Defending Normative Realism Against Evolutionary Debunking Arguments

Bartle, Ryan and Macleod, Christopher and Garvey, Brian (2023) Defending Normative Realism Against Evolutionary Debunking Arguments. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

[thumbnail of 2023RyanBartlePhD]
Text (2023RyanBartlePhD)
2023RyanBartlePhD.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial.

Download (1MB)


Normative realism is a view characterised by the belief in stance-independent normative facts. The primary aim of this thesis is to defend normative realism against Evolutionary Debunking Arguments (EDA). EDA are used in several philosophical disciplines, including metaethics, normative ethics and epistemology. Because I am defending a metaethical position, my interest is with their use in metaethics. Perhaps the most well-known EDA is Sharon Street’s Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value (2006). The problem for realists, Street thinks, is that if we accept their claim that stance-independent normative facts exist, the fact evolution has “thoroughly saturated” our normative judgments means we are unlikely to ever know them (2006, pp.113-114). This is because evolution would only shape our normative judgments toward truth if normative knowledge promoted genetic survival and reproduction, an idea Street rejects. Another highly influential EDA is outlined by Richard Joyce in The Evolution of Morality (2006). Joyce likens morality to a useful fiction. We evolved to believe in morality not because it has any basis in fact, but because it motivated our species to act in pro-social ways that contributed to survival and reproduction. Chapter 1 outlines the non-naturalistic realist view that I aim to defend against EDA. Chapter 2 outlines the major premises and conclusions of EDA. Chapters 3 and 4 defend realism against Street’s EDA – in the process of which, I show, among other things, that realism combined with hedonistic utilitarianism is immune to EDA. Chapter 5 responds to Joyce’s EDA and addresses normative epistemological and methodological questions raised by the prospect that many of our normative beliefs are distorted by evolution. Here I draw upon three leading theories of epistemology (Foundationalism, Coherentism, Reliabilism) in devising a multi-layered methodology for the purposes of justifying normative principles and guarding against potential sources of distortion.

Item Type:
Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:
Research Output Funding/yes_externally_funded
?? metaethicsnormative realismevolutionary debunking argumentsutilitarianismintuitionismrationalismyes - externally funded ??
ID Code:
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
16 Jan 2023 11:20
Last Modified:
05 Jun 2024 23:45