Moral Sense Colloquium

Drawing credit, Wolfgang Köhler
A one-day Moral Sense Colloquium will take place at St. Francis College, Brooklyn, N.Y. on 2 June 2017. This would be the third such colloquium with a keynote speaker, a plenary address, and a series of break-out panels on various topics.  

Keynote speaker: Robert Trivers, Ph.D. (Bio below)

St. Francis College is located in beautiful downtown Brooklyn Heights, a very short distance by mass transportation to Manhattan. You could even walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to lower Manhattan. See links below for accommodations. Here is a campus/area map.  

Summary Program HERE

Conference directors:

Gregory F. Tague, Ph.D. (St. Francis College, English)

David C. Lahti, Ph.D. (Queens College, Biology)

Alison Dell, Ph.D. (St. Francis College, Biology)
CALL  = Click CALL for Full Details About the Types of Presentations We're looking for. CALL IS CLOSED - PROGRAM IS SET.

US Travel Visa Link – registrants are responsible for obtaining proper documentation to enter the country: 


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Local Restaurants and Car Services - the second page includes a map

College website

Publication of Conference Proceedings:

Revised conference papers will be considered for publication in the ASEBL Journal. Please visit the ASEBL site, Guidelines page, for details: ASEBL is a peer-reviewed online journal, indexed in the EBSCO Host Humanities Source database and in the Modern Language Association’s International Bibliography. The journal is a member of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals. Deadline: 30 September 2017 for a 2018 publication (pending receipt of a good sample of papers). 


Keynote speaker: Robert Trivers, Ph.D.

We are pleased to announce that ROBERT TRIVERS, Ph.D., will be the keynote speaker at the Moral Sense Colloquium III, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, N.Y., 2 June 2017. For more information, including a detailed Call for papers, please go to

For many of you, Trivers needs no introduction. Here is some information from his website

“I have been an evolutionary biologist since the fall of 1965 when I first learned that natural selection is the key to understanding life and that it favors traits that give individuals an advantage (in producing surviving offspring). Spring of 1966 I learned Hamilton’s kinship theory, which extended one’s self-interest to include not only one’s own offspring but also those of relatives, each devalued by the appropriate degree of relatedness. I was eager to contribute to building social theory based on natural selection, because a scientific system of social theory must, by logic be based on natural selection, and getting the foundations correct would have important implications for understanding our own psyches and social systems. A general system of logic that applies to all creatures also vastly extends the range of relevant evidence. I then published a series of papers on social topics: reciprocal altruism (1971), parental investment and sexual selection (1972), the sex ratio (1973), parent-offspring conflict (1974), kinship and sex ratio in the social insects (1976), summarized in my book Social Evolution (1985).  [....] I devoted 1990 to 2005 to mastering genetics, in particular Selfish Genetic Elements, which typically are harmful to the organism as a whole but spread through within-individual genetic conflict. They infect all known organisms, including ourselves, come in a zoo of forms but can be understood by a logic of genetic conflict continuous with the kind that operates at the individual level (with no internal conflict). [....] Finally, I have recently attempted to master the scientific literature on self-deception and to sketch out some of the many applications of the resulting view.”


In Darwin’s century, while Herbert Spencer and T.H. Huxley famously defended Darwin’s ideas, they also confounded his notion of morality by pitting it against nature (i.e., the flawed ideas of social Darwinism). After Darwin, prominent biologists of the twentieth century have tackled the question of why cooperation extends beyond kin: R. Haldane (in 1932) uses the term altruism; in the 1960s W.D Hamilton addresses the evolution of social behavior, and George C. Williams writes of social donors; by 1971 R.L. Trivers pens his famous article on the evolution of reciprocal altruism. Since then there has been a steady flow of articles and books (popular and academic) on what it means to be moral (and from whence such behavior arose). In his 1990 book Created from Animals, James Rachels argues that the notion of dignity is a human creation devised only to elevate us above animals.

Philosophers (mostly British) of primarily the eighteenth century, in reaction to a number of complex events – religious, social, and scientific – of the seventeenth century, developed a notion of the moral sense. These philosophers, working in an increasingly secular age, argue very strongly that any human goodness was not bestowed from a divinity but was driven by innate human feelings of benevolence or sympathy. Some have written extensively about this very issue: from an evolutionary and biological perspective, we do in fact have a so-called moral sense. Taking the lead from the British Moralists, Darwin, in The Descent of Man, has a chapter on moral faculties and employs the term moral sense. There is a rich history of philosophy that focuses on morality and ethics; now, science is helping us understand much better those concerns and the connection of ancestral human caring to morality. Some psychologists help us understand social-moral decision making in terms of our individual biological construction. Some neuroscientists and biologists have written on these controversial topics – i.e., the connection between the biology of the brain and moral decisions or moral behavior.

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