[Topics: Absurdity, Meaning, Morality]
When Mattering Matters:

Thomas Nagel, Final Outcomes, and Considering Actions on Different Scales

 

Where is one left, after four weeks of discussing morality, if the conclusions reached are primarily that humans would do well to approach situations of moral choice with earnest, humble attention to nuance and detail? Well, some of the background assumptions which have led to this formulation are somewhat grander, such as that the apparent objectivity of some basic moral strictures may be an expected piece of a socially evolved mind, or that the justifications for trusting most proposed sources of moral knowledge are on equally dubious footing.

So, if by some chance you are willing to grant that I might be on the right track with both the grand propositions and the simple conclusions, then you might think that we are actually left in a somewhat sorry state, as moral actions then lack the special significance for which they are often revered. In responding to that charge, one can refer to some remarks of Thomas Nagel on the experience of absurdity, and on when mattering matters.

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[Topics: Absurdity, Meaning, Morality]
When Mattering Matters:

Thomas Nagel, Final Outcomes, and Considering Actions on Different Scales

was last modified: April 1st, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Decision-making, Logic, Metaethics]
Moral Decision-making, and Navigating Philosophy:

How Both Consequentialists and Deontologists Actually Make Choices

 

David Hume Engraving 1754 - consequentalist - deontologist - decision-makingThis is a post about moral decision-making, but it is not a post that engages at length with the particular theories involved. As the title is meant to imply, this article discusses a more general point about how any given philosopher uses philosophy to inform both the ises and the oughts of their perceptions and practices.

In the first post in this series, I argued that moral anti-realism may be true and yet have a functionally objective morality nested within it (as a feature of our evolved minds). Across the past few thousand years, compatibilists have argued that determinism may be true and yet have free will nested within it (as a feature of our freedom to act in accordance with our determined motivations). And, as I will treat briefly below, there is a general strategy available here of reconciling two halves of a dichotomous debate by attempting to understand what aspects of each side are really supported by the relevant evidence for each side. In particular, consequentialists and deontologists might make a more compelling case if they ceased to see their views as mutually exclusive.

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[Topics: Decision-making, Logic, Metaethics]
Moral Decision-making, and Navigating Philosophy:

How Both Consequentialists and Deontologists Actually Make Choices

was last modified: January 2nd, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Cultural Relativism, Culture, Moral Realism]
Cultivating Moral Humility:

What Cultural Differences and Similarities Have to Say about Morality

 

James Rachels Sketch by M.R.P. - cultural differences - morality - cultural relativism - moral realism

Sketch by M.R.P.

In my prior post, I explored the notion that moral realism is not as pragmatically attractive as it presents itself when its proponents are comparing it to opposing systems. I would now like to take up another narrow topic in the discussion of morality—the notion that moral realism must be true for the opposite of the reason that others feel cultural relativism must be true: while some relativists feel that cultural differences demonstrate the lack of objective moral truth, some realists feel that morality must be objective and real because all people across the world, and throughout history, have held certain values in common.

Well, in response, first, I would recommend reading my initial article in this series, on how some basic aspects of what we call morality are necessary features of our evolutionary past, but not ‘objective’ in the desired sense. But second, and more importantly, I would seek to show that this argument for moral realism and the opposite argument for cultural relativism actually fail for the same reason.

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[Topics: Cultural Relativism, Culture, Moral Realism]
Cultivating Moral Humility:

What Cultural Differences and Similarities Have to Say about Morality

was last modified: January 23rd, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Moral Knowledge, Moral Realism, Pragmatism]
The Morality Pageant:

On the Relative Attractiveness of Moral Realism and its Alternatives

 

Introduction:

William James Sketch by M.R.P. - moral realism - nihilism - pragmatism

Sketch by M.R.P.

Looking back at my school days, I remember a Ph.D. student in the philosophy department remarking on the differences between moral realism (the system of thought that says that there exists a literal, objective morality) and its alternatives by appealing to the consequences of holding each belief. The moral realist, he underscored, has the advantages of being able to say that society is making moral progress, and that some societies have been immoral at different times, such as Nazi Germany and slaveholding America. Moral relativists, moral nihilists, and all related parties, he pointed out, have no such recourse. So, surely, even if one is convinced that moral realism is false, this student concluded, it might be better not to mention that conviction ‘in polite company.’

In fact, the article by James Rachels which I discussed last week makes some very similar statements in its singular effort to refute cultural relativism. But is it true that believing morality is not truly objective is somehow uglier or less desirable than believing that there is an objective morality? To explore this, I will take a closer look at both sides.

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[Topics: Moral Knowledge, Moral Realism, Pragmatism]
The Morality Pageant:

On the Relative Attractiveness of Moral Realism and its Alternatives

was last modified: May 12th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Evolutionary Biology, Moral Obligation, Morality]
The Macroevolution of Morals:

On Fundamental Morals from Societal Evolution, and Morality as Both Objective and Not Objective

 

Introduction:

Charles Darwin Sketch by M.R.P. - MRI Scans of Brain - morality - evolution - James Rachels - C.S. Lewis

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

There is a lot of fascinating scholarship going on in science and philosophy concerning how human morality relates to evolution. Scientists report altruistic behavior in animal communities, and high correlations between specific parts of the brain and moral action; philosophers explore the moral implications of human evolutionmorality - evolution - James Rachels - C.S. Lewis; and both groups do much, much more. Still, the debate is ongoing about whether morality is an objective, universal, literally existing thing or a set of parameters which do not exist in any relevant sense of the word. Much like the compatibilists who illustrate how free will and determinism are not necessarily mutually exclusive, I would like to explore how morality could be both objective and not objective.

The purpose of really good philosophy, and really good philosophical education, is to encourage logical, careful, clear thinking. So, in the interest of at least attempting to do philosophy well, I will try to trace an intuitive explanation of these ideas. Such an explanation, while less scholarly, seems more likely to fuel thought and discussion (much like this instructor teaching Plato with sandwiches) than exhaustive argumentation for the position.

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[Topics: Evolutionary Biology, Moral Obligation, Morality]
The Macroevolution of Morals:

On Fundamental Morals from Societal Evolution, and Morality as Both Objective and Not Objective

was last modified: May 12th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski