What is the Origin of Ethics?


Expert economists and evolutionary biologists debate the foundations of our moral instinct at the 2008 Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium

Are humans intrinsically good or are we forever motivated by self-interest? Does ethical behaviour stem from biological evolution or is it something we have learned to calculate?

On Nov. 6, McGill University will host the fourth annual Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium. This year’s topic: Apes or Angels: What is the Origin of Ethics? Four of the world’s leading economists and biologists will debate what economic theory and evolution have to say about human development and ethics.

This year’s symposium commemorates the 150th anniversary of the joint presentation of the theory of natural selection by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace at the Linnean Society in 1858. The debate will deal with the still controversial topic of the relation between evolution and human behaviour.

It will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Stephen Leacock Building, Room 132, 855 Sherbrooke St. W. The panelists are:

Professor Theodore Bergstrom, is the Aaron and Cherie Raznick Chair of Economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Fellow of the Econometric Society. He is renowned for his research on the relation between economics and evolutionary biology, with special attention to the economics of the family, the evolution of altruism and rivalry between siblings, parent-offspring conflicts, marriage institutions, inheritance, and care for the aged.

Link to Prof. Bergstrom’s homepage: http://www.econ.ucsb.edu/~tedb/

Professor Manfred Milinski, Executive Director, Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Biology, in the Department of Evolutionary Ecology, Plön, Germany, conducts research on co-operation, sexual selection and host-parasite co-evolution. One of his current topics of research is the evolution of co-operation among egoists.

Link to Prof. Milinki’s homepage: http://www.mpil-ploen.mpg.de/english/evoleco/staff/milinski.htm

Professor Paul Seabright is a Professor of Economics at the University of Toulouse, France; Chairman of Bruegel's Scientific Council (an independent European think tank based in Brussels); and Research Fellow of the London based Centre for Economic Policy Research. Prof. Seabright’s current research focuses on microeconomic theory, development economics, industrial policy in transition economies and state aids to industry.

Link to Professor Seabright's homepage: http://idei.fr/vitae.php?i=53

Professor Stuart West is Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Edinburgh University; Vice- President, Society for the Study of Evolution; and the Reviews Editor of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology. He works on the evolution of all forms of social behaviour in microbes, such as co-operation within or between species, aggression and fighting, and even spite.

Link to Professor West's homepage: http://www.biology.ed.ac.uk/research/institutes/evolution/homepage.php?i d=swest


Professor Graham Bell, James McGill Professor and an evolutionary biologist in the Department of Biology, McGill University; Founding President of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution; and an Honorary Fellow of St. Peter’s College, Oxford. Prof. Bell’s research areas include experimental evolution, adaptation and adaptive radiation, community ecology and biodiversity, and life cycles and sex.

Link to Professor Bell's homepage: http://biology.mcgill.ca/faculty/bell/

The annual Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium is supported by the Trottier Family Foundation. Lorne M. Trottier, co-founder of Matrox Electronic Systems Ltd., funded the symposium as the realization of his vision of a “public forum to inform, inspire debate and raise public awareness on contemporary issues confronting society.” Dr. Trottier and the Trottier Family Foundation have also been extremely generous McGill University benefactors over the years. The Lorne M. Trottier Building, dedicated in 2004, was the product of a $10-million gift to the university. In 2006, that was followed by a second generous donation of $12 million to establish the Lorne Trottier Chair in Astrophysics and Cosmology in the Faculty of Science, the Lorne Trottier Chair in Aerospace Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering, and associated fellowships for graduate students in both faculties.

On the Web: http://www.mcgill.ca/science/trottier-symposium/

Webcast as of 8 p.m. on Nov. 6: http://www.mcgill.ca/science/trottier-symposium/webcast/

Interviews with the panelists and/or the moderator may be arranged prior to the symposium.

Contact Information

Allison Flynn
Media Relations Office
allison.j.flynn [at] mcgill.ca
Office Phone: 
514 398-7698