Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Queerness of Morality and the Queerness of Logic

In response to some new replies on the Ethics Without Metaphysics post. The link tracks back to the original post.

RD said:
The argument you've given is very close Mackie's argument from queerness, posited in "Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong." For Mackie, an error theorist, the argument purports to be a problem for all moral realists, whether they happen to be theists or atheists. Why is it a problem specifically for atheists?

Gordon Knight said:
The argument from queerness is a bad argument. By the same lights, mathematics and logical truth are "queer."

RD and Gordon: Yes, to my mind, a "matter-first, mind-later" ontological hierarchy is going to have trouble with the mathematics and logic, that's what is known as the argument from reason!
However, naturalism puts a restriction on what can be fundamental properties of objects in a naturalistic universe. Moral properties are not permitted. Mental properties are also not permitted. They have to be "system properties" that arise at a higher level of organization, when brains show up. However, while there is something incoherent about the idea of a piece of matter being intrinsically morally good, there is nothing about God being intrinsically morally good that is incoherent. So I think this is an asymmetrical problem that afflicts the naturalist but not the theist.

9 comments:

Gordon Knight said...

For what it is worth, I think the argument from reason is a sucessful argument against naturalism. It is an argument for theism friendly universe, though not necessariliy theism since there are tons of non-naturalistic ontologies that are not theistic.

Victor Reppert said...

I've always been pretty careful in saying what I think the argument shows and what it does not.

Anonymous said...

It really "churns my butter" to see people conflating a sophomoric brand of materialism with ontological naturalism.

Do these supernaturalists, theists, and religious apologists really think that modern physicalists/materialists or naturalists think that the world is "nothing but" sand?

I don't think I've read a single characterization of materialism or naturalism by a supernaturalistic philosopher that didn't make absurd, or absurdly strong, characterizations of either position that one would be very, very hard pressed to find any physicalist or naturalist outside of their imaginations that would endorse it. Case in point: JP Moreland yesterday.

There is a very broad spectrum of naturalists, ranging from those who maintain very conservative ontologies to those liberal/pluralistic naturalisms that admit a very broad spectrum of entities.

Oppy says best in his (rightly) scathing review of Craig and Moreland's (eds.) "Naturalism: A Critical Analysis":

"...there is no consensus amongst the various authors about what "naturalism" amounts to. Given that each author is allowed to decide for himself what "naturalism" is, there is no sense in which the essays in the volume constitute a sustained attack on a single target. Moreover, since some of the authors insist on an absurdly strong characterization of "naturalism", there is a good sense in which some of the essays do nothing but set fire to figures of straw."


To be clear, naturalists are not necessarily:

...physicalists...
...materialists...
...reductionists...
...empiricists...
...endorsers of 'scientism'...
...hedonists...
...atheists...
...communists...
..."Darwinists"...
...nihilists (contra Craig and millions of others)...
...etc.

... or, anti-realists about:

...god...
...abstract objects...
...moral properties...
...science...
...mental properties/minds...
...logic (contra presuppositionalists)...
...knowledge...
...material objects....
...reliabilism (contra Plantinga)...
...etc.

Some naturalists do not deny that sentience is ontologically fundamental (e.g. Chalmers, and suggested by Flanegan, Penrose, and others). I've met naturalists who were consistent (and convincing) idealists. Hell, there are a handful of naturalists who endorse intelligent design.

I think that naturalism and non-naturalism (including supernaturalism) comes down, ontologically, between monism and pluralism.

Gordon Knight said...

Dear Anonymous,

But if naturalism is construed so broadly, what DOES it exclude? Is Plato a naturalist? How about Berkeley? Kant? G.E. Moore (who famously thougth of good as a "non-natural"property?

You might agree with Nietzsche "How can anything be not natural?" but then the word ceases to classify. I don't think Timothy Sprigge, for example, would want to call himself a naturalist (to give an example of an idealist). If idealism is naturalism.. then anything can be naturalism!

I just read your last sentence: but we already have the words "monism" and "pluralism" (though they have several senses) which of these are naturalists?

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

There is a distinction between "moral naturalism" and "naturalism" generally. I don't think there is really a consensus on all the particulars of these terms. However from what I gather its getting close to something like this:

1) A "general naturalist" is more or less one who is not going to believe in any "supernatural" things -miracles - God - ghosts - spirits etc. However some of these "general naturalists" are non-naturalists when it comes to morals. Russ Shafer Landau is one.

2) A "Moral naturalist" is one who does not believe in a separation between moral and natural properties. They think moral properties are in fact just natural properties. Sturgeon is a proponent of this view. Now just to show how different these ideas are, (that is the “general naturalism” versus “moral naturalism”) I suggest that, theoretically, one could be a theist and a "moral naturalist"

Please feel to correct me or supply more clarification of what I said above if anyone thinks that is fitting. I will readily admit some of this seems fuzzy. Indeed at times I wonder if this can be clear to anyone.

On the whole I think this is very tricky ground. However it is very important ground to cover for anyone who is a thinking person. It is not only relevant for the theism versus atheism debate but also realism versus anti-realism in ethics. It’s important to anyone who really wants to understand why they should do certain things and not others.

BTW: I don't think morality is self evident like certain mathematic/geometric and logical axioms or the deductions that can be reached by them. For one I think the axioms of logic math and geometry are such that it is impossible to conceptualize how they could even possibly be wrong. This is not the case with our starting moral premises. In my view any weaker definition of “self evident” is in the end just a claim that you and lots of others really strongly believe something is true.

I think there is another important distinction between mathematical and logical premises, on the one hand, and moral premises on the other. But that would take more explaining then even a long winded guy like me would want to put you all through.

Steve said...

I haven't read through the all of the post on Ethics without Metaphysics, so I'm sorry if I'm repeating things that have been said there ...

The argument from queerness isn't merely "moral facts would be weird". Rather the problem with moral facts is that they would involve "objective prescriptivity" or what Bernard Williams has called "external reasons".

Now objective prescriptivity/external reasons are genuinely puzzling. It's very easy to see how we can have a reason to do something that is in our interests, but reasons to do things which aren't necessarily in our interests are a different matter. I think theism has a head start over atheism, because evaluations/reasons make the most sense in a teleological context, and in theism life itself exists in such a context, but for atheism that isn't the case (certain attempts to accommodate teleology in evolutionary theory notwithstanding).

Also, while I think it is possible to construe logic as involving "external reasons" too, but I've never been that convinced that logic is prescriptive in the same way that ethics is prescriptive, but I'm open to be convinced there. But my current feeling is that the disanalogy I sense between the two will make the argument from the queerness of morality more compelling than the argument from the queerness of logic.

Steve

Gordon Knight said...

There is the problem of why mere knowledge of something being good should compel actions. Some people think its just a natural fact--we happen to be constituted so as to perceive the good as motivating.

Anotherclaim would be that cognition of the good cannot be seperated from motivation. part of realizing x is good involve having a prima facie reason or motive for pursuing it. Contra Hume, there could be cases in which cognition and desire and inextricably intermixed--internally related if you will.

Something like this does seem to be the case in our experience of pain. its hard to imagine feeling a pain and being completely indifferent to it.

Steve said...

GK,

But there are two questions here. First is the question about "reasons internalism", second about "motivational interalism". Moral facts give reasons for action regardless of our motivational states, moral judgements may or may not be internally connected with motivation.

If we reject the Humean "belief/desire" account of action we might be able to explain how moral convictions can motivate without being non-cognative. That will help the moral realist without implying any very significant metaphysics. The more interesting question is the question about reasons, and whether the moral facts can be objective if they are reason giving. Even if we collapse being "reason giving" into (roughly) "would, under normal circumstances, motivate if apprehended" and we can explain the motivation, it doesn't follow that the "facts" are objective. That is the real difficulty with "External Reasons"

Steve