Ethics

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Contents

  1. Issues and positions
    1. Virtue ethics
    2. Deontological ethics
    3. Consequentialism
    4. Moral antirealism
    5. Moral realism
    6. Moral naturalism
  2. My thoughts
  3. Annotated bibliography
    1. Putnam, H. (2004). The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and Other Essays.
    2. Portmore, D. (2011). Commonsense Consequentialism.
    3. More articles to do
  4. Links and encyclopedia articles
    1. SEP
    2. IEP
    3. Wikipedia
    4. Others
    5. Videos
  5. References

Issues and positions

Virtue ethics

TODO.

See the discussion of Stoicism.

Deontological ethics

TODO.

Consequentialism

TODO.

Moral antirealism

TODO.

Moral realism

TODO.

See the outline on Naturalism.

Debating moral realism with Sean Carroll.

AMA question about naturalism and moral realism.

As a fellow physicist (experimenter with ATLAS) also with an interest in philosophy, I’m really impressed by your efforts to push naturalism and engage philosophers. I fully agree with your materialist and reductionist arguments, supporting that we do understand physics within the everyday regime, and this should inform our metaphysics, philosophy of mind, criticism of pseudoscience, etc. I also like that you emphasize emergence as being an important concept in explaining the nested emergent ontologies in chemistry, biology, economics, etc. My question is why you seem to draw a hard line that ethics and morality cannot be analyzed in the same way. You seem to entertain the criticisms that some people say of “scientism”, that there are some things (like ethics) to which the reductive program of science will not be able to explain. This strikes me as totally inconsistent with the thrust of reductionism and naturalism. I think there are reasonable explanations for why ethics emerge as a set of regularities and good strategies anytime you have groups of people. The constraints on ethics seem to be completely determined by the natural world, including the limits of resources, the needs of our physiology, the laws of probability and game theory, etc. There is no fundamental is/ought divide. “Ought” is a higher descriptive term we give to actions that bring out good situations, for which there are objective metrics, such as health and satisfaction. In this regard, I’m sympathetic with some utilitarians and what Sam Harris seems to be describing in the Moral Landscape. Why do you think emergence from natural laws can introduce new concepts like temperature, phase transitions, supply and demand, but not ethics?

Sean’s reply:

Ryan — Essentially, science is about describing the world, not passing judgment on it. Temperature, phase transitions, and supply and demand are all concepts that helps us understand what happens in the world. Morality is just a completely different endeavor. (Of course you can scientifically study how human beings actually behave — including what they judge to be “moral” — but that’s different than studying how they should behave.) Scientific claims can be judged by experiments, moral claims cannot.

See also:

http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/05/03/you-cant-derive-ought-from-is/ http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/03/16/moral-realism/ http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/03/07/science-morality-possible-worlds-scientism-and-ways-of-knowing/ http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/01/31/morality-health-and-science/

Drafting a reply

TODO.

I know I’m a consequentialist and a moral realist, but those are broad categories.

There’s no unified or received view of the fact/value, descriptive/normative divide since Hume. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t naturalistic philosophers that deny the dichotomy, i.e., would support the idea roughly that there is a scientific way of discussing and determining what is better. Health and nutrition seem like obvious plausible examples, really any reasoned strategy is normative: it tells one what one should do given what is known. In this sense many naturalists are aligned with game theoretic reasoning about what we should do.

Moral naturalism


Michael Shermer and Massimo Pigliucci debate the role of science deriving morality:

My thoughts

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Annotated bibliography

Putnam, H. (2004). The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and Other Essays.

My thoughts

Portmore, D. (2011). Commonsense Consequentialism.

My thoughts


SEP

IEP

Wikipedia

Others

Videos

References

de Waal, F. (1982). Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.