[This series is part of Section Four, Ethics and the Third Person. An index with links to all parts of the work as they are posted can be found [url=https://forum.evangelicaluniversalist.com/t/sword-to-the-heart-ethics-and-the-third-person/1335/1]here.]
[This series constitutes Chapter 33, “Ethics And Discovered Non-rational Behavior”.]
In the second class of explanation, ethical behaviors are proposed to be irrational responses on our part to stimuli from our environment.
We may assign mistaken explanations to these behaviors later; or we may properly explain them later as irrational behaviors (assuming this proposal is correct) and discover as many links of cause and effect as we can. But the behaviors themselves are automatic reactions and counterreactions between our condition and the condition of the environment.
This does not mean they are unhelpful–on the contrary, the existence of these behaviors is usually explained precisely by their usefulness. Proponents of biological evolution thereby tend to explain at least some of what we call ‘ethical’ behaviors as results of evolutionary development. Proponents of philosophical evolutionism, on the other hand, tend to explain these behaviors entirely as a result of evolutionary development.
Let me clarify that last point: I happen to think that gradualistic biological evolution is a pretty good scientific theory which, although it still has some serious problems, has been refined to the point where it explains at least some natural processes rather effectively (especially so far as natural selection goes). To that extent, I am willing to agree that some of the behaviors linked to ethics are produced by effects that are results of evolutionary development.
But I also think there are elements of ethical behaviors–indeed, the only parts that can accurately be called ‘ethical’, as I hope to show shortly–which are not accounted for by the reactions and counterreactions of non-sentient natural process. The results of the reactions and counterreactions are data upon which I think we are called to actively judge, and not the only data, either; although in a pinch these instincts can also serve as a basic guideline when we have nothing else to go on. (Plus the instincts themselves often serve well for our survival and for other results we might otherwise rationally agree with.)