The Evolution of Morality





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.

Bradford Books imprint


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262101127 288 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 4 illus.


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262600729 288 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 4 illus.


  • Joyce's approach is refreshing, and he wears his learning lightly...[He] does an excellent job of bringing philosophy to the ordinary reader, using striking and quirky examples of different moral judgements...His bold, jargon-free approach means that this work is serious philosophy can nonetheless by understood by the non-philosophically trained layperson.

    Matthew Cobb

    Times Literary Supplement


  • 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 Hard 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