Darwin on the 'More Interesting' and 'Most Intricate' Problems for Natural Selection

Master's Thesis


This paper is a critique of the important contribution that Robert J. Richards has made to the interpretation of Charles Darwin’s account of the origin of ethics. My aim is to evaluate the adequacy of Richards’s portrayal of Darwin as a moral sense theorist indebted to German Romanticism for the philosophical resources required to articulate a fully naturalistic account of the emergence of moral sense. I pursue my aim of critiquing this portrayal through an examination of Darwin’s approach to what he called, in the final chapter of the Descent of Man, the “more interesting” and “most intricate” problems for the theory of natural selection. The “more interesting” problem concerns the origin of moral behavior and conscience. The “most intricate” problem refers to the concept of progress as it pertains to the continued evolution by natural selection of the human species. I show that human development toward moral perfection (the “more interesting” problem) involves the development of humanitarian culture, and yet it is precisely the development of humanitarian culture that gives rise to the conditions Darwin acknowledged as necessary for the continued action of natural selection on the members of any population. This point of tension within Darwin’s work is a valuable location from which to evaluate the work of Robert J. Richards and others who have admirably deepened our understanding of the polyphony of sources that jointly influenced Darwin’s view.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-07252013-160720

Author Erica Schiller Freeman
Advisor Phillip Sloan
Contributor Phillip Sloan, Committee Chair
Degree Level Master's Thesis
Degree Discipline History and Philosophy of Science
Degree Name MA
Defense Date
  • 2013-05-16

Submission Date 2013-07-25
  • United States of America

  • ethics

  • evolutionary ethics

  • Descent of Man

  • Charles Darwin

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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