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Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology 7: The Argument from Morality


This chapter was based on some unfortunate assumptions, or at least things that were in need of development.

I don’t think morality was defined at all. This is important, because by some definitions, morality is not a challenge to naturalists at all. Linville seemed to assume some supernatural, magical definition. Like Plato’s forms, the good has to exist somewhere “out there.” Desirism makes no such assumption. Since Linville controls the use of the word, he controls the whole framing of the argument.

The problem is, there are ways for “oughtness” to exist that do not need God, and that fit into naturalism. Second, Linville does not provide a source of “oughtness” that is any better than “dormative power” is a source of sleeping pills working. He just says that we ought to treat people with respect because of their inherent dignity. But what does he mean by dignity? What is something that has dignity? Basically something that deserves respect. That appears to be a failed explanation.

He also puts way too much weight on our moral intuitions. Maybe they’d be worth relying on absent defeaters, but the existence of naturalistic explanations of our moral intuitions, as well as our ability to mess with them in clever ways, seems to erode their unquestioned reliability. He begins with certain conclusions, and then works backwards from there.

A further problem is that the conclusions he makes, those of inherent human dignity, are not shared by all, nor have they been historically. In group love and out group hate have been the rule, so if he wants to use moral intuitions as a guide, then he’s on rough historical footing. He’d have to start with the moral assumption that it is okay to kill your enemies. But many of us, thanks to reason, and distrusting our moral intuitions, have come to opposite conclusions.

His theory of value is disputable too. How can something be inherently valuable? Things seem to have value in virtue of how valued they are. Of course, this idea would need vetting as well. I think it is fair to call Linville’s views unconvincing because they brush up against basic views that I’ve got, that I think are better in line with good science and philosophy.

Kindle Notes:

Lewis scores an apologetic point when he observes that the very people who defend such a variety of subjectivism are often later found promoting some moral cause. “A moment after they have admitted that good and evil are illusions, you will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to educate, revolutionise, liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race” (Lewis 2001b, p. 58) (10510).

An argument – call it the argument from evolutionary naturalism (AEN) – thus emerges from such considerations. Perhaps the following is in the spirit of what Lewis has in mind: 1. If EN is true, then human morality is a by-product of natural selection. 2. If human morality is a by-product of natural selection, then there are no objective moral facts. 3. There are objective moral facts. 4. Therefore, EN is false (10517).

I am more interested in those philosophers (of increasing number) who embrace (3), and thus some form of moral realism, but aim to conjoin that commitment to moral realism with EN (10540).

Note: Interesting approach that mirrors Craig’s. Does anyone actually try seriously taking on the third premise besides a quick attempt a reductio?

The evolutionary naturalist is saddled with the task of explaining the connection between adaptiveness and truth only if they accept our first premise. (1) If EN is true, then human morality is a by-product of natural selection (10641).

Note: Depends on what we mean by morality. Could be a relational property. Desirism denies this.

There is reason, then, to accept AEN Premise (1). (1) If EN is true, then human morality is a by-product of natural selection (10789).

Note: Again, this presupposes a certain definition of morality. It seems to define something as moral if we believe it to be. I think we can be wrong though, on reasonable definitions.

The theist is thus in a position to offer Daniels’ “little story” that would explain the general reliability of those considered judgments from which reflective equilibrium takes its cue. Certain of our moral beliefs – in particular, those that are presupposed in all moral reflection – are truth-aimed because human moral faculties are designed to guide human conduct in light of moral truth (11068).

Note: How can they explain the failures?

But our confidence in these constitutional beliefs is wisely invested only in the event that we have reason to believe the faculties responsible for them to be truth-aimed. Reid’s theism provided him with such a reason: the moral faculties were forged in the same shop as our other cognitive faculties. They are designed by God for the purpose of discerning moral truth (11128).

Note: So why be confident that that is the source?

One lesson to be gleaned from the discussion thus far is that, for any proposed theory of morality to be plausible, it must not only carry implications that do justice to certain of our deep-seated moral convictions, but it must also offer a satisfactory account of those implications (11191).

Note: Start with conclusions and work backwards.

Nevertheless, I maintain that any and all versions of utilitarianism worthy of the name must fail to account for that portion of commonsense morality that we are holding up as a criterion: that individuals have moral standing (11346).

I conclude, then, that standard accounts of VE have no conceptual room for the moral standing of individuals, and, as I have been arguing, this counts against such theories. We should be able to say simply that rape and genocide are wrong because people ought neither to be raped nor exterminated (11511).

The market value of your home, automobile, or Fender Stratocaster is strictly determined by what someone is willing to pay for it. We can readily imagine a possible world in which gold is valued by no one and is therefore of no value (11521).

Note: Good analogy for values without God.

To Mill’s question, “Why ought society to defend the rights of individuals?,” the Kantian answer is not “social utility” but “personal dignity.” The explanation need look no farther than a concern for the person whose rights are in question (11544).

Note: That appears to be a “dormative power” answer. Doesn’t really answer the question.

we have arrived at the conclusion that personal dignity is implicated by the sorts of pre-theoretical moral beliefs to which we typically appeal in reflective equilibrium (11557).

For that matter, consciousness has been “oddly absent” even in twentieth-century works bearing such promising titles as Consciousness Explained. It is rather like picking up a title such as Europe Explored and finding that the author has serious doubts of the existence of that continent and devotes himself to explaining how putative Europeans might mistakenly think themselves to live there (11604).

Note: Does this confuse eliminative reductionism with reductionism? I can explain friction without having to refer to friction, but this doesn’t mean I deny the existence of friction

God values human persons because they are intrinsically valuable. Further, they have such value because God has created them after his own image as a Person with a rational and moral nature (11895).

Note: This is more dormative power.

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