A couple of notes on the subject of philosophical follow-ups, before I skip town for the weekend:
After a brief hiatus, the effort to transcribe G. E. Moore’s Principia Ethica for the web has reached another milestone: Chapter II of PE–Moore’s discussion of Naturalistic Ethics–has now hit the web. After doing the heavy meta-ethical lifting in Chapter I, Moore goes on to apply the tools that he has developed to questions of normative ethics. The most popular naturalistic theory by far–Hedonism–is left for a detailed treatment in Chapter III (which you’ll just have to wait for); Moore uses Chapter II as a place to first set out the options, and then systematically demonstrate the fallaciousness of attempts to ground ethical theory in appeals to (1)
naturalpropensities and (2) the outcomes of
Evolution. (The latter half of the chapter spends some time knocking Herbert Spencer’s ethical theory–which is, if nothing else, remarkable in that it’s one of the few examples of Hebert Spencer being criticized for dumb things he really did say.)
There is at least one big gap in Moore’s argument: like most moderns, and most Analytics in particular, he doesn’t have much sympathy for teleology, and that hobbles his discussion of what
naturalmight mean when we appeal to
naturalfunction in ethics. Moore shows that, if you’re using
naturalin the sense of statistically normal for your kind, or in the sense of necessary for life, the only way to make an ethics based on what’s natural for us even remotely plausible is by committing the naturalistic fallacy. But since Moore hasn’t got any real notion of teleology, he just doesn’t consider the meaning of
naturalthat forms the backbone of the Aristotelian tradition in ethics–where what is good for us is made out in terms of what is suited to our nature, i.e., suited to the form of life of rational animals. I don’t actually think that a carefully framed
naturalisticethics in the Aristotelian sense would be in any conflict with Moore’s ethical
non-naturalism. Moore has polemical reasons for wanting to distinguish his ethical position from
naturalism,but the important thing for Moore is that ethical judgments aren’t reducible to descriptions of a situation’s non-ethical properties; but the Aristotelian appeal to
naturealways irreducibly involves an appeal to how creatures of so-and-so kind ought to be. So the only thing to fight over so far is whether irreducibly ethical properties ought to be called
non-natural; but that’s an issue of more interest to lexicographers than philosophers. In any case, Moore is mostly on solid ground throughout the chapter–and everything he has to say could be directed just as effectively today against the proponents of the oxymoronic doctrine of
naturalized ethics, or those who think all you need to do to get your ethics to cook up some sociobiological story about how people came to have the particular sentiments that they actually do have.
Anyway, you really should read the whole thing. Cite and be merry!
I’m heading South–straight to the Mississippi River, in fact–to present my essay on Hume and the Missing Shade of Blue for the 2005 Mid-South Philosophy Conference in Memphis, Tennessee. The draft I’ll be presenting is available online; I’d love to hear any comments, questions, applause, or brickbats you might have about it. (For the super-condensed version of the argument, there’s my post on an earlier draft of the same essay from back in October.)
I’ll see y’all once I’ve returned from my brief vacation in Tennessee. Enjoy the weekend!