9 Difficulties in Applying Evolutionism in Ethics

One meets the following difficulties in applying evolutionism to ethics:

1. Historical method:

The first difficulty in the application of Evolutionism in Ethics arises in regard to method. The method of Evolutionary Hedonism is historical and not ethical. Evolutionary Hedonists try to explain how the human behaviour originated and how much it has contributed to the preservation of the existence of human race.

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The viewpoint of Evolutionism is natural. Green’s calling it the “Natural Science of Moral Assumptions” is realistic enough. The Evolutionists explain the history of human behaviour.

Its basis is cause and affects not the ideal. They search for ‘what’ hi the history of human behaviour. Their explanation of life is scientific and historical, but ethics searches for ‘what ought to be’. Its objective is ideal and not fact.

It is a normative science, not a factual or historic one. It looks for the standard or measuring for judging the propriety of actions. It analyses good and bad, not cause and effect its objective is the description of the real nature of morality. Its postulates are axiological. In this way, it is obvious that Evolutionary Hedonism leaves the main problems of ethics untouched.

2. Biological basis:

The second difficulty in its application to ethics relates to the question of basis. To put ethics on a foundation of biological laws is to forget its real nature. Natural life and moral life are things apart from each other.


The principle of “Might is right” may find application in the animal world but the moral principles of human life cannot conceivably be based on animal laws like the natural selection and survival of the fittest.”

The aim of humanity cannot be the preservation of life irrespective of the means adopted. Life can also be sacrificed for the preservation of morals. The principle of the dominance of strong over weak dominates the animal theories.

The ideal of man is sacrifice, altruism and social welfare. In animal life, it is force which is of consequence but in a moral life, it is the ideal self sacrifice which counts. Evolutionist Alexander concedes that biological assumptions camion serve to explain moral values.

It is pure opportunism to order conduct for the aim of life-preservation as and when the circumstances allow. Morals, as Kant has stated, are categorical imperatives.

3. Biological Ideals:


The third difficulty is about the ideals. The ideals of Evolutionary Hedonism are actually not ethical. The ideal of morality is not life-preservation. Long life and pleasure may be physical or biological ideals but they cannot be ethical ideals.

A simple life is the ideal of morality, not life of complexity. To start with a complex life is liable to yield more pain than pleasure, and, even if some pleasure does accrue, mere pleasure cannot be accepted in the capacity of an ideal of moral life.

Length and breadth also have no reciprocal relation. It has generally been noticed that the two are mutually exclusive. It is extremely difficult for both length and breadth to exist together in life.

The value of life is measured not by its length, but by its moral excellence. It may sometimes become necessary for health to proceed according to natural laws but natural laws are not moral laws and neither can any judgment of good or bad be based on them.

A natural life is unconcerned with any moral qualities. In a moral life qualities abound. Animal life is one of dependence while moral life is founded in self-control or freedom of will. An animal adapts himself to the environment whereas man tries to transform the environment to suit him.

It is this difference between man and animal which the evolutionists fail to remember. Actually the problems facing ethics and biology are completely different. Moral adjustment is not the natural adjustment of animals.

4. Difficulties in the organic theory of society:

The Evolutionists explain the relation between man and society on the basis of Organic theory. But the relation of society to man is not the same as the relation of body to its parts.

The individual can violate the social customs and also live apart from it in exclusion. He has his own separate existence, an independent consciousness and his own life but no part of the body can live separated from it Apart from the body it has no life, no existence.

The good of the body is its good. But, in ethics, besides the social good man also has his own individual good. Both egoism and altruism have their proper place in ethics. A social man also has his own individual self.

There may be a similarity in organism and social structure and some light is thrown on the relation of interdependence between society and the person by conceding this similarity but the social and organic structure also have dissimilarities, which it would not do to forget because then there is a possibility of making grave mistakes.

5. Evolutionary laws are based on experience:

Contrary to the Intuitionists, the Evolutionists believe that morality is hereditary and acquired by man moral laws are those which the human race found beneficial in its preservation and it is due to this reason that they are handed down in heredity, but laws grounded in experience cannot be universal something that the moral laws should be.

Experience changes with time and place, thus, laws based on it cannot produce any permanent standard it is not possible to come to any judgments regarding good and evil if such be the state of affairs.

Evolution may assist in the explanation of historical evolution of moral behaviour but it does not lead to knowledge of the basis of the validity of moral assumptions.

6. Difference between pleasure and life preservation:

It is wrong to look upon pleasure and life preservation as inseparable. Sometimes even pain may preserve life. How helpful are the painful yet life preserving distasteful medicines and the obeying of the basis laws of health?

The enjoyment of pleasures originating in sensual preoccupation is pleasant yet detrimental to life. Excessive enjoyment usually tells upon life. The improvement and deterioration of life cannot be measured by pleasure and pain, which cannot be the motives: of actions but which can be the result of actions.

7. Contradiction of egoism and altruism:

The Evolutionists, like the Utilitarian’s, have not been able to explain the reciprocal relation of egoism and altruism.

The Evolutionists assumed, as the Utilitarian’s have done, that pleasure and duty, egoism and altruism are mutually contradictory and while Utilitarian’s tried to fill the gap with feeling.

The Evolutionists relied on biological laws for an explanation of it, but the indispensability of moral laws cannot be explained by biological or social, political or economic laws.

They are only indicative of physical obligation or external control. The basis of a moral life is the feeling of duty. It is essential and long-lasting. It has with it a feeling of happiness, not the pain of obligation. Actually, the mutual relations between man and society cannot be explained on the basis of biological basis.

8. Biology, the basis of evolutionism, is not hedonistic:

To call Evolutionary Hedonism, Hedonism is wrong. According to Spencer, the standard of right and wrong is physical health. According to Leslie Stephen it is social consolidation and the preservation of life energy.

Thus, the value of morals depends upon its being of assistance hi the improvement of bodily health and increase of life energy and the perfection of social structure. Therefore, the increase of pleasure or a complete annihilation of pain cannot be ethical ideals.

The basis of Evolutionary Hedonism is biology but biology itself is not hedonistic. The laws of biology say that energy increases with action but decreases with use. Excessive pleasure is destructive of life energy. Actually, the goodness of an action does not depend upon its being pleasant

9. Defective ultimate ideal:

Thus the ultimate ideal of Spencer is illusory. He imagines an ideal society which will have complete adjustment and the consequent pleasure completely devoid of pain. According to Spencer, pleasure is due to the effect of adjustment, a state of complete adjustment being completely free of pain.

In that circumstance, moral laws will become natural and intuitional. The optimism is unfounded. The history of human life does not show any basis for such optimism. To start with, it is difficult to prove that the evolution of the entire human race is gravitating towards such an adjustment.

Secondly, even if it be assumed that man is constantly moving towards progress, it is still difficult to believe that this progress can at some stage come to a state of complete adjustment.

Actually, the very idea of complete harmony is contrary to the theory of Evolutionism. Evolution is change. Human evolution is not dependent upon adjustment with nature and its aim also is not an adjustment with the environment.

The meaning of evolution is progress according to one’s self consciousness. In this development, strongly ethical people try to mould the environment to concur with their ideals.

In this it would be wrong to assert that natural evolution will by itself establish complete adjustment Moral life is a self conscious life. It depends upon the free will of an ethical person.

Morality is above unconscious adjustment it tries to see the ideal state of society. As man undergoes moral evolution his ideals are correspondingly elevated and thus it is incorrect to imagine any stationary ideal state in his evolution.