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On the evolution of morality


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Contributor(s): Dr Jason Alexander

Released on 29 January 2010.

While we grapple with the finer points of stem cell research or the ethics of assisted suicide, some moral issues are so obviously wrong that we hardly need to debate them. Yet history swiftly belies our notion of the ethically self-evident precept. Cultures in the past have flourished for many centuries at a time – fostering technical innovation, establishing centres of learning and culture – while simultaneously permitting slavery or human sacrifice or cannibalism, for example.

In this short film, Dr Jason Alexander from the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method explains how a naturalistic account of where morality comes from and how it operates must be flexible enough to accommodate these wildly different parameters, whilst being sufficiently robust to account for the immovable and absolute hold it has upon us.

Game theory, developed by economists as a means of studying bargaining situations, has since become a vital tool for students of human behaviour. Here, Dr Alexander, explores how this approach can be used to investigate how our moral sense may have developed, and how the dictates of morality can be binding and yet relative to a place and time.

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