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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 July 2010

Jane Maienschein
Affiliation:
Arizona State University
Michael Ruse
Affiliation:
University of Guelph, Ontario
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Summary

It is at this point, I think, that we can best make the comparison between ethics and science, and the insurmountable barrier between them seems to me to lie in this fact, that in science we have such a source of conviction and in ethics we have not. Science rests ultimately on a basis of absolute certainty; ethics, so far at least, has not in general found any basis at all.

Thus asserted “Prof. H. Dingle” (Herbert Dingle) in an article in Nature in 1946, as quoted in “50 Years Ago” in 1996. He continued:

Science can therefore advance with confidence that although it may make mistakes they are not irreparable, and that even though its most trusted structures may come tumbling about its ears, it cannot finally collapse because underneath are the everlasting arms. They are two – reason and experience; on these twin supports science has an indestructible foundation. [Dingle 1996]

Although not everyone would endorse Professor Dingle's confidence about the absoluteness of the certainty in science, few would disagree with the proposition that science and ethics rest on different bases. And many would agree that attempts to provide a compelling epistemic warrant for ethical theory have failed. Indeed, moral theorists have often been willing to give up the search and engage in descriptive and normative ethical discussions, leaving the metatheoretical search to others. Biologists and philosophers of biology have eagerly taken up the challenge. Thus an unabashed program for naturalizing ethics has gained enthusiastic supporters in recent decades. Sociobiology, evolutionary ethics, and genetic determinism have all played their parts.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1999

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