Autonomous Moral Reflection

If anyone out there (doubtful!) has been following the comments regarding the issue of progressive Christian beliefs and whether or not they “clash” with science, certainly they’ve realized this has turned into a rather big dust-up as they say.  Who knew, right?  Anyway, in many ways it was a very positive exchange because I was made to review much of the relevant literature in those areas.  In the Stanford link I relied much upon, (for information regarding this site see: http://plato.stanford.edu/about.html) there was a section regarding autonomous moral reflection which I found interesting and note the pertinent section here:
So far, we have focused on scientific projects that treat morality in the empirical sense as calling simply for causal explanation, as by appeal to evolutionary influences. This is unexceptionable with regard to the origins of the general human capacity for moral judgment: clearly some causal explanation is required, and an evolutionary explanation is plausible. But things are much more complicated when we consider the explanation of the actual content of moral judgment, feeling and behavior.
We have had a taste above of the way in which scientists might propose to explain our particular moral attitudes or judgments by appeal to specific evolutionary causes as filtered through cultural developments. For example, human beings have (and share with other primates) a strong, emotionally-laden sense of basic fairness, resentment of cheaters, and a desire that they be punished, all of which finds expression in both cultural norms and individual moral judgments. You might experience such feelings if you’ve been the victim of a scam, morally condemning the perpetrators, and this might seem a good candidate for causal explanation in terms of evolved psychological traits.
Caution is needed here, however. Our moral judgments and resulting behaviors cannot just be assumed to be mere causal upshots of some such biological and psychological forces, on a par with the cooperative activity of bees or the resentment felt by capuchin monkeys over unequal rewards for equal work. When a rational agent makes a judgment, whether in the sphere of morality or in such areas as science, mathematics or philosophy, the proper question is not in the first instance what caused that judgment to occur, but what reasons the person had for making it—for thinking it to be true. It is those reasons that typically constitute an explanation of the judgment. They explain by bringing out what the person took (rightly or wrongly) to be the justification for the belief in question—the considerations showing the belief likely to be true. All of this complicates the explanatory project in relation to the thoughts, feelings and actions of rational agents.
It is helpful to illustrate the general point first with other kinds of judgment, and then to return to morality. Consider some judgments in mathematics, philosophy and science:
M: There is at least one prime number between 5,000 and 10,000.

P: If identity claims such as ‘water = H2O’ are true, then they are necessary truths (i.e., true in all possible worlds).
S: There is no such thing as absolute simultaneity.
How do we explain someone’s believing something like M, P or S? We normally need to know her reasons for believing it to be true, which we can then go on to assess as good or bad reasons for such a belief. Either way, we typically take her reasons—and the reasoning associated with them—to explain her belief, which is why we engage seriously with her reasons as such in critical discussion, and go on to inquire into their merits. If, for example, we ask a person why she believes M, and she cites a proof she has found convincing, showing that for any natural number n> 1 there is at least one prime number between n and 2n, we normally take this as a sufficient explanation for why she believes M. What we do not normally do is to appeal directly to independent causes, such as evolutionary or other biological or psychological influences to explain people’s beliefs in these areas. Such independent explanations for beliefs can sometimes be correct, as in the case of someone given a post-hypnotic suggestion, in which case we may regard her judgment as merely caused and the reasons offered as mere rationalization. But this is not the norm.
The reason why we normally explain beliefs such as M, P or S by appeal to the reasons the person gives for them is that we normally assume that the person is capable of intelligent reflection and reasoning and has arrived at her belief for the reasons she gives as a result of that reflection (whether or not the belief is ultimately correct). We assume in general that people are capable of significant autonomy in their thinking, in the following sense:
Autonomy Assumption: people have, to greater or lesser degrees, a capacity for reasoning that follows autonomous standards appropriate to the subjects in question, rather than in slavish service to evolutionarily given instincts merely filtered through cultural forms or applied in novel environments. Such reflection, reasoning, judgment and resulting behavior seem to be autonomous in the sense that they involve exercises of thought that are not themselves significantly shaped by specific evolutionarily given tendencies, but instead follow independent norms appropriate to the pursuits in question (Nagel 1979).
This assumption seems hard to deny in the face of such abstract pursuits as algebraic topology, quantum field theory, population biology, modal metaphysics, or twelve-tone musical composition, all of which seem transparently to involve precisely such autonomous applications of human intelligence. Even if there are evolutionary influences behind our general tendency to engage in certain kinds of mental activity, or behind some of our motives in these pursuits (e.g., if a given musician or poet is motivated to compose music or poetry in order to impress a potential mate), this would not show that the activity is governed in its details by such influences. And again, this assumption of autonomy is borne out in our normal explanations of beliefs such as P above: we take a person at her word that what explains her believing P, for example, is that due to philosophical arguments she’s read and has found convincing she takes ‘water’ to work like a proper name and thinks that it follows from this that ‘water’ refers to whatever molecular compound it picks out in the actual world in all possible worlds in which the compound exists.
Few would deny the autonomy assumption altogether. To do so in the name of providing alternative evolutionary causal explanations of our beliefs would risk self-defeat: for if we lack the relevant intellectual autonomy across the board, then even the biologist’s beliefs about evolutionary biology and its implications would just be attributable to such biological causes, rather than to reasons that provide real warrant for such beliefs within a rational framework with truth-tracking integrity. The challenge to the autonomy assumption is therefore more likely to come in a selective form.[5]”
Because this was too hard to post all in a comment section, I can address it here.  One can see that this goes directly to Bernard’s argument regarding evolution and non-pragmatic knowledge and his ideas regarding premises or the reasoning process.  As we can see, it is a self-defeating argument.  Having access or being able to recognize any non-pragmatic knowledge is based upon our being autonomous rational agents able to process information and change our minds, regardless of evolutionary influence or history.  To deny this is to deny the rationality of one’s reasons for not accepting the very idea.  Bernard’s argument (which we should note is one “extreme”) is addressed further here:
“At one extreme, someone might deny that the autonomy assumption applies to the moral domain at all: we either lack these capacities in the domain of moral thought, or at least never exercise them. Such a claim seems to have little plausibility, however. Why should it be that human intelligence and innovation know virtually no bounds in other domains—as illustrated by feats of autonomous inquiry and creativity in quantum field theory, algebraic topology, modal metaphysics, or symphonic composition—and yet when it comes to moral thinking we remain stuck in ruts carved out for us by evolution, slavishly following patterns of thought prescribed for us by evolved, domain-specific mechanisms, with all of our cultural developments providing mere variations on those themes?
The very fact of human self-consciousness makes such a picture unlikely: for as soon as we are told that our thinking is constrained along evolutionarily given paths, our very awareness of those influences provides the opening to imagine and to pursue new possibilities. If you are told, for example, that you are evolutionarily conditioned to favor your group heavily over outsiders in your moral judgments, you are able, as a reflective agent, to take this very fact into account in your subsequent moral reflection, deciding that this favoring is unwarranted and thus coming to a new, more egalitarian moral view.[7] Analogously, it may be true that we possess dedicated mechanisms for ‘reading’ faces as trustworthy or threatening, and often make split-second judgments on this basis; but this doesn’t preclude our ability to revise such judgments, as when we reflect on the behavior of someone with ‘trustworthy facial features’ and realize that he is actually a scoundrel.”
And then we come to this portion of the Stanford entry (Sec. 4.1):
“It is far from clear, however, why realists should accept such strong claims to begin with. As discussed in section 2, it seems doubtful that the scientific evidence itself supports such strong claims about the etiology of ‘our’ moral beliefs. Even if there is significant evolutionary influence on the content of many of our moral beliefs, it remains possible that many of our moral beliefs are arrived at partly (or in some cases wholly) through autonomous moral reflection and reasoning, just as with our mathematical, scientific and philosophical beliefs.
Consider how a moral realist will approach the above debunking argument. It is intended to show us that realism is untenable, which of course means that this conclusion cannot just be assumed from the start. Yet if we begin the argument allowing that there may be independent moral truths, then why should we accept the initial claim about the pervasive influence of evolutionary forces on the content of our moral thinking in the first place? If there are independent moral truths, then we may plausibly have grasped many of them through autonomous exercises of our capacities for moral reflection, whereby we have come to recognize good reasons for thinking certain moral propositions to be true, by correctly grasping that certain features of actions are wrong-making, say.
For example, your belief that human trafficking is wrong is plausibly best explained by citing your reasons for holding it: you believe it’s wrong for the reasons you give, such as the fact that it causes tremendous suffering and deprivation, violates the basic dignity and rights of its victims, and so on. From a realist perspective, these features you cite in giving your reasons for the belief are in fact wrong-making features of human trafficking, i.e., features that make trafficking wrong and therefore make true the moral proposition that human trafficking is wrong. On this picture, you therefore believe that trafficking is wrong because it is wrong and you’ve come to recognize the moral fact that it is wrong by recognizing the reasons why it is wrong.
Unless realism has already been rejected for other reasons, then, this picture is an open possibility at the start of the debate, which means that the realist is entitled to hold that many of our moral beliefs are in fact not merely caused by evolutionary and other ‘morally blind’ influences, but are instead well-grounded responses to moral reality. That is, the realist need never grant the debunker’s strong claims to the effect that our moral beliefs across the board are saturated with evolutionary influence (see section 2). Perhaps some are and some aren’t, and the proportions will depend on the extent to which we’ve successfully exercised autonomous reflection in arriving at our moral beliefs, which is a wide open question. If there are enough autonomous beliefs in the mix, and we can identify them, then the rest of the argument will not go through (FitzPatrick 2008a,b).[10]
Bernard accepted the fact that, “…for sake of argument, …your sources believe otherwise…” (wow, that was an understatement!)- but felt the Stanford people (or myself) were not addressing his further questions and points such as:
“But you’ve not shown me how these sources get around the problem of grounding their moral reasoning in pre-existing truths.” -Bernard
I don’t even know what “moral” reasoning would be or why it’s pertinent.  Reason is a value-laden concept and peculiar entirely to the question at hand, so again, I don’t know what this means or where the clash with science is in this.  The question isn’t even about “grounding their moral (again, what does that even mean?) reasoning in pre-existing truths,” but rather does selection  prevent us from ever recognizing an objective morality/pre-existing truths, if such existed.  So, again, it appears Bernard may not even be addressing the issue here or engaging the Stanford quotes above.
“Thus, if we take evolution seriously, we must conclude that the human mind does not reliably track moral truths.” -Bernard
“So, I agree with the Stanford site when it says science will not settle whether moral truths exist. Science does, however, suggest we as humans have no access to these truths.” -Bernard
“Science” suggests no such thing.  Certain philosophical narratives do such as philosophical naturalism/materialism/empiricism.  No disagreement there.  My response is that the above and the entire Stanford entry/essay/summation do address these questions and points.  I challenge anyone out there (who cares) to read the entire Stanford entry and show otherwise.  Simply quote, show how it is does not address these points and questions, and cite.  Now, one might not agree with the Stanford people.  That is another question.  The question here is does the Stanford entry address each and every one of Bernard’s questions and points.  I say it does.  It would be very easy to prove me wrong.  Or, one could show how I am reading the entry incorrectly or out of context.  Either way, it would be easy to demonstrate and I await any attempts.
Bernard had further assertions here at the end:

“I claim that instinct is going to come into the equation at some point, and that evolutionary theory suggest that such instincts are grounded in pragmatic concerns (originally biological, and in time with cultural influence, to answer your time gap question).”
We need to note here that Bernard is assuming the influence is “cultural” only and not a possible response to true objective moral categories, so he begs the question as that is the very thing disputed.  Regardless, the above (and the entire entry) addresses his point here as well.  And how does this claim even make sense?  The very point is that over time instinct is notgoing to come into play (in any sort of completely determinate way) and that is the very reason we can recognize non-pragmatic truths.  The quote above directly contradicts Bernard’s claim.  And on and on it goes.
So what started out as a supposed clash with science and evolution has now devolved into a philosophical disagreement, something I said it would devolve into at the very beginning of the conversation.  I was a prophet.  Pretty easy to see though (I’m not much of a prophet really).
The bottom line is that Bernard’s problem is not with my views.  His problem is with a neutral, peer reviewed, academic source (one of the most respected universities in the world).  He should feel free to take them on.

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For further reference and quotes that explicitly or implicitly address Bernard’s points and questions see:
“The above sorts of questions, which are receiving growing attention in the sciences, all pertain to morality understood as a set of empirical phenomena to be explained: it is an empirical fact about human beings that we make moral judgments, have certain feelings and behave in certain ways, and it is natural for the sciences to seek causal explanations for such phenomena. At the same time, however, it is a very complex matter—and one often neglected outside of philosophy—how such empirical, explanatory projects are related to the very different sets of questions and projects pursued by philosophers when they inquire into the nature and source of morality.” (Sec 1)
“As we will see, though the two sets of issues are distinct, the scientific explanatory projects raise potential challenges for certain philosophical views, and at the same time attention to philosophical issues raises doubts about some of the explanatory claims made in the name of science, which often rely on controversial philosophical assumptions. Progress in this area will not be made either by doing moral philosophy in isolation from the sciences or by taking morality out of the hands of philosophers and looking to scientific inquiry in isolation.”
It is, for example, a matter of live debate in contemporary metaethics whether there are knowable moral truths—correct answers to at least some questions about what is morally good or bad, right or wrong. If there are, as many philosophers (and non-philosophers) believe, then this will likely make a difference to the explanation of at least some of our moral beliefs and behaviors. Our belief in equal human dignity, for example, along with derivative beliefs about the wrongness of slavery or rape, might be sufficiently explained by our having grasped the moral truth that human beings have such dignity and so should not be treated as “mere means” (see section 2.4). Similarly, the belief that we have moral obligations to mitigate suffering even among distant strangers might be explained at least in part by our having grasped the moral fact that pointless suffering is intrinsically bad and that this gives us good reason to mitigate it where we can.
If this is so, then scientists will be overreaching if they claim that “causal explanations of brain activity and evolution…already cover most known facts about behavior we term ‘moral’” (Wilson 1998, 54). Instead, a significant amount of moral judgment and behavior may be the result of gaining moral knowledge, rather than just reflecting the causal conditioning of evolution. This might apply even to universally held moral beliefs or distinctions, which are often cited as evidence of an evolved “universal moral grammar” (Mikhail 2011). For example, people everywhere and from a very young age distinguish between violations of merely conventional norms and violations of norms involving harm, and they are strongly disposed to respond to suffering with concern (Nichols 2004). But even if this partly reflects evolved psychological mechanisms or ‘modules’ governing social sentiments and responses, much of it may also be the result of human intelligence grasping (under varying cultural conditions) genuine morally relevant distinctions or facts—such as the difference between the normative force that attends harm and that which attends mere violations of convention.
We will look in more detail later at this and other possibilities for explaining moral judgment and behavior. The point so far is just that there are plausible philosophical accounts of at least some moral judgment and behavior that appeal to independent exercises of judgment—perhaps in grasping moral truths, or perhaps just in forming reflective commitments—rather than to causal conditioning by evolutionary factors. There is a danger, then, of begging central questions if we draw general conclusions about “the” explanation of “our” moral thought and behavior based on scientific considerations—as is common in discussions of scientific work in this area. We may instead need a plurality of explanatory models. The best explanation for deeply reflective moral judgments may look quite different from the explanation for unreflective psychological dispositions we share with other primates, and there may be mixed explanations for much that lies in between.” (Sec. 1.1)
“Many moral beliefs—for example, concerning the moral irrelevance of sexual preference, the moral equality of persons of all races and nationalities, or moral obligations even to future generations in far away countries—are much more plausible candidates for being upshots of autonomous moral reflection and reasoning. Indeed, many philosophers take them to be plausible candidates for moral truths, grasped through reflection that reveals good reasons for believing them, which is therefore what explains our moral beliefs and behavior in these cases.” (Sec. 2.5)
“On the face of it, the mere fact that natural selection would not have ‘designed’ our moral faculties to track moral truths accurately (as it plausibly designed our perceptual faculties to track facts about medium sized objects in typical human environments) is not obviously problematic. There are, after all, lots of cases where we seem to be able to grasp genuine truths even though those truths play no role in the story of how our basic mental capacities evolved. We are able to grasp truths of quantum field theory or higher dimensional topology or, for that matter, philosophy (or so we are assuming in even engaging in this debate) even though those truths had nothing to do with why the basic mental capacities underlying these abilities evolved in Pleistocene hominins. Those capacities evolved in response to selection pressures in ancestral hunter-gatherer environments, and we have simply learned how to develop, train and exercise them in cultural contexts to discover truths that go far beyond any that were relevant to the evolution of those underlying capacities. Philosophers who endorse some form of moral realism have typically believed that we’ve done the same thing in grasping moral truths (see sections 2.4–2.5).”
“In general, the worry about Joyce’s debunking argument is similar to the worry about Street’s: unless we start out already assuming (against the realist) that there are no knowable moral truths, it is hard to see why we should accept Joyce’s premise that we possess a complete non-moral geneaology of moral judgment, and hence that it is explanatorily superfluous to posit moral truths. Whether or not the non-moral geneaology is complete is precisely what is in question in ongoing metaethical debates: realists, who posit knowable moral truths, can reasonably hold that the correct explanation for at least many of our moral beliefs does appeal to moral truths or facts that we have grasped, while anti-realists, who deny the existence of such truths, claim that the correct explanation for all of our moral beliefs involves no such appeal. The issue remains controversial. So unless one has independently settled that issue against realism, one is unlikely to accept the premise that there is a complete non-moral genealogy of our moral beliefs: there may well be a partial non-moral genealogy, for the sorts of reasons Joyce gives, but it will be complete only if none of our moral beliefs are the result of our having grasped moral truths; and this negative claim will be very unlikely if there are in fact knowable moral truths (since we would plausibly have grasped some of them, and they would thus figure into the explanation of some of our moral beliefs). We should therefore feel compelled to grant Joyce’s premise that there is such a complete non-moral genealogy only if we have already given up on the idea of knowable moral truths. But that makes it hard to see how the argument as a whole can be used to persuade anyone who doesn’t already accept its conclusion.”
“Thus, although the evolutionary story fits naturally with a merely non-cognitivist metaethical view, it may fit equally well with a cognitivist view. If one rejects the existence of moral truths, the latter would then lead to an error theory (Mackie 1977). But as discussed in section 4.1, it is far from clear how much support evolutionary biology itself lends to moral anti-realism or irrealism. It is consistent with plausible evolutionary stories that although our capacities for normative guidance originally evolved for reasons that had nothing to do with moral truths as such, we now regularly employ them to deliberate about and to communicate moral truths. So all three metaethical views discussed here—expressivism, error theory and moral realism—remain on the table.”

Again, I think any fair, rational, and reasonable person will see that even if we disagree with all these quotes, they do indeed address every one of Bernard’s objections and points.  The real problem is that he just doesn’t like the answers.
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36 Responses to Autonomous Moral Reflection

  1. Hi Darrell

    Thanks for posting this. it does indeed get to the heart of the discussion we have been having. And it is, undoubtedly, a complex, important and subtle area of enquiry. It may well be that I am missing something fundamental, but if you have the patience, I will keep looking for what that something might be.

    Most helpfully, the article here offers an example to show what it is getting at. To quote:

    “For example, your belief that human trafficking is wrong is plausibly best explained by citing your reasons for holding it: you believe it's wrong for the reasons you give, such as the fact that it causes tremendous suffering and deprivation, violates the basic dignity and rights of its victims, and so on. From a realist perspective, these features you cite in giving your reasons for the belief are in fact wrong-making features of human trafficking, i.e., features that make trafficking wrong and therefore make true the moral proposition that human trafficking is wrong. On this picture, you therefore believe that trafficking is wrong because it is wrong and you've come to recognize the moral fact that it is wrong by recognizing the reasons why it is wrong.”

    So, here we have an example of reasoning our way to a moral conclusion. We oppose human trafficking, because it constitutes an affront to human dignity, causes suffering etc; which we have already recognised as wrong. In other words, we reason from our existing moral beliefs (something about dignity or suffering) to an inferred further judgement, regarding trafficking. I absolutely understand this process, and agree that we have exactly this type of intellectual autonomy, and that it underpins many of our moral judgements.

    You will have anticipated my query, I am sure. By what process do we then imagine the knowledge that affronts to dignity are wrong in the first place? In other words, imagine we actually live in a world where affronts to human dignity are morally correct, and our assuming otherwise is in fact a gross moral error. What makes us think this is not our world? What is the method by which our intuitions on this matter, as implied by the example on trafficking, come to have any accuracy?

    That's the bit I don't understand. I don't see it addressed here, but as I say, perhaps I'm missing a crucial step.

    Bernard

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  2. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    First of all, do you see that your question is entirely a philosophical one? Second, by noting this: “I absolutely understand this process, and agree that we have exactly this type of intellectual autonomy, and that it underpins many of our moral judgements…”, you admit that selection is off the table because we can then grasp and understand non-pragmatic knowledge, regardless of what was only necessary in earlier stages of life.

    Do you really mean to tell us you can’t find anywhere, in the entire Stanford entry, or this post, where that question is addressed (whether you agree with them or not)? Seriously?

    My goodness, your question is addressed in the paragraph preceding the one you quote and the one right after it. Really? You don’t see that? You really are missing something.

    It is also addressed in the second to last paragraph that begins, “In general, the worry about Joyce's debunking argument…” It is also addressed, at least implicitly, in many other areas.

    That fact you can’t see that the entire entry, this post, and the quotes noted absolutely address your questions and points is, frankly, amazing. Either tell us where I am reading him incorrectly or why the Stanford writer is wrong, but please quit telling us your questions or points aren't addressed. They are clearly and obviously addressed.

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  3. Hi Darrell

    The point I am asking to be addressed is a tremendously simple one. How, in the example of autonomous moral reasoning the author provides, are the premises themselves (that there is something wrong with causing suffering unnecessarily, for example) arrived at?

    I know you profess amazement that I can not see how this point is addressed, but I do urge you to reread the entry very carefully before leaping to this conclusion.

    So, for example, you say the point is addressed in the paragraph preceding the one I quoted. Well, here the author writes:

    “If there are independent moral truths, then we may plausibly have grasped many of them through autonomous exercises of our capacities for moral reflection, whereby we have come to recognize good reasons for thinking certain moral propositions to be true, by correctly grasping that certain features of actions are wrong-making, say.”

    Okay, so we may correctly grasp that certain features are wrong making. Using what method, exactly? Clearly not by reasoning, for the example of reasoning given shows exactly the problem, ones reasons by applying existing principles to new situations. But how are these principles arrived at? The article you quote never says. It simply asserts it can be done.

    My argument is that whenever we unpack this assertion, and attempt to outline a method by which this essential moral knowledge gets into the brain, we run into a problem with science, either at the selection end, if we assert the brain is designed to be capable of such recognition, or at the physics end, if we assert this non-physical feature of the universe is somehow read by the brain.

    So, no, the article doesn't address the fundamental issue I'm trying to understand. If you are certain I am misreading it, then it will be a very simple matter for you to explain how you think these moral premises are arrived at.

    Bernard

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  4. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “The point I am asking to be addressed is a tremendously simple one.”

    It is a simple point and it has been addressed repeatedly. We all know what your point it, we get it.

    “If there are independent moral truths, then we may plausibly have grasped many of them through autonomous exercises of our capacities for moral reflection, whereby we have come to recognize good reasons for thinking certain moral propositions to be true, by correctly grasping that certain features of actions are wrong-making, say.” -Stanford

    “Okay, so we may correctly grasp that certain features are wrong making. Using what method, exactly? Clearly not by reasoning, for the example of reasoning given shows exactly the problem, ones reasons by applying existing principles to new situations. But how are these principles arrived at? The article you quote never says. It simply asserts it can be done.” –Bernard

    Clearly it is by reasoning. What do you think “our capacities for moral reflection, whereby we have to come to recognize good reasons for thinking…” is referring to? It is referring to a process of reflecting and recognizing good reasons—that is a process of reasoning. The article very specifically addresses how the principles are arrived at. Further it notes:

    “It is far from clear, however, why realists [my position] should accept such strong claims [Bernard’s claims] to begin with. As discussed in section 2, it seems doubtful that the scientific evidence itself supports such strong claims about the etiology of 'our' moral beliefs. Even if there is significant evolutionary influence on the content of many of our moral beliefs, it remains possible that many of our moral beliefs are arrived at partly (or in some cases wholly) THROUGH AUTONOMOUS MORAL REFLECTION AND REASONING [emphasis added], just as with our mathematical, scientific and philosophical beliefs.” -Stanford

    Clearly it is addressed. Perhaps you should read more carefully.

    “My argument is that whenever we unpack this assertion, and attempt to outline a method by which this essential moral knowledge gets into the brain, we run into a problem with science, either at the selection end, if we assert the brain is designed to be capable of such recognition, or at the physics end, if we assert this non-physical feature of the universe is somehow read by the brain.”

    What indeed are you talking about? You have given up the physics charge (you agreed the panpsychism view doesn’t violate any laws of physics) and you have given up the selection charge by agreeing that you, “…absolutely understand this process, and agree that we have exactly this type of intellectual autonomy, and that it underpins many of our moral judgements.”

    Finally, your question is addressed in the response regarding Joyce and Street in the other reference I gave you (second to last paragraph). And this also shows that this is a philosophical disagreement and not one over science or evolution.

    Look, you disagree with the Stanford writer (and the editorial board that signed off on this entry). That is fine. I agree with them. You are entitled to your personal opinion that my views clash with science. I will take the Stanford people over you and they say otherwise. A freshman student of philosophy or even one of the sciences could read the Stanford entry and (whether they agreed or disagreed with the entry in general) see that it supports my view and not yours.

    Anything else?

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  5. Hi Darrell

    We both agree that one can reason ones way to moral conclusions. Our difference is that you seem to be arguing that the moral premises from which you argue can also be reasoned towards. Is this right?

    I am saying that this is not possible. Rather, this chain must at some point begin with an unreasoned assumption. In other words, no system of reason is self sustaining.

    The example given on the site shows this very well. We can reason our way to trafficking being wrong only by first assuming causing suffering, or some other such moral action, is wrong making.

    If the starting unreasoned assumptions have as their basis biological or cultural evolution, then we should conclude they are pragmatic n their nature, rather than objectively true. And at this point, we can not assume any conclusions reasoned to from them are objectively true.

    So, do I have you right? Are you indeed arguing we can reason to a moral truth without first making a moral assumption? If so, I challenge you to give me an example of such reasoning.

    Or, maybe you agree there must be starting moral assumptions, but think we can use some non-reaosned method to conclude their objective moral truth. If so, what is it?

    Bernard

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  6. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    We understand perfectly if you don't really want to respond to what I actually wrote in my last response.

    You clearly disagree with the Stanford people. We get that. And you can no longer suggest they are not addressing your questions. If you wish to tell us why or where they are wrong, please do. Perhaps you should take it up on your own blog.

    The fact remains: I am in agreement with the Stanford people(which unless you can show from some source otherwise, is the current mainstream scientific and philosophical summation in this area)and you are not.

    You really need to get over it and move on. You have nothing more to say here. Thanks for sharing your opinions however.

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  7. Hi Darrell

    I'm just interested in whether or not you, as a progressive Christian, can explain how one reasons to a moral belief without first committing to a prior moral belief. If you think it can be done, why not show how? It should be a simple enough matter.

    You say this is addressed in the Stanford passage, but the quotes you supply assert this is happening, but do not offer a way around the problem of the necessity of prior belief.

    So, are you able to give an example of how one moral belief you hold is reasoned to, without appealing to some other, prior moral belief.

    Or, alternatively, explain how this prior moral belief could be reached at without reasoning, such that we could have any confidence that it reflects an objective truth.

    Bernard

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  8. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “You say this is addressed in the Stanford passage, but the quotes you supply assert this is happening, but do not offer a way around the problem of the necessity of prior belief.”

    The Stanford entry is not interested in that question in relation to evolutionary biology and morality and whether this is a “problem” to “get around” isn't their focus either. It is another question entirely and most certainly a philosophical question. As I've stated many times now, since you can’t even concede this is a philosophical disagreement and not one over science or evolution, there is nothing more to be said here. As I pointed out to you (but you didn't want to address-just like you couldn't address my last response) this passage is relevant to your question and what is most pertinent (ironic?) about it is that it poses your “problem” to the one (you) asserting evolutionary challenges (the anti-realist) to the existence of an objective morality (the realist or me):

    “In general, the worry about Joyce's debunking argument is similar to the worry about Street's [and Bernard’s]: unless we start out already assuming (against the realist) that there are no knowable moral truths, it is hard to see why we should accept Joyce's premise that we possess a complete non-moral geneaology of moral judgment, and hence that it is explanatorily superfluous to posit moral truths. Whether or not the non-moral geneaology is complete is precisely what is in question in ongoing metaethical debates: realists, who posit knowable moral truths, can reasonably hold that the correct explanation for at least many of our moral beliefs does appeal to moral truths or facts that we have grasped, while anti-realists, who deny the existence of such truths, claim that the correct explanation for all of our moral beliefs involves no such appeal. The issue remains controversial. So unless one has independently settled that issue against realism, one is unlikely to accept the premise that there is a complete non-moral genealogy of our moral beliefs: there may well be a partial non-moral genealogy, for the sorts of reasons Joyce gives, but it will be complete only if none of our moral beliefs are the result of our having grasped moral truths; and this negative claim will be very unlikely if there are in fact knowable moral truths (since we would plausibly have grasped some of them, and they would thus figure into the explanation of some of our moral beliefs). We should therefore feel compelled to grant Joyce's premise that there is such a complete non-moral genealogy “only” if we have already given up on the idea of knowable moral truths. But that makes it hard to see how the argument as a whole can be used to persuade anyone who doesn't already accept its conclusion.”

    As noted above, “…unless one has independently settled that issue against realism [my position], one is unlikely to accept the premise that there is a complete non-moral genealogy [Bernard’s position] of our moral beliefs…”

    The writer is correctly pointing out that this is a philosophical disagreement (metaethical) and these other issues would need to first be settled before these debunking arguments would work.

    But again, even here, you clearly disagree with the Stanford people. So all the way around you find yourself outside the mainstream view, whether regarding evolution/science or even the philosophical side. Thus, you have no business telling others their views clash with science.

    How many times do I need to point this out? Move on. You have your opinions—great. I will side with the philosophic and scientific consensus.

    Like

  9. Burk says:

    Our moral reason is far from autonomous. Asserting otherwise doesn't make it so. For instance, we always seem to value ourselves over other beings. Why is that? Could it be that we are expressing an instinctive, subjective attachment to ourselves, individually and corporately?

    Every other moral conclusion is likewise based in “slavish service to evolutionarily given instincts”, because their basic premise is what is good.. for us. So it is easy to show empirically that the autonomy assertion is false in the area of morals, as it is not in the other areas of science mentioned, because there are empirical criteria available.

    What would the “independent norms” be “appropriate to the pursuits in question”? There are no possible independent or objective norms, because morals are irreducibly subjective. We want what is good for us, and they want what is good for them. If we depend on them, then we have to come to some agreement, ranging from democratic cooperation to slavery. If not, we typically exterminate them. So a great deal depends on who “we” and “them” are. There is no objective standard to appeal to, and none of the realist proponents can point to anything of that sort more solid than something we think is right, or has been written down by someone, etc.

    ” If you are told, for example, that you are evolutionarily conditioned to favor your group heavily over outsiders in your moral judgments, you are able, as a reflective agent, to take this very fact into account in your subsequent moral reflection, deciding that this favoring is unwarranted and thus coming to a new, more egalitarian moral view.”

    Why would one be motivated to do so? That is the missing ingredient. The reasons for doing so in our ambient world are typically practical ones of avoiding wars and waste. Even if we use empathic motivations to support such a judgement, we are exercising fundamentally subjective criteria to make ourselves feel good. The whole point of setting up moral rules and philosophies is to guide moral reasoning which all remains based on subjective criteria.

    “For example, your belief that human trafficking is wrong is plausibly best explained by citing your reasons for holding it: you believe it's wrong for the reasons you give, such as the fact that it causes tremendous suffering and deprivation, violates the basic dignity and rights of its victims, and so on.”

    Nothing objective here, needless to say. The writer sinks his own boat. The only thing I have to add is that our empathy to these subjective conditions as moral criteria is itself a subjective event, and is subject to cultural cultivation.

    Anyhow, the point of the whole excercise is to show that some large portion of the philosophy community is way off base here. So citing peer-reviewed philosophy articles is highly problematic when you want to show what the scientific consensus is, or even to show what rises to the bar of basic sense. YOu would have to go to, like, scientists to do so.

    Like

  10. Hi Darrell

    I understand that realists posit knowable moral truths. I am arguing that we have no good reason to believe that the evolved mind can grasp such truths, should they exist. This is not an assumption, but rather a reasoned conclusion from the science.

    If our brain is designed by selection, then it is predisposed ot detecting pragmatic truths. We know of no process by which the evolved mind could get hold of moral truths.

    So, when you article writes “realists, who posit knowable moral truths, can reasonably hold that the correct explanation for at least many of our moral beliefs does appeal to moral truths or facts that we have grasped,” I would ask, how have we grasped them, given our brain is designed via selection? This is the question I have asked all along, and as yet, it hasn't been answered.

    The only process offered is reason, but the problem with this is simply that reason works only by presupposing other moral truths. If the pre-supposed truths are not themselves objectively true, then we have no reason to expect those reasoned to be will be true either.

    You ask whether this is a scientific or philosophical dispute, but this is a false dichotomy. In fact, this is a dispute about reason. It is scientific in the sense that it asks, what point of view is logically consistent with the established science? Any dispute about reason is, of course, n part philosophical (in the same way that a dispute about whether or not creationism is consistent with science would be philosophical).

    I am accusing you of an error of reason. And it is this: if you propose we reach objective moral truth by way of reason, then this requires the assumption of a prior moral truth. This appears to be a claim you reject, and on one of this one of us is reasoning incorrectly.

    You could resolve this disagreement by showing us how to reason to a moral truth without presupposing a prior moral truth.

    Bernard

    Like

  11. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    Thanks for proving my point and noting this is a philosophical disagreement as you attempt an argument from a philosophical naturalism/materialism, position, which the entry addresses (whether you agree or not with its conclusions).

    And by the way, the editorial board that signed off on this entry, I'm sure, is composed of people who know as much about biology as you do. That they would have an entry involving evolution and not have people knowledgeable involved is hard to imagine. You over-reach.

    But again, I will give you this: At least you have the courage to just come out and say these guys are wrong or that their views too clash with science. That is fine. But I'm with them

    Like

  12. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    I have read the Stanford's article and I must say its attempt to defend moral realism against the “Darwinian challenge” is astonishingly weak, especially so if we consider that the author of the article (William FitzPatrick) is himself a committed realist.

    The idea, repeated many times, that we can use autonomous moral reflection and reasoning to get at moral truths is, as Bernard points out, a claim made without any justification whatsoever. Using examples like “if A and B are wrong, then we can deduce that C is wrong” does not even begin to address the issue. Why are A and B wrong? Presumably because X and Y are? But such a chain of reasoning must begin somewhere (with unproven assumptions).

    Moreover, the analogy with mathematical and scientific truths (being obtained by “reasoning”) is deeply misleading.

    Mathematical truths have always the form “given this set of axioms and these rules of logic, then so and so follow”. Which means mathematical truths are relative, something you don't want to be the case, I assume, for moral truths.

    As for science, there is a very well defined experimental method of asserting its “truths”. It just doesn't follow, as the author argues, that because we can grasp “truths of quantum field theory” we could also grasp moral truths. We don't “grasp” truths of physics, we check them out with experiments.

    Like

  13. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    I’m shocked; you chose to not address the Stanford quote or any of my points!

    You are just rehashing everything you've already posited and it has already been shot down. You even agreed! The non-pragmatic argument is gone and so is the physics charge.

    Now we finally get to it—are you admitting that this is a philosophical disagreement over “reason” which is a philosophical term (in the context of moral objectivity or metaethical discussions)?

    If you are ready to do that, we could have a different conversation. If you are going to keep up this completely discredited assertion (not discredited by me but by the Stanford people) that my views clash with science or evolution, then we are done. That charge is a joke. It’s not even worthy of further discussion. My goodness man, the Stanford entry undercuts everything you've been throwing out. If you can't even see that, then what is the point? If they can't convince you, then I certainly cannot. And I don't mean convince you you are wrong, just that these other views(mine) do not clash with science or evolution.

    Like

  14. Darrell says:

    JP,

    You will forgive me if I side with Stanford (and their editorial board) over you.

    I guess there are a lot of people out there (including world class universities) whose views (according to your guys) clash with science.

    Yeah, that's probably a reasonable claim.

    Like

  15. Darrell says:

    By the way JP, I hope you are not still going to try and salvage a “memories are physical things” type argument. Hopefully you've given that up.

    If so, I think we are done here. You guys should probably write Stanford and continue your arguments with them.

    Like

  16. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    If you actually answered my points instead of invoking “Stanford”, that could be more productive. For example, are you saying that the analogy between grasping scientific and moral truths is sound? To me, it's obviously isn't. If you think it is, you should explain what is the equivalent of the experimental method.

    As for memories… Well, your strategy seems to flatly deny the obvious. I have provided many sources from the scientific side stating clearly that memories are stored in the brain, you have provided none claiming the opposite and, yet, you say that science is on your side. It is simply impossible to read the science and conclude that all they're saying is that there are “correlations”. Even many of your own sources agree with this.

    The only way forward would be for you to provide just one scientific source for your claim… I mean, you're so good at finding quotes. Why can't you do this? (Answer: because there isn't any).

    Like

  17. Darrell says:

    JP,

    I don't need to address them–the Stanford entry does. You disagree with them–I get it. You disagree with them so I guess their views clash with science too. Does everyone else's views clash but your own?

    Your memory claim is entirely without foundation because you never could get around the difference between correlation and causation and you never attempted to address my last response to you.

    Are we done?

    Like

  18. Darrell says:

    You three are like the many-headed Hydra…

    Like

  19. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    I'm actually interested in your opinion. This is what a conversation is about, right?

    I assume that FitzPatrick believes the analogy between math & science and moral truths works because he's actually using it. I think it is misleading for the reasons I've given: mathematical truths are relative and scientific truths are verified by experiment. None of this applies to moral truths and there is nothing in the article to explain why this is a not a problem. He's only saying that all three are “reasonings” and, therefore, analogous. I disagree.

    What do you think? If you think the analogy is fair, you need to explain why the differences are not important.

    As for memories, I'm only asking that you provide a scientific source for your claim that neuroscience claims only correlations; so far, you have declined to do so while consistently claiming I'm wrong. The quotes I've given are very clear and unambiguous: it won't do to simply deny that they mean what they say.

    This is an entirely legitimate request as we're trying to discuss what the science actually says and I have provided many sources in support of my interpretation. To be sure, it seems to me very clear that the neuroscience of memory is set in naturalistic (physical) terms.

    Like

  20. Darrell says:

    JP,

    “I'm actually interested in your opinion. This is what a conversation is about, right?”

    But I’m not as bold as you guys as to claim that the views of this editorial board and writer, of one the most respected universities in the world, clash with science and evolution. You guys made this about, not your own opinions (Who really cares about personal opinions?), but about the conclusions of “science”. You appealed to an authority out there that you were the appointed spokespeople for. But now that I’m quoting from neutral scientific and philosophical sources, you don’t like it.

    Unlike you guys, I don’t claim to be smarter or better informed than recognized experts in the field publishing in a respected scholarly encyclopedia. So I am happy to agree with their opinions and conclusions.

    As for memories, the only thing you’ve ever provided was examples of correlation (something no one disagrees with). You could never deal with any of the neutral academic links I provided and their summations of correlation and causation. You had no argument to address. You were making a mistake of logic. Like I said, if you want to pick up where you left off, please do. Otherwise, if you can’t show where my views clash with science or evolution—move on.

    Like

  21. Darrell says:

    Reading comprehension much?

    How could anyone read this:

    “In general, the worry about Joyce's debunking argument is similar to the worry about Street's [and Bernard’s]: unless we start out already assuming (against the realist) that there are no knowable moral truths, it is hard to see why we should accept Joyce's premise that we possess a complete non-moral geneaology of moral judgment, and hence that it is explanatorily superfluous to posit moral truths. Whether or not the non-moral geneaology is complete is precisely what is in question in ongoing metaethical debates: realists, who posit knowable moral truths, can reasonably hold that the correct explanation for at least many of our moral beliefs does appeal to moral truths or facts that we have grasped, while anti-realists, who deny the existence of such truths, claim that the correct explanation for all of our moral beliefs involves no such appeal. The issue remains controversial. So unless one has independently settled that issue against realism, one is unlikely to accept the premise that there is a complete non-moral genealogy of our moral beliefs: there may well be a partial non-moral genealogy, for the sorts of reasons Joyce gives, but it will be complete only if none of our moral beliefs are the result of our having grasped moral truths; and this negative claim will be very unlikely if there are in fact knowable moral truths (since we would plausibly have grasped some of them, and they would thus figure into the explanation of some of our moral beliefs). We should therefore feel compelled to grant Joyce's premise that there is such a complete non-moral genealogy “only” if we have already given up on the idea of knowable moral truths. But that makes it hard to see how the argument as a whole can be used to persuade anyone who doesn't already accept its conclusion.”

    And then suggest this: “…by showing us how to reason to a moral truth without presupposing a prior moral truth…”

    Seriously? Does one not see the question-begging here? Does one not see these debunking arguments only work if we've, “already given up on the idea of knowable moral truths.”? Joyce’s and Street’s (and Bernard’s) arguments only work if we accept, a-priori, that we possess a “complete non-moral genealogy of moral judgment”- but that is the very thing disputed! In other words, one cannot reason to the conclusion there are no objective moral truths, unless it was already assumed. It remains controversial because reasonable people disagree—it has nothing to do with a clash with science or evolution (unless one is a materialist). My goodness, that is the writer's whole point in the above quote. It would be like someone saying, “Okay, logically you can't do this.” and then a person responds by doing that very thing to make his point? (and how is this not a philosophical discussion?!)

    This is becoming laughable. Embarrassing. If you want to concede this is a philosophical disagreement, we can have another conversation. Otherwise, move on.

    Like

  22. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    I wrote: the analogy between math & science and moral truths is misleading.

    You read: I claim the views of this editorial board and writer clash with science and evolution.

    I'm all for a conversation but, you see, rather difficult to do if you completely rewrite what I say so that it means something completely different.

    Like

  23. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    “… realists, who posit knowable moral truths, can reasonably hold that the correct explanation for at least many of our moral beliefs does appeal to moral truths or facts that we have grasped …”

    Why reasonable? He is asserting a vacuity here. Where are the reasons? Where are the empirical “morals”? All he has is “moral beliefs” that are “grasped”. Which are what? They are, as far as any one actually knows, purely subjective brews of instinct mixed with culture, training, and habit.

    The fact that he is linguistically capable of asserting all this doesn't make it reasonable, let alone true. Or even controversial. If the realists can't point to something better than “moral beliefs”, which they imagine are “truths”, they are making fools of themselves.

    That what is laughable about this “peer-reviewed” mess. And the problem with saying that your opponents “don't understand” your position is that it sells them short and relieves you of any responsibility to actually make a rational case, which is, frankly, shameful.

    Would you like to make a rational argument of this, in your citee's stead? I assume not.

    Like

  24. Darrell says:

    JP,

    Do you believe the Stanford writer’s general entry (which was reviewed by an editorial board) clashes with science or evolution, taken in its entirety?

    Like

  25. Darrell says:

    No Burk, unlike you, I don't assume I'm smarter than the people who are recognized experts in these areas and published.

    I side with them.

    Like

  26. Darrell

    JP has made very well the point I've been trying to get to with you. The If we say we can reason our way to moral truth, then we must have some way of establishing where the starting assumptions came from. In this sense, reasoned truths are relative (relative to their starting assumptions). Can the evolved mind really grasp these starting truths? By what method? You don't say.

    Equally, scientific truths are ultimately pragmatic, they get tested in the field. Not so moral truths.

    Now, you can argue that you simply agree with Stanford because they are educated folk, but this is a get-out-of-jail card that can be applied to almost any argument. (One can find educated folk who are doubtful of global warming, or even educated and well informed intelligent design folk).

    If our bar for belief is set at 'I can find a credible thinker who agrees with me' then we are able to happily go through life finding affirmation for any case that suits our needs. This is perhaps an excellent strategy on a number of levels, but is a very poor way of refining one's views.

    All three of us are pointing out problems with the article you cling to. It asserts the ability to grasp truth but provides no credible method by which this grasping might occur.

    Are you interested in thinking through how this challenge might be met?

    Bernard

    Like

  27. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    I’m shocked, just shocked you didn't respond to anything I pointed out in my last couple of responses and still haven’t addressed the quote regarding Joyce and Street.

    Are you interested in retracting your ridiculous claim my views (and the Stanford writer’s and the editorial board’s and who knows who else’s) views clash with science/evolution and conceding this is a philosophical disagreement (something I noted about 700 comments ago)? Interested in noting the difference between progressive Christian claims and fundamentalism? If not, move on.

    Oh, and by the way, the Stanford reference is just one but there are others. Certainly many more than you've been able to provide even though you were speaking for “science.” The guys speaking for “science” couldn't use any neutral academic sources for their arguments. Now they just want to talk about personal opinions. This is what happens when people conflate materialism for science and are then called on it.

    Like

  28. Hi Darrell

    Well, the case made against Joyce/Street is that it presupposes there are no discernable moral truths, and as such is question begging.

    My case is somewhat different. It is a conditional case – if we accept that evolution is the means by which the brain is designed, then we are led to conclude that we have no access to moral truths. Note, nothing is presupposed. Rather a direct clash between two beliefs is proposed.

    The challenge becomes, how could one discern moral truths if the brain is shaped by selection? (Of course, truth by divine revelation is still available, but the progressive shies away from this.)

    So, what mechanism is suggested by your sources? Only, it seems, an evolved capacity for reason. Yet, the reason case has a major problem. From what base do we reason, and why do believe that base is itself morally true?

    So, we all wonder, how can the progressive solve this problem, in order to avoid the clash? How could one reason one's way to moral truth without first assuming a moral truth?

    I just don't know if you have an answer to this question.

    Bernard

    Like

  29. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “Well, the case made against Joyce/Street is that it presupposes there are no discernable moral truths, and as such is question begging.”

    What presupposes? Who presupposes? The point is that Joyce/Street are doing the question begging—do you see that? It goes directly to your question regarding assumptions.

    “My case is somewhat different. It is a conditional case – if we accept that evolution is the means by which the brain is designed, then we are led to conclude that we have no access to moral truths. Note, nothing is presupposed. Rather a direct clash between two beliefs is proposed.”

    How many times are we going to have to go over this? You gave up this claim when you conceded we are capable of autonomous moral reflection and the type of reasoning that leads to non-pragmatic truths, whether in the fields of theoretic mathematics, philosophy, or similar type truth. We either need to go back and look at this again, or you need to move past it. Much of the Stanford entry refutes what you write above. You keep switching from an argument regarding “reason” to one regarding “selection”. Which is it?

    Again, if you are interested in retracting your ridiculous claim my views (and the Stanford writer’s and the editorial board’s and who knows who else’s) views clash with science/evolution and conceding this is a philosophical disagreement (something I noted about 700 comments ago), you let me know.

    Otherwise, move on.

    Like

  30. Darrell says:

    Oh, and by the way,

    “My case is somewhat different. It is a conditional case – if we accept that evolution is the means by which the brain is designed, then we are led to conclude that we have no access to moral truths.”

    Joyce and Street accept that evolution is the means by which the brain is designed and so do realists. However only Joyce and Street are led to believe like you and the point is that their argument is question-begging; it assumes there are no moral truths. And that is the only way your argument works too. That is the point of that Stanford quote.

    And the autonomous moral reflection portion of my post addresses your selection argument completely.

    Like

  31. Hi Darrell

    You ask if the argument is based upon selection or reason?

    My argument is based upon selection. It states, if we accept that selection is the process behind brain design, then this necessarily limits our notion's of the ability of the brian to perform certain functions. Specifically, we should not expect the brain to be designed to carry out complex tasks for which there is no pragmatic trade-off.

    Hence, if the brain can recognise moral standards, we should assume these are pragmatic, rather than objective truths.

    There is one easy way to side step my argument, of course, and that is to suggest that moral truths are directly revealed, say by way of scripture of directive. But, if I understand it correctly, this is not the progressive line.

    Reason comes into the debate only because you offer, via Stanford, reason up as another way around the argument. Specifically, we might be able to used the pragmatically evolved capacity for reason to discern moral truth.

    This case appears to fail, with regard to objective moral truth of the type you defend, because such a reasoning process must itself start with assumed moral truths that can not be established from within the system.

    So, as best I can tell my argument for a clash between science and your moral belief stands. But perhaps you have, in amongst all this, explained how the evolved brain could grasp objective moral truths, and I've simply missed it. What exactly is the method you have in mind? (And if it is the Stanford method, which is to say via reason, how to get around the problem with initial moral assumptions?)

    Like

  32. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    We've been over this. The Stanford entry addresses both your selection and “reason” issue–you just don't like their summations. The charge of first having to assume runs both ways, which clearly you don't seem to get. Bottom line: They disagree with you. I stand with them.

    Thanks for sharing your personal opinion. Please do not respond by simply asking again the very things addressed in the entry and my post. We know you disagree–fine.

    If you want to concede that this is a philosophical disagreement and not one over science or evolution, then we can have another conversation. Otherwise we are done here. I'm not going to waste any more time. I know you think my views clash with science/evolution. I get it. I can live with that knowing the consensus from neutral academic peer reviewed sources do not share your personal opinion.

    I will be away from the computer for several days, but I do plan to move on now.

    Like

  33. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    Do you believe the Stanford writer’s general entry (which was reviewed by an editorial board) clashes with science or evolution, taken in its entirety?

    This is an encyclopedia entry. As such, the author tries to present all sides and, I suppose, he does a fair job at this. By the way, you claim that the philosophical consensus favours your opinion but I see no such thing. The only consensus I see is that philosophers have settled nothing and are still fiercely debating these issues. At best it means that moral realism has not been conclusively shown to contradict science (yet), a far cry from saying it agrees with it.

    The problems I see is with its defence of moral realism against the “Darwinian challenge”, which I find disappointingly weak.

    The first point is the question of the “autonomous moral reflection and reasoning” (AMRR). Is has to do with what an argument actually is: it starts with premises and reasons its way to a conclusion. The question is: in AMRR, how do we know the premises are true? This is not answered in the article, unless I missed it. If it is, it would be an extremely simple matter for you to point it out, at which point we will all apologize and move forward.

    The second point is the misleading analogy with math and science. The author says that AMRR is just like math and science. Not, it isn't. In math, premises (axioms) are arbitrary (which implies math “truths” are all relative). In science there is empirical verification. None of these is available to AMRR and the article does not address the problem. Again, if it does, please point it out and we can move forward.

    In both cases, while the article does not address these points, perhaps you've seen them addressed elsewhere. Again, it would be a simple matter for you to point out the source.

    Like

  34. Darrell

    Oh well, thanks for trying to explain.

    You are right, the issue of founding assumptions is always in play. Thus I have been arguing, if one starts by assuming selection is the means by which brain design is arrived at, then it can be reasonably asked: what is the implication of such an assumption?

    I've argued throughout that one implication is a limitation on the kind of knowledge we can have. In particular, it doesn't seem to leave room for knowledge of moral truth to get into the brain, except by way of direct revelation.

    I have been fascinated throughout by how a progressive might think of this information 'getting in', so to speak. It seems you have settled on the 'Stanford solution', which is to say the idea that we can reason our way to objective truth.

    As you know, the objection to this is to do with the process of reasoning, and its reliance upon prior assumptions (in this case moral assumptions). Now, I'll assume for the sake of generosity that you have had an answer to this problem all along. Your reluctance to share it is, as ever, a little puzzling, but so be it.

    Thanks for the conversation. It was interesting.

    Best

    Bernard

    Like

  35. Darrell says:

    JP,

    “By the way, you claim that the philosophical consensus favours your opinion but I see no such thing.”

    It favors my opinion that the matter has not been settled by science, in fact cannot be (as the writer agrees as well) because it is a philosophical matter. I've never said the entry favors an objective morality or my opinion and I've said over and over that such cannot be proved (either way) by science. So please keep in mind what my opinion is to begin with.

    “The only consensus I see is that philosophers have settled nothing and are still fiercely debating these issues. At best it means that moral realism has not been conclusively shown to contradict science (yet), a far cry from saying it agrees with it.”

    Again, I've never said it agrees with it. But what you note above concludes the matter. My views cannot then clash with science in this area—it is not a settled matter. Yes, I get that you do not like the entry’s defense of moral realism and you find it weak and you have questions. I get that. The bottom line is that the view does not clash with science—it only clashes with materialism and other such philosophical views.

    If you can ever get around to conceding that, I would be happy to discuss where you find the entry’s arguments weak and address the other questions. Otherwise, I’m moving on.

    Like

  36. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “Your reluctance to share it is, as ever, a little puzzling, but so be it.”

    There was never a reluctance. The information is contained in the entry and post. I cannot help it if you simply couldn't find it or understand it. Burk and JP found it and understood it. They then simply either disagreed with it or had further questions or found it “weak”.

    Again, if you can ever concede this is a philosophical disagreement and not one of science or evolution, we could have another conversation.

    Until then, we are done here.

    Like

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