Dominic Newnham

Higher Degree by Research Candidate

School of Humanities

Faculty of Arts


My working thesis topic is 'The Relevance of Evolutionary Debunking Theories and Empirical Evidence in Normative Ethics'. One main question is whether scientific evidence—particularly from neuroimaging studies of subjects asked to respond to ethical dilemmas—is relevant to normative ethical questions about what is morally right or wrong. Empirical evidence may have the potential to undermine fundamental ethical assumptions by uncovering the various factors that influence our moral judgements and our formulation of normative ethical theories.

My thesis submitted for the degree of Master of Philosophy (MPhil) is available here:
https://digital.library.adelaide.edu.au/dspace/bitstream/2440/121723/1/Newnham2019_MPhil.pdf

Thesis abstract: Evolutionary debunking arguments (EDAs) have received much attention in recent moral philosophy. These types of arguments draw upon speculative evolutionary premises in order to challenge various philosophical viewpoints and theories. In some cases, empirical evidence has also been used to supplement the more speculative evolutionary premises in debunking arguments. This thesis examines three prominent EDAs, from Sharon Street, Richard Joyce and Joshua Greene. Street’s debunking target is the metaethical position of moral realism, particularly non-naturalistic realism. Joyce’s target is the epistemic justification of moral judgements in general, leading to his conclusion of moral scepticism. Greene targets deontological approaches to moral philosophy, while maintaining that consequentialist theories are unaffected by his debunking claims. The main similarity between these three EDAs is the notion that evolutionary theory can be used to ‘explain away’ certain views in moral philosophy, by providing a scientific explanation of moral views that does not need to assume their truth. The discussed EDAs face some common problems as well as problems specific to each argument. One of the main ways of resisting these arguments is to focus on the human capacity for rational reflection; it will thus be argued that our complex mental capacities enable us to overcome possible evolutionary influences on our moral thinking. This applies not only to the basic level of moral intuitions, but also to the complex moral theories that philosophers develop. It is ultimately concluded that none of the discussed EDAs are successful. However, the possibility of more viable EDAs being developed in the future is not ruled out, provided that they can avoid the criticisms presented against these arguments.

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  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    2017 University of Adelaide, Adelaide Australia Master of Philosophy (Arts)
    2016 - 2016 University of Adelaide, Adelaide Australia Bachelor of Arts (Honours, First Class)
  • Research Interests

Research Training Program Stipend (2017 - 2019)


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