Ethics and Normativity

  • John CottinghamEmail author
Part of the Historical-Analytical Studies on Nature, Mind and Action book series (HSNA, volume 2)


This chapter investigates the place of value in nature, focusing especially on evolutionary accounts of moral values. Most modern conceptions of morality are strongly influenced by the kind of historical and genealogical approach that emerged in the 19th century. Among the main representatives of this approach is Charles Darwin, who in his Descent of Man presents morality as a product of man’s struggle for survival. Another influential deflationary account of morality is Mill’s utilitarianism, for which the deliverances of conscience are merely psychological events or subjective feelings. Mill portrays normativity as a kind of painful feeling, linked to the violation of duty, which works within the subject as an internal sanction. But a sanction of this kind is just a causal motivator that carries no real moral justificatory force. Such views lead eventually to the radical position of Nietzsche as presented in his The Genealogy of Morals: once we realize that ethics has a genealogy, that is, that it is the product of a contingent history, we can transcend this history and the authoritative power of conscience. However, arguments of this kind are hard to reconcile with intrinsic features of morality such as the objective, universal, necessary and normative character of moral values. This chapter explores to what extent contingency jeopardizes naturalistic accounts of morality and other contemporary views that seek to reconcile the features of morality with those of the natural world.


Naturalism Value Morality Mill Nietzsche Darwin 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ReadingReadingUK

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