Darwin and Philosophy: The Anniversary and the Future

Tuesday 1 December. 2009
Dr Donald Cameron, BRLSI Convenor & Trustee

The Past Year
This year we have been hearing a great deal about Darwin and have studied the history and science of the idea of evolution. It is my belief that the evidence in favour of our evolutionary origin through natural selection is so indisputable that no other hypothesis suggested so far can hold any probability. The only voices that deny Darwinism today are those driven by intense religious desire that is enough to free them of the need to examine the evidence. But our task has mostly not been to study the biological evidence, but to consider its implications for philosophy.
While Darwin’s work does not give us a final answer to all the questions of philosophy, it does set bounds on what these answers can be, both in ethics and in our theories of how our factual knowledge is constructed and verified. It also sets limits on what is possible for us to know, showing that, in some cases, the limited knowledge that we have achieved may be all that we are going to get.
During the past year or so we have heard a number of talks on evolution and its relationship to philosophy.

In May 2008, I gave a talk on the idea of memes – the idea that ideas themselves can be subject to a version of natural selection.

In June 2008, Professor Binmore talked to us about the evolution of fairness norms.

In January 2009, I started the year with a review of Ethics after Darwin.

In March 2009, Professor Samir Okasha spoke on the Evolution of Cooperation.

In April 2009, Dr Susan Blackmore gave us one of her brilliant talks on Memes.

In June 2009, Professor John Dupre talked on the limits of Darwinism and made some supporting comments on Lamarckism, over which I entered into a little bit of debate. Although I occasionally disagree with a point made by a speaker, this is the only occasion that I felt I had to refute what seemed to me a dangerous error.

In July 2009, Professor Julian Vincent, our Chairman of Trustees spoke about the selective advantage of art. This is a fascinating subject and I would like to have heard more.

In October, Dr Alison Scott-Baumann spoke to us about Darwin’s influence on Marx, Freud and Nietsche.

These talks have not been a planned course, but they have nevertheless touched on many aspects of Darwinism’s implications for philosophy. It is not easy for me tonight to draw all the threads together to reach a tidy conclusion. That is something that, in the academic world, is still a work in progress, but enough is becoming clear now for us to learn something useful.

Origin Myths
Darwin’s theory and its modern refinements tell us not only about where we came from; they tell us a great deal about what we are.
Humans have always wondered about origins. We all have parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on. But people have wondered whether this series goes on for ever, or whether there was a “first” man or woman? Very few people have been inclined to take the position that, in the absence of evidence, it is best to leave the matter open. Someone has usually given an answer and inevitably that has been embroidered as it has been carried forward by tradition over generations to produce an origin myth. Many societies have invented a story; if you Google the subject, you can read about dozens of them. For example:
The Bakuba people of the Congo believed that the earth was originally nothing but water and darkness, ruled by the giant Mbombo. This giant, after feeling an intense pain in his stomach one day, vomited up the sun, moon, and stars. The heat and light from the sun evaporated the water covering Earth, creating clouds, and after time, the dry hills emerged from the water. Mbombo vomited once more. Many things were contained in this second vomiting—people, animals, trees and many other common everyday items.
Ancient Finns believed that the world was formed from an egg that was broken. A bird was flying above the sea, seeking a place to make a nest and lay her eggs. She searched everywhere, but found nothing but water. Then she noticed a small island. It was not very suitable and a big wave came and broke the eggs. However they were not wasted: the upper part of egg shell formed the sky, yolk became the sun, and lower parts of egg formed the mother earth.
The Māori creation myth tells how heaven and earth were once joined as the Sky Father and the Earth Mother lay together in a tight embrace. They had many children who lived in the darkness between them. The children wished to live in the light and so separated their unwilling parents. But the parents continue to grieve for each other to this day. The Sky Father’s tears fall as rain towards the Earth Mother to show how much he loves her. When mist rises from the forests, these are the Earth's sighs as the warmth of her body yearns for him and she continues to nurture mankind.
The Iroquois in North America supposed that there was originally only a Sky World where human-type beings lived with infinite types of plants and animals to enjoy.
A woman who was soon to give birth asked her brother to uproot the forbidden Tree of Life. Beneath the Tree was a great hole. As she looked over she suddenly fell, but the birds caught her and lowered her onto the back of a sea turtle. The sea animals brought earth from the sea floor to make land for her to live on. She then gave birth to a daughter who, years later with no males in existence, married the West Wind. Twins were born. When the Sky Grandmother died the Twins tore her body apart and threw her head into the sky where it became the moon.
In Europe it was believed until recently that, about 6000 years ago, a personage who lives up in the sky (who is regrettably invisible at the present time) made the universe in a week and, on the last day he created the first man and then took out one of his ribs while he was sleeping to create the first woman. He installed them in a nice garden, but told them not to touch a particular tree. Sadly they did and this made him so cross that he wanted to punish all their descendants for ever.
In the light of today’s knowledge all these tales seem completely laughable. Particularly hilarious is the fact that our Victorian antecedents were so confident that the Garden of Eden story was certain truth and, despite having no better evidence for this than any of the other origin myths, they thought the other stories were simply the superstitions of savages. They dispatched missionaries to correct their foolish superstitions!
But all this changed in 1859, even though today it has still not penetrated fully into the popular consciousness. Charles Darwin set out the theory of evolution by natural selection in substantial detail in “The Origin”. For the first time we had an origin story that came from evidence rather than guesses embroidered by generations of tradition. For the first time we had a story that could be tested by further observation. Over the last 150 years, the integration of his work with modern genetics, paleontology and other research has built a weight of evidence that confirms it beyond all reasonable doubt.
But we must remember that the people who invented and transmitted the old origin myths theories were no less intelligent than ourselves, they were simply less informed. These myths probably began as stories that appeared to fit the observed facts and became slowly elaborated as they were passed from generation to generation.
But we do now have an account of our origins which would never have crossed the minds of the ancients. Some billions of years ago some molecules began to replicate themselves by having constituents form on them as templates. This process was no more complicated than crystallization, but, unlike crystallization, it accumulated, in time, a very complex result from a simple principle. That principle is this: The molecules that replicated best became more numerous; those that didn’t, didn’t. That is really all there is to it.
Over time, as faults in exact reproduction occurred, molecules were selected that reproduced better and better, eventually leading to complex organisms like trees, animals (including us) and microbes that cause disease. Every living thing differs from inert material only in one respect – it is a machine for passing on its heritable material to the next generation. The only force that has built its complexity is an accumulation of random modifications, each passing through the filter of natural selection which is very non-random.

Implications for Philosophy
This has massive implications for philosophy and philosophers who do not think so have simply not understood the matter. Evolution in biological science is now a fundamental. In the famous quote of Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. As more and more biological observations are made, this quotation is reconfirmed again and again. And whenever an observation is made that appears to contradict it, it is becomes an object of intense scrutiny, but, up to now, no successful contradiction has been found.
Philosophers, on the other hand, are only just discovering evolution, about 150 year late, but welcome nevertheless. There are many cultural reasons for this. Soon after the publication of the “Origin” it was clear to many that it carried philosophical implications and a number of erroneous ideas were hastily concocted. This gave a bad name to ideas derived from evolution. Also, philosophy in academia was generally to be found on the opposite side of the frontier between the two cultures as defined by CP Snow in his memorable 1959 lecture. Philosophy is not usually thought of as a science. Many philosophy books in use today do not mention evolution at all and as a result are of marginal use, because (with apologies to Dobzhansky) nothing in philosophy makes sense except in the light of evolution.
The implications of evolution for philosophy are these:
1) We have no external purpose and the only apparent purpose is to increase the proportions of our genes in the future gene pool.
2) Our brains are not devices for discovering the truth. They are devices to produce decisions that will make our genes more frequent in the gene pool.
Animals, including humans, have brains that evolved because they give their possessors an advantage in being naturally selected. They have not come into existence for any other reason.

Mystics and Rationalists
Unsurprisingly, there are people who do not like this conclusion. In a number of discussions I have heard people describe such a picture as “bleak”, with the implication that being bleak, therefore it is not true. We have here a kind of inverted Hume’s Law. Hume pointed out that how the world is cannot tell us how we should want it to be. It is even more obvious that how we want the world to be cannot tell us about how it is!
But there are people who revel in mystery and feel cheated and hurt when things are clearly explained. And whenever something strange happens, they are quick to propose a supernatural explanation. It is a matter of despair to me that, even today, publications on astrology outnumber those on astronomy. As traditional religions seem to decline, their place is not taken by a spirit of acceptance of beliefs based on evidence, but by a variety of cults promoted by frauds.
A favourite quote is from Hamlet, “Thee are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” This is often said with a feeling of smugness that some things will always remain unknown, and a good thing too, so that we are left free to believe in comforting mysteries. But the rationalist view is that, yes, there are unknowns (including unknown unknowns) but we are working on them. And what a lot of work has been done and what a lot of things in heaven and earth have been dreamt of, since these words were written around the year 1600.
There is a clear difference in mind set. The mystic is content to bask in wonderment of mysteries that he supposes we are not “meant” to understand. The rationalist enjoys the wonderment of the world, but refuses to rule any of it off limits to enquiry.
There is a difference between the arts and sciences and it is good and right that there should be. In art, it is permitted to mould one’s work to produce a result that is satisfying to the senses – indeed that is largely the point. In science, the duty is to find the truth and any distortion of the results to make them pleasing is utterly unethical.
But real people are not divided into 100% pure mystics or rationalists. There is a little of each in all of us, although some have more of the one, and some of the other. But if we are interested in knowing what the unvarnished truth really is, we must force ourselves to be more rationalist. If we want the comfort and entertainment of believing appealing things, without some spoilsport pouring the cold water of scepticism over them, then we can relax and be more mystical. (Although those who choose that path will probably not wish me to point out that they will be filling their minds with baloney.)
As some of you may have noticed, I lean to the rationalist side and I despair at the mystical approach. But it remains popular; when we had a speaker here a few months ago on eastern philosophy, which is mostly unfounded superstition to my mind, he drew a large crowd. Sometimes I think we should divide our Philosophy Group into two halves to cater for the differences in outlook.
George Bernard Shaw was a mixture of the two points of view and, referring to Darwin’s Theory, he said, in Back to Methuselah, “When its whole significance dawns on you, your heart sinks into a heap of sand within you. There is a hideous fatalism about it, a ghastly and damnable reduction of beauty and intelligence, of strength and purpose, of honour and aspiration.”
Shaw was indulging in the form of logic which remains popular to this day which uses the principle “If I do not like it, then it cannot be true”. A great playwright he may have been, but as a philosopher or a scientist, he was profoundly silly. Our judgement of what is true should not be coloured by what we want to believe, if our aim really is to discover the truth. It is no use being like a child who smashes the clock, because he wishes it were a different time of day.
So there we are. If we are going to study the truth, I can only say, if you do not like it, then tough! The only advice I can give is to get over it! If you need the comfort of fairy tales rather than truth, you listening to the wrong talk! We must accept, under overwhelming evidence, that our minds are simply evolved mechanisms with no purpose other than to transmit our genes to future generations.
So that’s it! Our minds are only the functioning of an information processing organ that has grown, because it is an aid to survival and reproduction. The values programmed into it are simply a mathematical consequence of the natural selection algorithm. There is no such thing as moral truth. Our consciousness is simply the subjective experience of an information processing organ.
So we are just evolved mechanisms produced by natural selection and any philosophy we produce must be consistent with that. Could I ask anyone who disagrees with that to raise their hands?
It is interesting that those of you who have raised their hands are doing so in complete defiance of the evidence. But you are not alone; many people feel exactly as you do, including many so-called philosophers. What is interesting is that the will to disbelieve that we are simply devices to replicate our genes, or the wish to suppose that we have some “higher” purpose, is also a characteristic that has been produced because it has been selected. There have been extensive studies to discover why our brains at times exercise a willing self-deception and it can be shown that, in some circumstances, it can have selective advantage.
As I said, our brains are not machines for delivering the truth. They are machines for delivering decisions that will transmit our genes into the next generation. If you allow your brain to accept self-deceptions, you may be an excellent person, performing your life functions perfectly, but you will be a rather poor philosopher. If you wish to be a philosopher, to really understand what is going on while others do not, a certain discipline of the mind and a willingness to think radically but clearly is needed.

Decision Making Devices
In philosophy, as in other subjects, a difficult question sometimes becomes a little easier when it is approached from another direction, when the question is formulated in a different way, or when everything is taken away and we start afresh from first principles. I propose, therefore, to consider philosophy through the concept of a decision making device (DMD), as shown in the following diagram
| Sense input | ______________________________
_________ | Store of Observed and Innate Facts |
| Processor | _______________________
_____________ | Store of Values (all innate) |
| Action Output |

Every DMD has the same layout. Information is taken by the senses from the environment and some if it may be stored for future use. A processor uses this information, together with innate factual knowledge, to construct a view of the world. By using its store of value information, an action output can be decided upon. This can be at varying levels of complexity. Some processors may make predictive models from the information in its possession, evaluating the alternative outcomes according to its values. Others may simply give conditional responses. In all cases, it is clear that the values must be pre-programmed; the DMD cannot decide how it would like the world to be, simply from information about how it is. This is a version of Hume’s Law.
Many examples of DMDs exist. Human and animal brains are examples, but there are others. A thermostat is a simple one. Its only value system is to generate outputs that will keep the temperature close to a set value. The data processing system of a guided missile is another non-biological example. It takes in information and computes what is required to achieve its pre-programmed value, which is to minimize its distance from the target. The guided missile differs from most living DMDs, because its value set does not include self preservation! But Hume’s law still applies to it. The target, or at least the criteria on which it selects its target, must be programmed into it by its human makers – it cannot decide that from its observations. Similarly a thermostat cannot deduce the temperature it should maintain from measurements of the world around it.
So our minds are just the working of an information processing organ which exists only because successive versions of it in the history evolution gave their owners an advantage in the struggle for life. Can we believe this? It means that all of our mental experience from the love of our children, aesthetic appreciation, wonderment at nature and moral sensibility – all are the products of natural selection of our genes and memes.
But before we grapple with this fact, we need to think about three puzzles which might throw doubt on the whole idea

Puzzle 1 – Altruism
We do not see people around us behaving like “nature red in tooth and claw” and we feel strong moral instincts not to do so ourselves. Although we can discern no purpose other than to ensure the reproduction of our genes, this does not seem to be what we observe. The world is full of kindness and helpfulness, often by donors who have little hope of reward. Yet we do not observe perfect saintly behaviour either.
Altruism, shown by one animal to another, seemed to be a puzzle, but work over the last few decades on kin selection, reciprocal altruism and game theory has removed much of the mystery. Selfless behaviour towards one’s own children will help to increase the proportion of one’s genes in the future. Kin altruism is easy to understand.
Cooperation has a payoff (as quantified in the prisoners’ dilemma game) and it can lead to the co-operator transmitting more genes to the future. But our cooperations are immensely complicated. Successful cheating might be positively selected, if left unchecked, but there are many mechanisms to prevent it.
Cooperation extends far beyond the simple prisoners’ dilemma models, for example in display altruism, or reputation building, where altruism is performed with no hope of direct recompense.

Puzzle 2 – Modern Conditions
It is possible to believe that, in the conditions of perhaps 100 years ago and most times before, human behaviour did maximise reproductive success tolerably well. But in today’s world, nothing could be further from the truth. Many people choose to have no children at all and most choose to have fewer than they would have done before the invention of contraception. We seem to be interested in high levels of consumption, air-travel holidays, cars and entertainment; all of which would have astonished our forebears. Our brains are certainly not maximizing our gene transmission today. Of course, natural selection is still working, just as it always does, and is selecting out the genes of those with the least instinct to have children, but this process will probably require many generations to show a significant effect. Usually any species enjoying an increase in resources will multiply faster. We have an anomalous phase at present.

Puzzle 3 – The Social Contract
The suggestion above that the values in a DMD have to be built-in seems to contradict the fact that people appear to absorb values from others all the time. Yet on a little reflection it is clear that there must be a genetically installed set of values. Without these, any incoming information through the senses is just fact information. We may detect other human beings exhorting us with the most vehement appeal to values, but we would be completely unmoved by this display of emotion.
But, if our genetically programmed set of values includes a value to be concerned about the values of others, or even just to avoid punishment for failing to observe social rules, then our observed behaviour can be explained. We can recognise, therefore, that we have two types of value set. We have the many genetically programmed basic values, for example, to avoid hunger, pain and the risk of injury and to seek reproductive opportunity and other satisfactions. But in addition, we have a value which causes us to enter into the social contract of the society we find ourselves in. This gives a further set of values, which we internalise to a greater of lesser degree. It us easy to understand why we have evolved the genetic value to be willing to enter the social contract – the reproductive outlook for individuals who do not do so is obviously poorer. It also explains why different societies of people who do not differ much genetically, can have such different values in different places, or even in the same place at different times.
In November 2009, a man is Somalia was stoned to death for an act of adultery. “He was screaming and blood was pouring from his head during the stoning. After seven minutes he stopped moving.” an eyewitness told the BBC. His pregnant girlfriend will be spared until she gives birth, when the baby will be put in the charge of relatives and she too will then be stoned to death. The people who perpetrate this kind of atrocity would believe it morally wrong not to have carried out these sentences. This news report illustrates the great difference values that can occur when where social contracts differ, even though they are adopted by people with similar genetically installed values.
The whole subject of the basic, internal, genetically programmed values, those selectively acquired values from parents and the social contract of one’s society is hideously complicated. That is why philosophers have made such a mess of it.

Some of the questions that philosophy addresses are:
How can we prove whether our knowledge of the world is true?
How can we tell that the choices we make are right?
Is religion really true?
In past times, science and philosophy meant much the same thing, but, more recently, the senses of the words have acquired different meanings. Science gets on with the task of discovering facts about the world and has been fantastically successful; philosophy has concerned itself with ethics and thoughts about how science can be justified. We have to admit that philosophy has been much less successful.
But everything stated in this paper so far has been science and not philosophy. We have been considering only a description of what an alien observer might see looking in on humanity. We have only discovered facts. The philosophical question is whether any of these facts should influence our own decisions on the values that we should adopt. Are any of our genetic values “wrong” and in need of correction? Should our understanding of the mechanism by which human values originate, change our minds about which parts of a society’s social contract to accept? Should our recognition that our minds are decision-making devices have any bearing on how they can discover facts? And how do we deal with the circularity that the facts revealed by biology have themselves been discovered by this animal brain?
These philosophical questions can now be addressed.

Philosophy – Ethics
We understand now, to a large extent, how the human value system that we see around us has been formed by the forces of natural selection acting on random variations. At first it seemed easy to understand how evolution would have produced an instinct to feel hunger when the stomach is empty and to feel sexual desire. It was more difficult to understand how sympathy for one’s neighbours, a love of artistic achievement and a sense of natural justice could be produced by natural selection alone. This has now been largely achieved. Many of the details are still a work in progress, but we can understand enough to see that there is no contradiction in the evident fact that all our values, like every other physical and mental aspect of our being, are the products of natural selection.
But given that we understand, in outline at least, the nature of human value systems, how should that affect the values that I choose to hold? Should I be concerned that all my hopes and fears and every choice that I make is nothing more than a mechanism for sending more of my genes into the future population than the other fellow? And should I be concerned that, in the modern context, it is not even doing that?
How can this be addressed? It is certainly not good enough to say that what is natural is right. Dying of untreated disease is perfectly natural, but does not seem to be a good idea.
But fundamentally Hume’s Law must be right. Of course we have no proof and little reason to suppose that Hume was right except that it seems very clear to our evolved brains that it is right. But where else can we start?
Hume’s law states, in effect, that fact information obtained from the world cannot alone tell us anything about what we ought to do or what we should want to do. He disparaged some writers who argued from premises of fact and imperceptibly moved their arguments from “is” statements to “ought” statements without justification. Reason, Hume said, can only be the servant of the passions. Facts and values are different types of information. Facts can be determined by observation and inference – that is the work of science. Values cannot be determined from facts alone; there must always be at least one of the starting premises that is a value. You cannot get an “ought” from an “is”.
Simple examples can clarify this. It might be said that, if I see that a man is drowning, I ought to throw him a flotation aid. This is a correct conclusion, but only because we have a built in assumption that we ought to help those whose lives are in danger. Without that, the value or “ought statement” does not follow at all.
So how can we use our scientific understanding to answer the philosophical question? It is clear from Himes’s Law that no amount of scientific fact information can give us the answer and that the value premise must come from within us. It depends on how we feel!
What should we choose? Here are three possibilities:
1) Just follow our gut feelings. We may know that these were built to serve our stone-age ancestors and are not serving the same purpose today, but why care? Steven Pinker is aware of this thought. In How the Mind Works he has said, “Well into my procreating years I am, so far, voluntarily childless, having squandered my biological resources reading and writing, doing research, helping out friends and students, and jogging in circles, ignoring the solemn imperative to spread my genes. By Darwinian standards, I am a horrible mistake, a pathetic loser… But I am happy to be that way, and if my genes don’t like it, they can go jump in the lake.”
2) We could “correct” our instincts to artificially line them up with our evolutionary needs, to make our genes more numerous in the next generation.
3) Or we could just say that, knowing why we feel a strong sense of purpose, that is all meaningless and we might not care about anything at all – even whether we live or die. That is nihilism.
Only the second and third options are free of internal contradictions, but there is nothing in the science that dictates your choice among the three. Of course, a population that agrees with Steven Pinker will have completely disappeared in a few hundred years time. That is a fact, but to declare it a bad thing would be to express a value, and we have no source other than internal feelings for that.

Theory of Knowledge
Evolution has something to tell us too about the problem of knowledge – epistemology if you think big words will help. How can I discover what is true about the world, and how can I be sure that it is true? The rules of deduction and induction seem to be sound, yet we encounter false logic all too often. If we really want to believe only provable truth, we must be on our guards against instinctive conclusions. While these may be good for leading us to a “right” decision (or might have been in the ancestral environment in which we have evolved) they were never designed purely to find the truth.
The picture of the brain as a decision-making rather than a truth-finding device leaves us wondering how we can be sure that our knowledge is correct. It would seem reasonable to suppose that an animal which constructs an accurate mental model of the world around them might reproduce better than one which does not. This would lead us to suppose that an accurate mental apparatus would be produced by evolution.
When people are taught about logic they are helped to recognise what constitutes sound reasoning and also to avoid errors, but these things are not provided as proofs. It is more a question of helping the students to clarify the laws of deductive logic that have been programmed genetically into their own brains. Similarly the rules of induction are innate. We have heard of Pavlov’s dogs and we must admit, we would have reacted in exactly the same way as the dogs. It certainly seems that evolution has programmed us to discover the truth as efficiently as possible, so that we can more efficiently apply our value system to our knowledge to decide on the fittest outcome.
Of course, evolution has equipped us to operate in a world of human scale. We tend to think of an elephant as large and a pea as small and our minds have great difficulty understanding the dimensions dealt with in quantum physics or in astronomy. Similarly our brains are attuned to timescales of a few years. The time that has elapsed since the Big Bang is difficult to comprehend and the idea that time began at that point nearly impossible. But within our scales, we seem to be equipped to be able to discover at least some of the truth.
But this does not rule out false beliefs. There may be times when it would have given us selective advantage to believe a falsehood. In human reproduction, although not in all sexual species, it seems to give selective advantage if we form a pair-bond for reproduction. When we fall in love, we think that our chosen partner is the most perfect of human beings, although our friends and family may perceive otherwise! If the powerful local chief has prescribed death as a punishment for anybody who does not believe in the witch doctor’s powers, it might be best to sincerely believe in them!
A large area for helpful delusion may apply to our views of death. Most animals behave in a manner which will avoid threats to life, but do not, I suppose, ever contemplate that their own personal death will be, sooner or later, inevitable. As our humanoid ancestors gradually improved their thinking capacity, this disturbing conclusion must have become apparent. It must have been quote debilitating and an instinct to shut it out of one’s mind or to believe in a happy hunting ground must have been an aid to fitness. One can conjecture that there was a period in which the more intelligent members of human societies were wracked with fear until these protective mechanisms evolved.
Interestingly, this evolutionary history seems to be repeated in the individual. In adolescence when one suddenly realizes the inevitability of an eventual death, it seems more frightening than it does later.

So, although there may be some exceptions in which a delusion may be more adaptive than believing the truth, we seem to have been equipped by evolution with rules of thought that, applied carefully, will discover the truth. Yet, there is an unavoidable circularity about this conclusion. We think we have discovered that our brain is capable of discovering the truth, but only because we think that this is one of the truths that it has discovered. It is not entirely satisfactory, but it is probably the best we are going to get. We should retain a little humility in our certainty that we are right.
The question of morality and individual purpose is the other aspect of our decision-making mechanism. Having recognised a situation in the external world, or having understood situations that we could bring about through our choice of actions, how do we choose these actions? Traditional philosophy is confused on this because it concentrates on ethics, the choices we make in response to the needs of others. No attempt is made to understand the choices we make in response to our own individual needs because “selfish” choices appear too simple to require explanation. This is a critical error.
Our understanding of our origin in natural selection throws great light on the conclusions that are possible, but does not dictate a perfect solution. It confirms the law defined by David Hume, before evolution was ever contemplated, that values have to come from within us, namely “that reason is but the servant of the passions”. But we are so much better informed when we understand where our passions come from.