Nate Johnson, PhD

Assistant Professor

Midwestern University 
College of Health Sciences
Biomedical Sciences Program 
Cactus Wren 306B
19555 59th Ave.
Glendale, AZ 85308

Office: (623) 572-3625


PhD Biology Arizona State University 2013
MS Biology Arizona State University 2011
BA Religious Studies & Anthropology Rice University 2000


Scientific Meta-ethics

The majority of historical attempts to ground ethics have been religious or philosophical. My research looks at the impact of attempts to ground ethics scientifically, whether that be psychologically, neurologically, biologically or evolutionarily. Proponents of philosophical systems of ethics in particular have been reluctant to incorporate scientific accounts into their ethical frameworks, typically under the charge that scientific accounts of ethics may violate distinction between facts and values, or give an account of what "is" while failing to account for what "ought to be." In my view, scientific approaches to ethics can generate knowledge that informs ethical frameworks of all persuasions, and the incorporation of ethics and morality as scientific concepts has serious implications for long-standing ethical traditions and their applications. This work is relevant to domains as disparate as assessment of our moral biases and our treatment of animals in scientific research.

Evidence-based Existentialism

The central claim of "existentialism" - that "existence precedes essence" - runs counter to the bulk of scientific inquiry into human ethics and morality. My primary research project is an inquiry into the "essence" that is allegedly preceded. What are the scientific facts about human moral nature? How do they interact with our concepts of choice and moral responsibility? Is there really any evidence that existence precedes essence, that humans are capable of overcoming their natures in an effort to behave morally, whatever that version of "behave morally" may be? This is fundamentally a project engaged in reconciling our biological history and facts about the homo sapiens species with existentialist approaches to morality that grapple with meaning and apparent absurdity in the world. It is intended to pin down our tendencies or biases in the moral domain and take seriously what it would mean to transcend or overcome moral behaviors and proclivities that are built into our nature.

Peer-Reviewed Publications in Progress

Conference Presentations