Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 1, No 2 (2005)

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Evolutionary Naturalism and the Logical Structure of Valuation: The Other Side of Error Theory

Richard A Richards


On one standard philosophical position adopted by evolutionary naturalists, human ethical systems are nothing more than evolutionary adaptations that facilitate social behavior. Belief in an absolute moral foundation is therefore in error. But evolutionary naturalism, by its commitment to the basic valutional concept of fitness, reveals another, logical error: standard conceptions of value in terms of simple predication and properties are mistaken. Valuation has instead, a relational structure that makes reference to respects, subjects and environments. This relational nature is illustrated by the analogy commonly drawn between value and color. Color perception, as recognized by the ecological concept, is relational and dependent on subject and environment. In a similar way, value is relational and dependent on subject and environment. This makes value subjective, but also objective in that it is grounded on facts about mattering. At bottom, values are complex relational facts. The view presented here, unlike other prominent relational and naturalistic conceptions of value, recognizes the full range of valuation in nature. The advantages of this relational conception are first, that it gets valuation right; second, it provides a framework to better explain and understand valuation in all its varieties and patterns.

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