Friday Roundup

  • Hmmmm…of which school are you?

“But there is a second, more radical school of thought in evolutionary ethics. This view holds that evolutionary biology, rather than providing a basis for improving or modernizing ethics, shows that the idea of objective ethical rules is inherently mistaken… This view is best characterized as a form of moral nihilism, the idea that moral obligations do not exist…realizing that moral claims are illusions surely means that moral claims are false. There is, under this view, no real ethical difference between the actions of the vilest criminal and the most virtuous saint.”

Or:
“These conflicting views of free will coexist in a continual dialectic in Wilson’s work, but most notably in his account of morality. Moral sentiments, Wilson says, are the product of the “hypothalamic-limbic complex” in the brain, and yet through our use of reason and will, we can make them “increasingly wise and stable through the understanding of the needs and pitfalls of human nature.” Morality is based on emotions, yet we need to cultivate a “rationalist” basis for it. Morality is a delusion, and it is also the most important thing in human life.”

Either way, your view has some deep problems and is certainly not settled science.

  • Are accounts of a purely evolutionary origin of ethics a matter of settled science?  Not according to this peer reviewed academic source.  Thus, if one finds his view captured in general here, he should know he holds to something that is not considered “science” or a “fact”.

“Evolutionary ethics is, on a philosopher’s time-scale, a very new approach to ethics. Though interdisciplinary approaches between scientists and philosophers have the potential to generate important new ideas, evolutionary ethics still has a long way to go.”
Or does this writer’s and the editorial boards’ views also clash with science/evolution?

“The history of evolutionary ethics is a topic that reflects both on the theory of evolution and on ethics. Because it explores man’s origins, evolution extends an invitation, and given the state of ethics, that invitation has been attractive. In coming decades philosophers may judge the construction of ethical systems to be impossible. The entire field of ethics itself may come to be regarded as a pseudo-subject like astrology. But perhaps a different approach in ethics will prove to be fruitful. Historians, however, should not try to predict the course of philosophy, or they cease to be historians. At best they can point out a century-long frustration over the state of ethics and in the case of evolutionary ethics, the significantly interesting but dismal track record of this approach as a method of resolution.”

I guess a “dismal” track record probably doesn’t describe something as being settled by science or evolution…

  • Nothing like a little cake and eat some too…and even Harris entertains views that supposedly clash with science…

“What I like about this venture is that it permits Harris to explore a variety of positions that just might appear preposterous. He entertains the possibility that consciousness might be beyond human intelligence to explain, and contrasts the metaphor of a brain that “generates” consciousness to one that “transduces” it (the popular theme in visionary and psychedelic subcultures that likens the brain to a sort of “receiver,” making consciousness the “signal”) and supports the resurging philosophical idea that consciousness inheres in all of matter. He doesn’t exhibit rigid certainty, either. He simply makes arguments.”

Do purely naturalistic/materialist/empirical accounts of morality clash with science or evolution?  No. But neither are they confirmed or proven by science or evolution.  So what can we say about those who think these naturalistic accounts (their own views of course) are proven by science or evolution while rival views indeed clash with science or evolution?

We can say quite simply that they don’t know what they are talking about.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

60 Responses to Friday Roundup

  1. Hi Darrell

    At no point anywhere, either in the post or the comments, have you answered the problem raised by me, JP and Burk. It is simply this:

    Deductive reasoning is a process that takes us from prior assumed truth to implied truth. The implied truth will be reliably true only to the extent that assumed truth is. Hence, we can not use reason to a moral truth without first assuming a moral truth (as the Stanford example inadvertently demonstrates). Thus, reason can not be the method by which we ultimately discern moral truth.

    Nothing to unpack. All we have is the contortions you are willing to go to to avoid addressing the problem.

    So, if you don't want to provide your solution, that's your call. But you'll excuse us for conclusion you have no such argument to present.

    Bernard

    Like

  2. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “Deductive reasoning is a process that takes us from prior assumed truth to implied truth. The implied truth will be reliably true only to the extent that assumed truth is. Hence, we can not use reason to a moral truth without first assuming a moral truth (as the Stanford example inadvertently demonstrates). Thus, reason can not be the method by which we ultimately discern moral truth.”

    First, you were the only to raise this issue. Second, it was discussed thoroughly in the post and comment section. I told you this claim works both ways. I am going to copy and paste this once here from the post on autonomous moral reflection. Do not respond to this until you have figured out what format you wish to continue this in:

    “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.”

    Like

  3. Darrell says:

    “At no point anywhere, either in the post or the comments, have you answered the problem raised by me…”

    I challenge anyone to read this post http://byzantinedream.blogspot.com/2014/08/autonomous-moral-reflection.html -along with the comment section and come to the same conclusion as Bernard does above.

    I would accuse anyone who did so of severe reading comprehension skills.

    Like

  4. Darrell says:

    “of a severe lack of…”

    Like

  5. Hi Darrell

    I'm quite happy to continue the debate in this format. It doesn't take much space to make the case.

    For example, your source offers this:

    “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,”

    This is true. Once one is a realist, one can take the facts we have grasped, and apply them as the foundation of other moral beliefs. But, this does not answer the challenge I am putting to you.

    How does the realist propose we first grasp these facts? Not through reason, as they would in turn require prior moral facts. And there is no other process we know of, consistent with evolution.

    So, neither you nor your sources have addressed this problem with reason, and without it you are left with no mechanism. And as I say, to propose no mechanism, in creation of a mechanical outcome (a moral utterance, say) is to oppose the laws of physics.

    How do you get around this obvious problem? I'm not anticipating you attempting to answer this question, if you had an answer we'd have seen it by now, but it doesn't hurt to try.

    Bernard

    Like

  6. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    Well, I’m not quite as happy about this format. And the reason is, like you are want to do, you didn't even respond to the quote I gave you, which goes to the very assertion you are making, but the SEP writer shows it works both ways. He takes your question, and directs it back to you. He is basically saying that one must assume there are no moral objective truths for Street and Joyce’s arguments to work. Now, instead of addressing this, you switch gears again and write: “How does the realist propose we first grasp these facts? Not through reason, as they would in turn require prior moral facts.”

    And, of course, this has already been addressed—we do it through autonomous moral reflection, which of course involves reason. Reason no more requires prior moral facts than reasoning that a man is innocent of a crime must assume his prior innocence in all crimes. What a ridiculous statement. Plus, did you not think it could be turned around and we could ask, “How does the non-realist propose we first grasp the fact there are no objective moral truths? Not through reason, as they would in turn require the prior state of there being no objective moral truths.” This is a dead-end, which is the SEP writer’s point—one you clearly did not get. Not only is it a self-defeating argument, it isn't even true. One can reason his way to believe either there are objective moral truths or there are not. Clearly, other factors are in play—it is not that simple, but rather a complex inter-play of many things.

    So this will not do. This will turn into another 500 comments because you will never address what I write or quote—you will simply restate you questions—or go back to something we already discussed.

    Any other ideas—I’m not going to waste more time just using a comment section.

    Like

  7. Hi Darrell

    I don't mean to leave points unaddressed. It's just that when you provide a very long quotation, little of which has any relevance to the question in hand, it is a fool's errand to hunt down every point. So, you claim this:

    “He is basically saying that one must assume there are no moral objective truths for Street and Joyce’s arguments to work.”

    Well, my argument does not assume there are no moral truths. It is a conditional argument. It says, if evolution is true, then we will have no access to objective moral truth. Why, because the science allows no mechanism for such discernment (in the same way it allows no mechanism by which a chair can levitate). At no point does this argument assume there is no moral truth.

    Your other case, that the reason argument falls down, is also in error. You write, rather confidently:

    “Reason no more requires prior moral facts than reasoning that a man is innocent of a crime must assume his prior innocence in all crimes. What a ridiculous statement.”

    Again, your error is a simple one. We define innocent or guilt in terms of causal events.We say a person is guilty if a particular set of events occurred in a particular order. So, we can infer guilt by inferring physical events, based off the physical events (evidence) we accept as our premise. No problem. In the same way, a moral judgement can be inferred from prior moral judgements.

    At this stage, you will say you are tired of this conversation, and you are simply repeating yourself, and I am failing to understand. This has happened before, always when we have finally fought our way the thicket of misunderstandings to final clarify what it is we are discussing.

    Fair enough. Again, though, you are simply failing on straightforward notions of logic. Perhaps other Progressives have answers. It'd just be interesting to hear what they are. How could the evolved mind possibly discern moral truth? I'm none the wiser as to your solution to this problem.

    Bernard

    Like

  8. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    See, this is exactly what I wanted to avoid. I see another 600 comments before we finally see you have no case to make.

    The solution is for you to note my post on you own blog (which addresses every one of your questions) and break it down and show us where the supposed logical errors are. I will then respond in my own post, where we both can have the space to respond and quote specifically so people can see if what we are saying even matches what we are addressing. For instance, anyone can see that the quote I gave you regarding Street and Joyce goes directly to your claim regarding prior belief. It is entirely relevant, until you decided you didn’t like that it was and thought I better switch back to the “how can we reason” argument.

    Why does having to actually show your work bother you? It is easy to sit back and throw stones; why not try and actually mount an argument?

    “Well, my argument does not assume there are no moral truths. It is a conditional argument. It says, if evolution is true, then we will have no access to objective moral truth. Why, because the science allows no mechanism for such discernment (in the same way it allows no mechanism by which a chair can levitate). At no point does this argument assume there is no moral truth.”

    Talk about logical errors. The above is not a conditional argument. Your argument is not based upon whether or not evolution is true. Both views are based upon a correct understanding of evolution. It is based upon a philosophical presumption of naturalism. Further, science does allow for such a mechanism. It’s called autonomous moral reflection (how many times will I have to say this?). It assumes no prior moral truths, but it does presume we are free moral beings who can reasonably reflect:

    “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…” (SEP)

    Wow, here we again are just repeating ourselves—just like I said we would. All one need do is read my post on autonomous moral reflection and the comment section to see this. Nothing new here, at all.

    Like

  9. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    How about this: from the SEP site, quote those portions you think contain errors of logic (now your main criticism). Then explain exactly what they are (are they formal errors or just conclusions you disagree with?).

    Take as much comment space here as you need–it make take a series of comments. I will not respond. I will take those and copy them into a post on my blog. Within that post I will respond. You can then use the comment section of that post for further discussion. Does that sound reasonable to you?

    But you will need to address each and every SEP quote you find has a problem or the ones that go to whatever your main argument is at this point. In other words, this is it. No moving to another argument or SEP quote if what you now cite and address doesn't work out for you. I think I've been very patient, but at some point, if you can't make your case, we need to really move on.

    You would be free then to take it up on your own blog, which I would welcome.

    Like

  10. Darrell

    I'm a little puzzled as to what it is you think needs unpacking, but sure, I'll post on the link between evolution and morality, and critique in detail the SEP response you've offered and see if that helps your understanding any.

    Bernard

    Like

Comments are closed.