUTION AND THE ESCAPE FROM TRIBALISM (2020).