Morality in Spite of Interest: Absolute Skepticism Grounded in Skepticism’s Necessities or Re-Examining Evolution and Epigenesis (18 Pages) 10 July 2011 – Updated August 2019

Updated August 2019

“Morality in Spite of Interests: Absolute Skepticism Grounded in s Necessities Enables Re-Examining Evolution and Epigenesis” by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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Presented at St. Anne’s College, Oxford                                                                                           July 10, 2011

Morality in Spite of Interests:
Absolute Principles Grounded in Skepticism’s Necessities
Enable Re-examining Evolution and Epigenesis[1]


The issue of the relationship between matter and mind (biology and freedom that makes morality possible) did not commence with Darwin’s (mis-titled) Origin of the Species (more accurate: Origin of Species from Other Species).  In the 18th century alone, one only need recall the British/Scottish Rationalist/Moral Sense school, d’Holbach’s and Bonnet’s materialist reductionism, Leibniz’ pre-established harmony between consciousness and matter, or Lessing’s ugly ditch.  Johann Nicolaus Tetens’ (1777) Philosophische Versuche über die menschliche Natur und ihre Entwicklung was on Kant’s desk as he wrote the Kritik der reinen Vernunft.[2]  The issues (not the technology, to be sure) of today‘s morality and neurobiological reductionism are at the core of Tetens’ debate with Charles Bonnet.  Tetens’ project on the nature and development of humanity is a defense of the complementarity of “evolution” (preformation) and “epigenesis” (novelty), which is engaged by Kant in his discussion of teleology and morals later in the Critique of Judgment.  At issue is causal explanation.  Are causal explanations analytic (grounded merely in perception) or synthetic (requiring the mind to add imperceptible elements to perception)?  This paper engages Kant’s a priori synthetic argument for understanding causal order in nature (physical necessity) as well as causal order in the novelty of creative freedom (self-legislated moral necessity) when it comes to humanity’s capacity to initiate a sequence of events that nature cannot accomplish on its own.  The significance: Humans are moral beings because they can be, not because they must be – and this makes all the difference.