Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Alexander Levine, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Brook Sadler, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Roger Ariew, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas Williams, Ph.D.


naturalized autonomy, anti-essentialist biology, non-essentialist normativity, ontogenetic, phylogenetic


Biological research has the capacity to inform ethical discussions. There are numerous questions about the nature of sexual orientation, intelligence, gender identity, etc., and many of these questions are commonly approached with the benefit of implicit or explicit biological commitments. The answers to these sorts of questions can have a powerful impact on social, ethical, and political positions. In this project I examine the prospect of naturalizing ethics under the umbrella of developmental systems theory (DST). If one is committed to DST, then those ideas involved in DST that steer biological research will also have implications for ethics. There has been much debate over whether certain human traits or attributes are the consequence of nature or nurture. This kind of question tends to be articulated in dichotomous terms where the focal point of the discussion is over which opposing causal mechanism asserts the most power over the development of these attributes. The debate places particular importance on such distinctions as that between gene and environment, and biology and culture. DST seeks to dismiss such dichotomous accounts. In this sense, DST is an attempt to do biology without these dichotomies. In the process, DST articulates a reconceptualized notion of "the natural." I am interested in how DST’s reconceptualization of the natural can inform a naturalistic approach to ethics. Thus, the aim of this project is to examine the ramifications of taking DST as a guiding principle in the naturalization of ethics.