University of Pittsburgh, Fall Term 1998
Ben Eggleston, Instructor
Philosophy 0300—CRN 35193: Introduction to Ethics
mailbox: CL 1001—office: CL 1428E
Thursdays, 5:45 p.m. to 8:10 p.m., in CL 142
office hours: Tuesdays, 5:15–6:15, and Thursdays, 4:40–5:40

Wright, The Moral Animal

for December 3:

I. Reading Assignment

II. Study Questions

  1. According to Wright, in what terms (or from what perspective, or by what rationale) does the theory of natural selection tell us to seek to understand “essentially everything about the human mind”?
  2. What does Wright present as “The closest thing to a generic Darwinian view of how moral codes arise”?
  3. What does Wright identify as “The premise of this book”?
  4. How does Darwin’s view of the origin of “the social feelings” differ from Mill’s?
  5. What does Wright say are the first two steps “toward becoming an evolutionary psychologist”?
  6. What two aspects of human nature did Darwin identify as innate, in order to show that human morality is innate?
  7. What was the strategy followed by TIT FOR TAT, the winning computer program in Axelrod’s prisoner’s-dilemma tournament?
  8. What are some of the animals, besides humans, that have been observed to engage in reciprocal altruism?
  9. Why, according to Wright, would evolutionary psychologists tend to agree with the view that “Morality is the device of an animal . . . pursuing its interests”?
  10. If the human conscience developed as a result of evolutionary pressure, why is it malleable? (In other words, what does Wright say is advantageous, from an evolutionary point of view, about having a conscience whose content is not entirely genetically determined?)

for December 10:

III. Reading Assignment

IV. Study Questions

  1. How, according to Wright, do both Darwin and Freud have cynical views of human nature?
  2. What does Wright mean when he says, “If psychologists want to understand the processes that shape the human mind, they must understand the process that shaped the human species”?
  3. How, according to Wright, is the Darwinian view of the mind postmodernist?
  4. Why might someone with a Darwinian view of the mind be suspicious of moral feelings and moral discourse? In other words, why might it be difficult for someone with a Darwinian view of the mind keep taking morality seriously?
  5. Why does Wright think that “most people who clearly understand the new Darwinian paradigm and earnestly ponder it will be led toward greater compassion and concern for their fellow beings”?
  6. Wright says that “ ‘free will’ has been a fairly useful fiction.” Why does he think it’s a fiction? How does he think it’s been useful?
  7. How, according to Wright, is the new Darwinian paradigm morally conservative but not politically conservative?
  8. What does Wright say are the first two steps toward “correcting the moral biases built into us by natural selection”?