Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I just wanted to wish Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone at Pea Soup. I want thank everyone for their brilliant posts and comments this year. It's been a pleasure and I've learned a lot again. We should also thank the editors of the blog, Dan Boisvert, Joshua Glasgow, Douglas Portmore, and David Shoemaker for all their effort and support. Also wanted to say how nice it has been to meet so many Pea Soupers this year and I'm hoping to see just as many of you the next year. I'm off to the APA today so chances are I'll meet few of you there. Finally, I have a small gift for everyone. Below is a longish passage from Marc Hauser's book Moral Minds on Moore's Open Question Argument. I'm sure this passage will bring smiles to most people's faces. Merry Christmas!

"In 1903, the philosopher George Edward Moore noted that the dominant philosophical perspective of the time – John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism – frequently fell into the naturalistic fallacy: attempting to justify a particular moral principle by appealing to what is good. For Mill, utilitiarianism was a reform policy, one designed to change how people ought to behave by having them focus on the overall good, defined in terms of natural properties of human nature sich as our overall happiness. For Moore, the equation of good with natural was fallacious. There are natural things that are bad (polio, blindness) and unnatural things that are good (vaccines, reading glasses). We are not licenced to move from natural to the good.

A more general extension of the naturalistic fallacy comes from deriving ought from is. Consider these facts: In most cultures, women put more time into child care than men (a sex difference that is consistent with our primate ancestors) men are more violent than women (also consistent with our primate past), and polygamy is more common than monogamy (consistent with rest of the animal kingdom). From these facts, we are not licensed to conclude that women should do all the parenting while men drink beers, society should symphatize with male violence because testosterone makes violence inevitable, and somen should expect and support male promiscuity because it's in their genes, part of nature's plan. The descriptive principles we uncover about the human nature do not necessarily have a causal relationshipto the prescriptive principles. Drawing a causal connection is fallacious.

Moore's characterisation of the naturalistic fallacy caused generations of philosophers to either ignore or ridicule discoveries in the biological sciences. Together withe the work of the analytic philosopher Gottlieb Frege, it led to the pummeling of ethical naturalism, a perspective in philosophy that attempted to make sense of the good by appealing to the natural. It also led to an intellectual isolation of those thinking seriously about the moral principles and those attempting to uncover the signatures of human nature. Discussions of moral ideals were therefore severed from facts of moral behaviour and psychology.

The surgical separation of facts from ideals is, however, too extreme. Consider the following example:

FACT: The only difference between a doctor giving a child anasthesia and not giving her anesthesia is that without it, the child will be in agony during surgery. The anesthasia will have no ill effects on this child, but will cause her to temporarily lose consciousness and sensitivity to pain. She will then awaken from the surgery with no ill consequences, and in better health thanks to the doctor's work.

EVALUATIVE JUDGMENT: Therefore, the doctor should give the child anesthesia.

Here it seems reasonable for us to move from fact to value judgment. This move has the feel of a mathematical proof, requiring little more than an ability to understand the consequences of carrying out an action as opposed to refraining from the action. In this case, itseems reasonable to use is to derive ought."

I'm quite lost for words about quite a few things in this passage…

6 Replies to “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  1. Hi Jussi –
    Thanks so much for that, and I’d also like to say thanks to the various editors for letting me ramble occasionally on their blog. This place is a great resource! And to all those on the market – good luck!

  2. I’m not at a loss for words, that passage is fantastic! I’ll just assign this instead of Mill and Moore from this point on.
    Jussi, have a safe trip. I’ll be at the Eastern, too. Anyone else? If any of you happen to still be in Philly late Tuesday afternoon, the hubbub is that there’s a really good epistemology session that people around here are saying shouldn’t be missed…
    Happy holidays to all of you and good luck to most of you on the job market.

  3. Thanks, Jussi. But could you please say _something_ about the passage? Much here seems interesting to me also, but I don’t want to take the first step.

  4. I should like to second Jussi’s thanks to editors of PEA Soup, Dan Boisvert, Joshua Glasgow, Douglas Portmore, and David Shoemaker, for all their great work in making the blog what it is!
    And I’d also like to wish Jussi all the best at the APA in Philadelphia!

  5. Jussi: am I correct in assuming that your “loss for words” actually signify a torrent-like abundance of words (or however you store your ideas nowadays), temporarily incapacitated by crowding?
    And, further, in expecting the chief passage in question to be the interpretation of Moore’s OQA, the naturalistic fallacy and the meaning of ‘natural’?
    Sometimes you do get the impression that people only read the catch-phrases and then guess their content, don’t you?
    I agree, of course, that Hauser’s is a very strange reading indeed, but I’ve come across variations of it so frequently recently that I’ve started to wonder whether the hold of Moore’s arguments (in certain circles anyway) isn’t due to this misintrepretation, rather than to it’s proper understanding.
    (This, in turn, might be due to our occupational obsession with dissecting misinterpretations: it’s a respectable technique, but it doesn’t translate too well into other, even adjoining, disciplines).

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