Conference: Rethinking the Genealogy of Morals

Friday, October 2, 2009 (All day) - Saturday, October 3, 2009 (All day)

Sponsored by the Center for Law, Philosophy & Human Values at the University of Chicago Law School

Where did our "morality"-- our moral sense, our moral intuitions, our dispositions to make particular kinds of moral judgments--come from?  And does its origin have any bearing on the value,  justification, or credibility of our morality?

Supernatural explanations for our moral sense are no longer credible, so in the modern era, we have tried to understand what role culture, psychology, biology, and economic circumstances have played in the development of our morality.   Hume in the 18th-century and Nietzsche in the 19th-century pioneered the genre of histories of morality, though it has been another 19th-century thinker, Darwin, whose own tentative ideas about the evolutionary origins of our moral sense that have been particularly influential in much recent work in the social sciences concerned with morality.   Hume and Darwin saw moral genealogies as playing a kind of vindicatory role for our moral sense, while Nietzsche conceived of moral genealogy as serving a critical purpose.   How can such genealogies do either?

In the last twenty years, there has been a robust and renewed interest in moral genealogies among philosophers and social scientists.   Anthropology, psychology, and biology have all provided resources for our contemporary genealogists of morality, who see the correct understanding of the origins of our moral sense as sometimes supporting a radical moral relativism on one extreme, and sometimes supporting the idea of an "innate" moral sense at the other.

The first day of the conference will be devoted to exploring the historical figures concerned with genealogies of morality:  Hume, Nietzsche, and Darwin-and their intellectual interactions, affinities, and differences.  The second day will present some of the best contemporary practitioners of moral genealogy.  Participation at this conference is by invitation only. .  If you have any questions about this event, please contact Brian Leiter (


“Genealogy and Morality”
Speaker:    Michael N. Forster (Chicago)
Commentator:  Nir Ben Moshe (Chicago)

“Hume and the Genealogy of Morality”
Speaker:  Peter Kail (Oxford)
Commentator:  Guy Elgat (Northwestern)
“Evolutionary Ethics:  Contra Nietzsche and Contemporaries”
Speaker:  Robert J. Richards (Chicago)
Commentator:  Nicholas Koziolek (Chicago)

“Altrusim and Morality:  No Necessary Connection”
Speaker:  Daniel Batson (Kansas)
Commentator:  Martha Nussbaum (Chicago)

“The Genealogy of Morals” (chapter 6 of The Emotional Construction of Morals)
Speaker:  Jesse Prinz (CUNY Grad Center)
Commentator:  Agnes Callard (Chicago)


Speakers and Commentators

C. Daniel Batson is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Kansas.

Nir Ben Moshe is a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy at the University of Chicago.

Agnes Callard is Neubauer Family