The descent of instinct and the ascent of ethics

Giovanni Boniolo

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Let us then liken the soul to the natural union of a team of winged horses and their charioteer. The gods have horses and charioteers that are themselves all good and come from good stock besides, while everyone else has a mixture. To begin with, our driver is in charge of a pair of horses; second, one of his horses is beautiful and good and from stock of the same sort, while the other is the opposite and has the opposite sort of bloodline. This means that chariot-driving in our case is inevitably a painfully difficult business. Plato, Phaedrus, 246 a–d. MORAL CAPACITY. Reflecting on the biological foundations of human moral behavior within a Darwinian framework should involve something too often forgotten: finding actual links with what Darwin proposed in his writings. This task should not be intended as a philosophically idle form of deference to an author of the past, but as a necessary step to recover the correct historical and theoretical bases of the problems we are facing. Indeed, an interest in the history does not necessarily mean to commit fallacies akin toargumentum ad verecundiam, but it can take the form of a correctargumentum ad auctoritatem. In considering what Darwin wrote about the biological bases of morality, I will recall some of the theses ofThe Origin of SpeciesandThe Descent of Manthat, mutatis mutandis, could be accepted without much difficulty by those who believe in the correctness and validity of (neo-)Darwinian evolutionism.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary Biology
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)9780511498428, 0521856299, 9780521856294
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'The descent of instinct and the ascent of ethics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this