Tübingen summer school on “The Evolution of Morality”

The Forum Scientiarum of Tuebingen University organises a summer school on “The Evolution of Morality” (June 12th – 16th, 2012). Twenty graduate students and junior scientists from all over the world will have the opportunity to work on the question of the evolution of morality with Professor Frans de Waal and Professor Gerhard Ernst. Application deadline, March 30.

Topic: What kind of new perspectives and implications can be drawn from insights of the theory of evolution for the understanding of the morality of human beings? The summer school will focus on the evolutionary fundaments of morality presenting as lecturer the primatologist Frans de Waal. Spending much time watching the behavior of apes and monkeys, de Waal brings forward the argument that the core concept of morality has already been present in the pre-social tendencies of nonhuman primates. As a consequence he attacks what he calls the "Veneer Theory", which holds that human ethics and morality – established as a cultural innovation – would only be a thin crust masking our Hobbesian brutish nature.



On the contrary, de Waal proposes that moral actions are direct consequences of social instincts and capabilities common to humans and nonhuman primates. This claim is based on emotive theories of ethics, which claim that morality is "determined by sentiment" (Hume): In this respect the capacities for sympathy, empathy and cooperation as well as reciprocal psychological altruism are crucial. Thee summer school will confront this position with others, and particularly with philosophical perspectives. Philip Kitcher, for example, has presented a careful discussion of the degrees of reciprocal psychological altruism which are beyond the nonhuman primates’ capacities. Consequently he holds that this disposition is no sufficient condition for the rise of moral behaviour. Also, it has been argued that empathy does not constitute a fundamental criterion of moral agency. In this way Christine M. Korsgaard, one among de Waal’s commentators in his book "Primates and Philosophers", puts forward the argument that nonhuman primates are creatures that act on whatever desire or impulse is the strongest at a given moment, but they lack the autonomy with which a person can evaluate those impulses and thus choose intentionally. Without the ability to step back and reflect on these impulses, non-human primates fail to satisfy a necessary condition for moral agency. As a consequence the criteria of human moral agency should include far more than empathic or altruistic dispositions. Ultimately, according to our second lecturer Gerhard Ernst it is problematic to state that morality has evolved out of sentiments and dispositions. He disagrees with the emotivists’ view that the truth or justification of moral judgments were relative to emotional attitudes of the speaker since then moral judgments would lack the normative force that we contend these judgments may have. Thus, Ernst suggests to think of morality as being related to the natural world in a similar way as sciences are themselves. Both, science and morality are faculties of human reason.



The summer school will focus on the hotly debated discourse of what constitutes morality. It will be discussed what it precisely means that human moral agency has its roots in our evolutionary ancestors. Hence, it will be reflected both, the importance and the difficulty of the question about the criteria of human moral agency.


This year ́s Unseld summer school organized by the Forum Scientiarum of Tuebingen University will take place from June 12th afternoon to June 16th noon.

Twenty graduate students and junior scientists from all over the world will have the opportunity to work on the question of the evolution of morality with Professor Frans de Waal and Professor Gerhard Ernst. In the mornings selected participants will have the opportunity to present their own projects pursuing the evolution of morality and discuss these with the lecturers and the group. The afternoon sessions of the summer school will focus on the works of Frans de Waal and Gerhard Ernst. The attendees of the summer school will also follow the Unseld Lecture on the Evolution of Morality held by Frans de Waal and an interdisciplinary discussion between Frans de Waal and Gerhard Ernst open to the public, both events taking place during the course schedule.

Application procedure

To apply for the international summer school, participants need to submit an abstract of up to 1000 words presenting their own projects on the topic of the evolution of morality. From these we will select a number to be presented during the morning sessions of the course. In addition, an application form downloadable from our website (www.unseld-lectures.de/cfa), including a statement of motivation, and a CV according to usual standards are required. Deadline for the receipt of complete applications is March 30th. A letter of admission will reach successful applicants by April 15th.

There is no program fee. The Forum Scientiarum seeks to facilitate the participation of competent students from all over the world – limited financial resources should not affect your decision to apply. We therefore provide participants grants for covering part of their travel expenses, awarded by the Udo Keller Foundation Forum Humanum. Also, the Forum Scientiarum will assist participants finding inexpensive accommodation.

Applications should be sent to


or to our postal address:
Doblerstr. 33
72074 Tuebingen

We ask prospective applicants to subscribe to a mailing list for further updates on this event. For subscription, simply send an e-mail to unseld@fsci.uni-tuebingen.de including the name of your university.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us by e-mail or consult our websitewww.unseld-lectures.de/cfa


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