Title: What ethics can learn from evolution - and what it cannot: On teen sex, the war on drugs, and the neuroenhancement of human relationships
Speaker: Brian Earp, Research Associate, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford
Abstract: What can ethics learn from evolution? In simplest terms, my argument will be that while grasping evolution cannot tell us what to value, it can sometimes tell us what sorts of realistic obstacles we have in achieving our values. Typically, it can do so when our evolved natures and modern sensibilities, ideals, and plain realities come apart. Sometimes, I will suggest, when human values diverge with human nature-as understood by the lights of evolution-the answer is that we should reconsider our values, modifying “down” to meet our basic drives in a realistic and humane fashion. But what if our values are worth defending? Recent work in human enhancement suggests that we are (or will soon be) able to intervene in the psycho-biological systems underpinning such complex phenomena as love, lust, and attachment. Holding facts about modern life (and the near future) constant, if we can provide strong, independent reasons for endorsing a set of values whose actualization is impeded by our animal natures, then we have some ammunition for the view that we should try “close the chasm” by enhancing our psycho-biologies—modifying our natures “up” to the level of our ideals.
Biogaphy: Brian Earp is a Research Associate in the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and a Consultant working with the Institute for Science and Ethics at Oxford Martin School. Brian recently completed his MSc. in experimental psychology as a Henry Fellow of New College, Oxford; and received his undergraduate degree from Yale, where he studied cognitive science and philosophy and was elected President of the Yale Philosophy Society. Serving as Editor-in-Chief of both the international Yale Philosophy Review and the Yale Review of Undergraduate Research in Psychology, Brian also conducted extensive experimental research in a number of areas, generally touching on unconscious or automatic mental processes, and has published refereed work on this topic. With Professor Julian Savulescu, Brian is authoring a book on the neuroenhancement of love and marriage, to be completed this year.