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Sterelny, Kim. 2001. The Evolution of Agency and Other Essays, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. ISBN

Waller, Bruce. 1998. The Natural Selection of Autonomy, State University of New York Press, Albany, NY. ISBN-13 9780791438206.

Rottschaefer, William A. 1998. The Biology and Psychology of Moral Agency. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. ISBN-13 9780521592659.


Those with strong philosophical interests may be especially concerned about evolutionary interpretations of intention, agency, or free will (at the psychological level). These are addressed in several books, none yet synoptic or comprehensive, however or simple. In The Evolution of Agency and Other Essays, Kim Sterelny addresses the problem of intention. He argues, first, that there was an important shift from neural systems that respond to single stimuli, to those that integrate multiple environmental cues. He then articulates the role of preference, emerging from behavioral plasticity (afforded by learning). The result?: desires, in organisms that can truly represent their environment internally (and not "merely" respond to it).

Bruce Waller looks at the implications for moral philosophy in The Natural Selection of Autonomy. He claims that we share the domain of autonomy and morality with other animals and that doing so requires major revisions in our conceptions of moral objectivity and moral responsibility. In The Biology and Psychology of Moral Agency, William Roffschaffer likewise uses evolutionary knowledge to reassess the philosophical concept of moral agency, leading to a multi-leveled approach, reflecting successive steps in evolutionary history.

Educators, take note!: these three books are not for the philosophically squeamish.

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© 2008. Douglas Allchin | EVOLUTIONofMORALITY.net