Coming to terms with an evolutionary perspective on morality.

I work at the intersection of metaethics, epistemology, and moral psychology, with a focus on how the causal influences of (moral) beliefs might undermine their justification.

Portrait image of Michael Klenk

About Michael Klenk

I obtained my PhD in Philosophy in June 2018 at Utrecht University, under the supervision of Herman Philipse. My thesis, Survival of Defeat - Evolution, Moral Objectivity, and Undercutting is available here.
In my dissertation, I assessed whether and how Darwinism about morality, the view that moral thought has an evolutionary origin, impacts moral objectivism, a metaethical view that says that moral facts are independent of anyone's opinion. The challenge is to say how both views can be combined. If they can't be combined, then why is that the case?

Apart from my research, I enjoy organising conferences (examples: Evolution and Moral Epistemology 2018, Debunking and Disagreement 2017, Dutch-Flemish Day of Philosophy 2017, or Science Slam Stuttgart). From September 2018 onward, I will be a lecturer in engineering ethics at Delft University of Technology. If you want to get in touch, please contact me via email.

Below is a visualisation of what I have done so far: Degrees and working experience Michael Klenk


  • 2018/06: I obtained my PhD, with three months left on my contract and, to my great satisfaction, my thesis was awarded 'cum laude', the highest possible distinction in the Netherlands (given to the top 3-5% of the field) (Link to the announcement).
  • 2018/03: Submitted my thesis 'Survival of Defeat - Evolution, Moral Objectivity, and Undercutting' to the reading committee. Now it's time for new projects!
  • 2018/01: Back from a fantastic stay the US and busy with writing up my thesis. Two of my papers have been accepted at the ACU Moral Epistemology Conference and the 2018 St. Andrews CEPPA Graduate Conference.

Submitted / Working Papers

I am currently working on the projects below. Feel free to get in touch!

Modal Security and Moral Objectivity

An argument against Clarke-Doane's Modal Security principle. I try to show that the principle is false as a general constraint on underminers, but that it raises a puzzle about the aim of (moral) belief.

Status: under review.

Debunking and Disagreement

Some argue that evolutionary debunking arguments work only if they reveal a disagreement problem. First, I argue that this is not so. Second, I show that if it were so, then debunking would not pose a problem, because it does not reveal problematic kinds of disagreement.

Status: under review.

Independence and Objectivity in Ethics

Objectivity in ethics is often understood in reference to an independence relation. Roughly, the ethical values are said to be independent of what we humans think about them. I present some counterexamples to this formulation and try to make the notion more precise.

Introduction to Evolutionary Ethics

A brief introduction on evolutionary ethics for an undergraduate Introduction to Philosophy textbook, published by the Rebus Foundation.

Rebus Logo

Speaking the truth in Personal Performance Evaluations

A case study about possible conflicts between personal and professional agency in business contexts, with a particular focus on lying. Under contract with Broadview press for book on business ethics.

Undermining Defeaters

Undermining defeat is relatively well understood for experientially justified beliefs. I assess how it works in the case of a priori justified beliefs.

Status: under review.


Click on the journal cover to get to the published article.

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Book Reviews

These are the books that I have reviewed. Click on the book to get to the published review.

Terence Cuneo, Speech and Morality
Ethical Perspectives 22 (2) 2015
Bobbi S. Low, Why Sex Matters
Metapsychology 19 (36) 2015
Finn Janning, The Happiness of Burnout
Metapsychology 19 (50) 2015
Zygmunt Bauman et al, Management in a Liquid Modern World
Ethical Perspectives 23 (2) 2016
Erik Wielenberg, Robust Ethics
Dialectica 70 (3) 2016
Thompson, A Remarkable Journey
The Quarterly Review of Biology 91 (3) 2016
Michael Tomasello, A Natural History of Human Morality
Metapsychology 20 (20) 2016
Nicholas Baumard, How Evolution Explains our Moral Nature
Metapsychology 20 (36) 2016
Jussim et al, The Social Psychology of Morality
Metapsychology 20 (48) 2016
Bowles, The Moral Economy
Marx and Philosophy Review of Books, 25.01.2017
Richard Joyce, Essay in Moral Skepticism
Ethical Perspectives 24 (1) 2017
Matthew Liao, Moral Brains
Metapsychology 21 (23) 2017