HPS Colloquium: Robert Richards


Location: 207 DeBartolo Hall

The Fermi Paradox in Evolutionary Ethics: Why there aren't several Moral Systems. 

Enrico Fermi asked: Given the vastness of the universe and the likelihood of intelligent life on many planets, why haven't we been contacted?  But if we are ever contacted, could it be that their  moral system would have evolved to be radically different from ours?  Michael Ruse and E.O. Wilson presume that there could be an alien race with a radically different moral system--or, since our moral system is a contingently evolved product, our system could have been radically different given a few changes in our past evolutionary environment.  I argue that such a scenario is impossible.  I agree that our moral system is the result of our evolved moral capacity, much as Darwin has proposed in the Descent of Man.  However, I argue that our moral judgments are nonetheless objective and universally binding.  I believe we cannot even coherently conceive our system--or that of an alien species--as being fundamentally different from the one we have.
Robert Richards is the  Morris Fishbein Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Science and Medicine at the University of Chicago