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Augustus E. Jordan
Before Virtue: Ethics as Evolutionary Expertise


This paper examines an unexpected convergence between evolutionary and expertise accounts of moral behavior, and explores the implications of this convergence both philosophically (with reference to arguments about free will and conscious choice) and practically (with reference to how one chooses the good). In outline, the paper argues that virtue ethics can best be understood (psychologically, cognitively and neurologically) as a form of expertise. Here the paper explores in depth the prerequisites for moral choice, the biasing effects of practice on choice, and what, from this perspective, it means to choose the good. Then, virtue (expertise) as a cognitive process is assessed relative to other cognitive processes through the lens of natural selection. Finally, the claim is made that, taken together, evolutionary and expertise accounts not only enable a better formulation of the relation between ethical concepts and behavior but also, when this new understanding is put into practice, better enable people in particular contexts to make what we think of as morally relevant conscious choices. That is, evolutionary and expertise oriented approaches fit the data better together than either does alone, and are together more compelling than alternate, competing models. Together, these models provide a more comprehensive understanding of what it means to be human agents.

Augustus E. Jordan is Acting Dean of the College at Middlebury College, Assistant Professor of Psychology, and Director of the Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious life.  As Dean of the College, Dr. Jordan administers the Student Life division of the College and oversees a variety of departments and programs on campus that work to enrich the intellectual and personal development of students.  In addition, Dean Jordan is Director of the Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life, which sponsors programs for the College community across a wide spectrum of religious, spiritual, and ethical concerns.  Dean Jordan has been at Middlebury since 1996.  He is a licensed psychologist in the State of Vermont, and teaches clinically oriented courses in the Department of Psychology.  He has published on topics ranging from academic dishonesty to professional ethics to family structure and its relation to depression in children.  He received his BA in psychology from Emory University, his MDiv from Yale University, and his PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Notre Dame.  He and his wife Laurel, who serves as Chaplain of the College, have been married for 27 years.  They have three children, ages 25, 22, and 17.


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