Railton’s “near morality”

In a recent article, after outlining an evolutionary origin for moral intuitions (i.e., from various selfish and us-ish (inclusive fitness) mechanisms), Peter Railton – an academic philosopher from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor – then concludes with:

“We still must struggle continuously to see to it that our widened empathy is not lost, our sympathies engaged, our understandings enlarged […]”

My initial response is: on what basis? How do we arrive at these valuations, according to Railton’s view of morality, such that “widened empathy” is a moral good? What does it even mean to say that they are morally right things, except in some tautological sense (i.e., let us define what is right as that which expands certain fashionable ‘rights’ and so on)? There is no basis here for these value judgments, except secular whimsy or, indeed, simply an appeal stemming from these evolved mechanisms whose purpose has been to enhance (inclusive) fitness. On reflection, how can either be an adequate basis for normative claims like Railton is trying to make?

3 thoughts on “Railton’s “near morality”

  1. Bruce Charlton

    You are quite right – your argument is straightforward and correct. But its implications are unacceptable – so it will be ignored by those who don’t like the implications. I managed to ignore this line of argument for decades…

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