Thursday, August 18, 2005

More on the naturalistic fallacy   posted by the @ 8/18/2005 07:00:00 PM

Comments about my "Ethics is hard and so is science" got me interested in the naturalistic fallacy: "the argument tries to draw a conclusion about how things ought to be based solely on information about how things are in fact." An example: "There have always been wars. Hence there is no reason for you to object that our bombing of Serbia was morally wrong."

Prima facia, the naturalistic fallacy seems like a stupid mistake to make. Adding science to the mix, and evolution in particular, certainly exacerbates the reasoning problem. But surely this is not the only reason that so many people commit this error.

The naturalistic fallacy is actually a very limited proposition. It entails that empirical facts alone cannot be the foundation for moral judgment. But clearly empirical facts can and should be a part of ethical reasoning. W.R.T. Darwinism, empirical facts about human nature tell us how difficult it will be to achieve a desired outcome.

In the comments, Steve Sailer pointed out that "the belief that all human beings are equal" is pre-Darwinian belief, promoted by Christianity. I now think that the tendency to commit the naturalistic fallacy has a similar cause; it involves the inappropriate attribution to Darwinism of the pre-Darwinian concept of a "moral order" instantiated in the natural world. The concept of a coincident natural and moral order is easy to see in Christian theology, and it appears to bedevil rational thought today.

But I think splitting the natural and ethical should tell us something else. It should tell us that moral progress is not an inexorable outcome of history, but rather is something that we have to work to achieve.