North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Natural Ethics

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I have been told that I’m hard on Naturalists and their ethics. Perhaps that’s because I was one once, and perhaps it’s because I’m trying to be rigorous in my approach (not that I am claiming success). At any rate, I’m heartened to find another soul taking what looks like very much the same approach. The following is from an entry on W.V. Quine (although the part I’ve excerpted has nothing too much to do with him) by Edward C. Feser. It was posted to The Conservative Philosopher:

I also think that it is no accident that naturalistic philosophers tend toward unconservative positions in ethics and politics. Naturalists have a tendency to suppose that the methods of the natural sciences are the right models to apply to the study of the human world. Since the history of natural science has often been a history of proving common sense wrong where matters far removed from everyday human life are concerned, the expectation understandably forms that common sense is likely to be wrong where the human world is concerned as well. This is an attitude Michael Levin has called the “skim milk” fallacy – the fallacy of assuming that “things are never what they seem, skim milk masquerades as cream” – and there are good Burkean and Hayekian reasons for thinking that it is indeed a fallacy. It is, Burkeans and Hayekians would argue, unlikely that deep errors about human nature would persist within common sense, given how crucial a right understanding of the human world is to the success of everyday human intercourse, and even to survival

Most naturalistic philosophers end up at least subtly re-conceiving the world of everyday human life along naturalistic metaphysical lines, and this influences they way they think about ethics, whether they realize it or not. Naturalism tells them we’re just clever animals, or “machines made of meat,” or whatever, and at some level the ethical theory reflects that. The average human being doesn’t’ think this way, of course, and indeed the average naturalistic philosopher doesn’t think this way either in day-to-day life. It is simply too inhuman a way to think about human beings to be possible to sustain for very long.


Written by Curt

January 31, 2005 at 9:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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