Type of Document Dissertation Author Morris, Stephen George Author's Email Address email@example.com URN etd-11152004-155441 Title Deciphering the Secret Chain: An Evolutionary Perspective on Enlightened Self-Interest Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department Philosophy, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Michael Ruse Committee Chair Alfred Mele Committee Member Thomas Joiner Committee Member Keywords
- Enlightened Self-Interest
- Unto Others
- Evolution Of Altruism
Date of Defense 2004-06-14 Availability unrestricted AbstractMoral philosophers have always encountered difficulty when trying to establish that a positive relationship holds between the demands of self-interest and the demands of morality. Francis Hutcheson coined the term “secret chain” to refer to the connection that supposedly connects individual interest with moral concerns (benevolence in particular). Despite all of the efforts, enlightened self-interest theories have found little success in achieving credibility. In my dissertation I argue that the inability of any enlightened self-interest theory to provide a convincing account of the secret chain is due to various errors in their approaches. If we are to understand the true nature of the secret chain (assuming that one exists), we must take a new approach. Part of my goal is to offer a blueprint of what such an approach might look like.
In Chapter 1 I offer a critical analysis of theories that have explored the existence of the secret chain. I divide the more persuasive enlightened self-interest theories into two categories.
The first category includes those theories that argue that being moral gives one the best opportunity for attaining the things that the non-moral individual desires (e.g., power, wealth, etc.). The second category includes theories that emphasize how the moral life offers benefits that are superior to and distinct from those that are accessible through the non-moral life. I argue that any enlightened self-interest theory of either of these two forms should be rejected.
In Chapters 2 and 3 I consider whether a naturalistic approach might shed light on what form the secret chain takes. A working assumption in this chapter is that a prima facie case for the existence of the secret chain can be made given that evolution has selected for human beings to be altruistic. Whereas Chapter 2 focuses on the attempts that have been made to show how altruism can be selected for on the level of individual selection, Chapter 3 explores efforts that aim to demonstrate how group selection can promote the evolution of altruism. Though I believe that both of these evolutionary approaches provide valuable insights into understanding how altruism can evolve in nature, I show that each faces important difficulties that must be resolved.
I begin Chapter 4 by attempting to construct a new account of how altruism might have evolved among human beings that avoids the shortcomings inherent to both traditional group selection and traditional individual selection theories. From this evolutionary model I maintain that it is possible to draw a plausible conclusion about the form that the secret chain takes among human beings. In defending my account of the secret chain, I will argue, on the one hand, that it is more plausible from a theoretical/philosophical standpoint than alternative accounts. I will draw support from evolutionary theory here. Furthermore, I believe that my position draws additional support from the fact that the picture of human motivation/behavior that underlies it reflects the psychological properties that human beings actually have. I will demonstrate this by appealing to empirical psychological studies.
In Chapter 5 I lay out a blueprint of the approach that I believe could be used to successfully transform the immoral individual into a moral one. This approach is drawn from the particular conception of the secret chain that I take to be both theoretically and empirically plausible.
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