gap gap

MIT Press, 2006 (Cambridge, MA)

This book is the subject of an author-meets-critics symposium in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 77 (2008). (The critics are Stephen Stich, Peter Carruthers, Scott James, and Jesse Prinz.) A draft of that discussion is available here.

A Chinese translation of this book was published by Yilin Press in 2017.


Information about the cover image can be found here.


“Joyce's book is brilliant. There is nothing more important than knowing what we are doing when we speak in the language of value. We are animals that judge with cognitve and affective equipment. Joyce explains who we are. Nothing matters more.”
-- Owen Flanagan, James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy, Duke University

“Morality is often considered the opposite of human nature: our main tool to keep human nature in check. Yet the moral sense likely evolved along with the rest of human sociality. Exploring this evolutionary angle, Richard Joyce provides a revealing philosopher's account of what makes us moral primates.”
-- Frans de Waal, author of Our Inner Ape

“Why do humans not just help each other and feel bad when they harm each other but also make specifically moral judgments about helping and harming? I know of no better discussion of this central question than Joyce's admirably clear, concise, and critical survey. Joyce's answer and his arguments will challenge philosophers and move the debates to new levels.”
-- Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Professor of Philosophy and Hardy Professor of Legal Studies, Dartmouth College

“In his enjoyable and informative book The Evolution of Morality, Richard Joyce distinguishes between explaining how natural selection might explain socially useful behavior in animals and what more is needed to explain morality, with its thoughts about right or wrong, in human beings. Contrary to what others have said, Joyce argues plausibly that, to the extent that our moral concepts and opinions are the results of natural selection, there is no rational basis for these concepts and opinions.”
-- Gilbert Harman, Department of Philosophy, Princeton University

“This book is a tour de force, synthesizing disparate literatures into a pleasing whole. Joyce's writing is clear, articulate, and enjoyable, and his presentation masterful.”
-- William D. Casebeer, Associate Professor of Philosophy, U.S. Air Force Academy

blurb & contents:  

Moral thinking pervades our practical lives, but where did this way of thinking come from, and what purpose does it serve? Is it to be explained by environmental pressures on our ancestors a million years ago, or is it a cultural invention of more recent origin? In The Evolution of Morality, Richard Joyce takes up these controversial questions, finding that the evidence supports an innate basis to human morality. As a moral philosopher, Joyce is interested in whether any implications follow from this hypothesis. Might the fact that the human brain has been biologically prepared by natural selection to engage in moral judgment serve in some sense to vindicate this way of thinking--staving off the threat of moral skepticism, or even undergirding some version of moral realism? Or if morality has an adaptive explanation in genetic terms--if it is, as Joyce writes, “just something that helped our ancestors make more babies”--might such an explanation actually undermine morality's central role in our lives? He carefully examines both the evolutionary “vindication of morality” and the evolutionary “debunking of morality,” considering the skeptical view more seriously than have others who have treated the subject.

Interdisciplinary and combining the latest results from the empirical sciences with philosophical discussion, The Evolution of Morality is one of the few books in this area written from the perspective of moral philosophy. Concise and without technical jargon, the arguments are rigorous but accessible to readers from different academic backgrounds. Joyce discusses complex issues in plain language while advocating subtle and sometimes radical views. The Evolution of Morality lays the philosophical foundations for further research into the biological understanding of human morality.

Introduction: Human Nature
Chapter 1: The Natural Selection of Helping
Chapter 2: The Nature of Morality
Chapter 3: Moral Language and Moral Emotions
Chapter 4: The Moral Sense
Chapter 5: The Evolutionary Vindication of Morality
Chapter 6: The Evolutionary Debunking of Morality
Conclusion: Living with an Adapted Mind


“Joyce's approach is refreshing, and he wears his learning lightly: underpinning his philosophical arguments is a thorough knowledge not only of the philosophical issues, but also of the empirical and theoretical literature on various forms of natural selection. ... Joyce does an excellent job of bringing philosophy to the ordinary reader. ... His bold, jargon-free approach means that this work of serious philosophy can nonetheless be understood by the non-philosophically trained layperson.”
-- Times Literary Supplement (April 2007)

“Is morality innate? If it is, what difference does that make? A reader wishing to become clearer about these questions would be hard-pressed to find a better place to begin than Richard Joyce's The Evolution of Morality. In a text that, exclusive of notes and bibliography, runs to only 230 pages, he has managed to pack a remarkable amount of information, clarification, common sense, and thoughtful reflection. As the topic requires, Joyce draws on a wide range of research in animal behavior, anthropology, game theory, psychology, and neurophysiology, and he presents it all in a readable style with the occasional witticism thrown in.”
-- Peter Singer, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2006.04.18)

“Richard Joyce has written an admirable book, brimming over with fascinating findings, bold empirical hypotheses and philosophical arguments that are both innovative and provocative, all set out in a straightforward, engaging style.”
-- Stephen Stich, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 77 (2008)

“Richard Joyce has every reason to be very proud of his latest book. It is well-informed, well-written, and well-argued. Its main thesis, that our tendency to make moral judgements is innate, is of central importance to our understanding of ourselves as human beings, as well as to the academic disciplines of evolutionary biology and moral philosophy, especially metaethics. Moreover, I think, Joyce establishes this thesis admirably, at the very least as a working, empirically testable hypothesis, citing evidence from a variety of disciplines, including biology, ethology, psychology, economics, and moral psychology. Given my many disagreements with Joyce about the nature of morality and metaethics, my admiration for the book indicates that I think it should be read by anyone with interest in these debates and that, if justice be done, it will soon become a starting point for future discussion. ... [A]ll may be grateful for having such an acute treatment of these sophisticated issues at hand to study, and from which to learn.”
-- Paul Bloomfield, Mind 116 (2007)

The Evolution of Morality is a clear, highly provocative, and thoroughly enjoyable book. It beautifully integrates lessons from recent experimental psychology with work in evolutionary theory and philosophical ethics, making it essential reading for anyone interested in naturalistic approaches to morality.”
-- Jesse Prinz, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 77 (2008)

“Joyce's sustained inquiry includes many interesting observations and asides. The Evolution of Morality is the most demanding of the three books discussed here [the others being Dugatkin's The Altruism Question and de Waal's Primates and Philosophers] but is also the most rewarding for those willing to make the effort.”
-- David Sloan Wilson, American Scientist Online (May-June 2007)

“It is a clearly argued, provocative book that covers an enormous amount of terrain in both evolutionary psychology and metaethics. Joyce’s discussion of the limitations of the views of other writers working at the convergence of these two topics is unparalleled. This book is the single best starting point for anyone wondering about the significance of evolutionary psychology for metaethics, as well as an awfully good companion to have around in the ensuing conversation.”
-- Zed Adams, Ethics 117 (2007)

“This is an excellent book. Joyce demonstrates his familiarity with the relevant theory in evolutionary biology and discusses the implications of our best theorizing on the evolution of moral creatures for morality and metaethics. The first part of the book discusses possible causes of the evolution of morality, and the second whether evolution vindicates or debunks morality. Both parts of the book are well written, clear, and penetrating.”
-- Gregory J. Morgan, Metaphilosophy (Oct, 2008)

The Evolution of Morality covers a lot of ground--from evolutionary biology and moral psychology right through to metaethics--which is no mean task for a book of 271 pages, and Joyce has done admirably well. This is a book rich in ideas. His hypotheses, although sometimes speculative, are empirically grounded and his analysis impressive. His explanations are clear, concise, and easy to read. And, unlike many other books in this field, Joyce actually gives an account of the nature of moral judgement and how moral psychology fits an evolutionary point of view. This book is accessible to those without any background in evolutionary theory, moral psychology, or metaethics, but it will also provide stimulating and thought provoking material for those working within such fields. Overall, Joyce has produced an original and important contribution to a lively debate.”
-- Tony Scott, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 85 (2007)

The Evolution of Morality is an impressive work. It presents both a plausible genealogy of morals and a powerful argument for moral skepticism. The book contains important contributions to a number of meta-ethical debates, and it is sure to provoke an interesting reaction from both moral realists and quasi-realists. The Evolution of Morality ought to be read by anyone interested in meta-ethics, especially people who would enjoy a cogent challenge to their own non-skeptical position.”
-- Adam Bendorf & Chris Ragg, Journal of Value Inquiry (2007)



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