Platinga on "naturalistic" ethics

Here:

"His aim in this chapter, then, is to give a naturalistic vindication of values; an account of ethics that fits with secularism but doesn't reduce the ethical life to the expression of subjective attitudes. As he notes (p. 28) it is common to think of moral or ethical standards as independent of human desires and aspirations, having a sort of objectivity that fits well with their being divinely commanded. On Kitcher's account, of course, these standards don't originate in anything like a divine command, and Kitcher's account of ethics and morality doesn't give it that sort of objectivity. What status do ethical standards have, according to him? It's not easy to tell. As far as I could make out, Kitcher believes that ethical rules have simply evolved over the centuries as a means to the reduction of 'functional conflict' (p. 53) and the promotion of harmony in a society. It's a good idea for us (as members of a society) to follow these rules, and to coerce the unwilling also to follow them, in order to introduce and maintain functional harmony in our society. On this prudential account, of course, there isn't any such thing as objective moral obligation, and there would be nothing wrong, morally speaking, in my flouting current ethical precepts (provided I could escape detection)."

Platinga is spot on here. "It evolved" is a completely morally neutral claim. Lions have evolved to kill the offspring of a male they have displaced to bring their mother back into heat. If some human does this, does anyone want to claim that it is moral, since the same impulse probably has evolutionary roots in humans as well?

Every bit as much as moral precepts emerged in an evolutionary process, so too did law-breaking, and thievery, and rape, and lying... And so what? This does not help settle any moral issue whatsoever in any way, shape or form.

12 comments:

  1. Not sure I understand the point you’re making here. Plotinga says “On this prudential account, of course, there isn't any such thing as objective moral obligation, and there would be nothing wrong, morally speaking, in my flouting current ethical precepts (provided I could escape detection)” but that skips a step. I would say that there is something morally wrong with you flouting current ethical precepts and escaping detection, but there’s nothing objective about its wrongness. It is subjectively immoral. I would describe all moral claims as subjective.

    Are you just arguing against moral objectivity here?

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    1. Platinga is correct. Your position is incoherent. And I am certainly NOT arguing for moral subjectivism!

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  2. There is no such thing as objective moral obligation as Plantinga means it. Ought is a prediction. Saying you ought to do x is predicting I will judge you a certain way if you do x, and another way if you do not. The emotions and reasoning capacity that drive such judgments and predictions evolved.

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    1. If I am a resident of the American south in 1840, I "ought" to turn runaway slaves in because those around me will disapprove if I don't.

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    2. If I am a barbarian soldier in 200 BC, I "ought" to rape captive women because my fellow soldiers will disapprove of me if I do not.

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    3. Ken, you have proved Platinga's point: there is NO morality in the nonsense concept of "evolutionary morality."

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  3. So "morality" means I ought to turn in Jews to the Nazis in Germany in 1940, because I "predict" that the Nazis will disapprove if I don't! Ken, this construction of "ought" is so absurd that I am embarresed to have to post this response to it.

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    1. You have misunderstood my claim Gene. When I say you ought I am making a statement about how I will judge you. That may be described succinctly a my making an implicit prediction about my future state. There is no other other operational definition of the phrase "I think you ought..."
      So no, I don't think you ought to turn in Anne Frank because of what Nazis will think. I say you ought to hide Anne Frank. And when you don't I will feel a certain way about you.

      As for evolved morality. As I said, the capacity for moral judgment evolved. I form my implicit prediction by imagining you turning in Anne Frank after all. That is not remotely like saying some behavior evolved and is therefore moral. But no-one argues that.

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    2. No, Ken, I did not misunderstand your claim at all. It is as ridiculous in your reformulation as it was to begin with.

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    3. Here is an "operational definition" of "operational definition": I predict that Ken will consider a definition "operational" when it supports materialism, and not, when it does not.

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  4. The idea that when I say you ought to do something what I am really doing is pridecting my future reaction to your choice is sub-moronic. Yes, I will judge you badly if you do not do what you ought to do. But that is not what I mean when I say you ought to do it: what I mean is that you ought to do it. When you undertake such a convoluted re-definitions of an ordinary word, a red flag should go up: you're in the grip of an ideology. (In this case, materialism.)

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  5. It's amazing that so many can be seduced by this BS. Methinks the reason is because evolutionary morality is like a kind of intellectual fad. By the way, why aren't you berating Platinga for his equally faddish use of the word "naturalistic"?

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