(by guest blogger Tamler Sommers)
So far I have considered whether evolutionary explanations undermine love and whether they can be used to debunk non-consequentialist moral intuitions while leaving the consequentialist one intact. In this post, I want to bring these thoughts together to examine a debunking strategy in metaethics I’ve defended in the past: the attempt explain away objective moral values in general.
Here’s a rough outline of the strategy. The explanandum, the thing to be explained, is our moral intuitions—intuitions like “burning cats is wrong!” Moral skeptics and moral realists offer competing explanations for the explanandum, and the debate hangs on which of the explanations is more plausible. The objectivist claims that this intuition is picking up on real moral properties, out there in the world—the wrongness of burning a cat. But the skeptic points out that our biological/cultural evolutionary processes account for these intuitions, and so we would have them whether or not they referred to anything real. So with a clean slice from Occam’s razor we can banish objective moral values from our ontology.
As I said, this has always sounded plausible to me. But consider this strategy when applied to love for one’s children. The explanandum is my deep feelings of attachment for my daughter Eliza. Kin selection theory shows that I would have these feelings whether or not I really loved her. So with a clean slice from Occam’s razor we can banish love from our ontology.
Now the strategy seems completely misguided! Why? Because as Manuel and other commentators point out, my love for Eliza is constituted, at least in part, by the feelings of attachment.
The skeptic will object that unlike love, moral values are not supposed to be constituted by feelings or intuitions that arise from an evolutionary process. Love is subjective. Morality is objective. Fair enough. But what about colors? We don’t say that it’s false that snow is white because evolution designed us to view snow in this fashion.
At this point, the skeptic can respond in two quite different (and perhaps incompatible) ways. The first is to say that there is universal agreement about the whiteness of snow. But there is no universal agreement about morality. And that is why we should reject moral realism.
The second is to say that morality has essential features that are incompatible with these naturalistic explanations, features like its categorical nature or “bindingness.” Since these features cannot fit within a naturalistic ontology, even if there were universal agreement under normal conditions about certain moral judgments—perhaps due to our common evolutionary history—it would still not vindicate moral realism. (These two replies, of course, parallel Mackie’s arguments from relativity and queerness.)
I’ll talk about both responses in more detail in my next post. But for now, let me conclude with an observation about the latter reply. Ashley, in my first post, thought that real love was essentially incompatible with an evolutionary/neuroscientific account of its origin. As some commentators pointed out, one option available to Ashley upon learning of this account is to revise her concept of love accordingly. She could say: love doesn’t quite have the status and history that I thought it had, but it’s still real love, I still love my son. Would anyone begrudge her this revision? Would anyone accuse her of “changing the subject” about love and putting something bogus in its place? Similarly, even if we thought morality had certain features that we now realize are inconsistent with a naturalistic account of its sources, why couldn’t we just revise our concept of morality accordingly? If we allow that Ashley truly loves her son, why can’t we say it’s truly wrong to burn that poor cat?
Monday, June 01, 2009
(by guest blogger Tamler Sommers)