The End of Philosophy

Socrates talked. The assumption behind his approach to philosophy, and the approaches of millions of people since, is that moral thinking is mostly a matter of reason and deliberation: Think through moral problems. Find a just principle. Apply it.
One problem with this kind of approach to morality, as Michael Gazzaniga writes in his 2008 book, “Human,” is that “it has been hard to find any correlation between moral reasoning and proactive moral behavior, such as helping other people. In fact, in most studies, none has been found.”
Today, many psychologists, cognitive scientists and even philosophers embrace a different view of morality. In this view, moral thinking is more like aesthetics. As we look around the world, we are constantly evaluating what we see. Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous.
As Steven Quartz of the California Institute of Technology said during a recent discussion of ethics sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, “Our brain is computing value at every fraction of a second. Everything that we look at, we form an implicit preference. Some of those make it into our awareness; some of them remain at the level of our unconscious, but … what our brain is for, what our brain has evolved for, is to find what is of value in our environment.”
Think of what happens when you put a new food into your mouth. You don’t have to decide if it’s disgusting. You just know. You don’t have to decide if a landscape is beautiful. You just know.
Moral judgments are like that. They are rapid intuitive decisions and involve the emotion-processing parts of the brain. Most of us make snap moral judgments about what feels fair or not, or what feels good or not. We start doing this when we are babies, before we have language. And even as adults, we often can’t explain to ourselves why something feels wrong.
In other words, reasoning comes later and is often guided by the emotions that preceded it. Or as Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia memorably wrote, “The emotions are, in fact, in charge of the temple of morality, and … moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as a high priest.”
The question then becomes: What shapes moral emotions in the first place? The answer has long been evolution, but in recent years there’s an increasing appreciation that evolution isn’t just about competition. It’s also about cooperation within groups. Like bees, humans have long lived or died based on their ability to divide labor, help each other and stand together in the face of common threats. Many of our moral emotions and intuitions reflect that history. We don’t just care about our individual rights, or even the rights of other individuals. We also care about loyalty, respect, traditions, religions. We are all the descendents of successful cooperators.
The first nice thing about this evolutionary approach to morality is that it emphasizes the social nature of moral intuition. People are not discrete units coolly formulating moral arguments. They link themselves together into communities and networks of mutual influence.
The second nice thing is that it entails a warmer view of human nature. Evolution is always about competition, but for humans, as Darwin speculated, competition among groups has turned us into pretty cooperative, empathetic and altruistic creatures — at least within our families, groups and sometimes nations.
The third nice thing is that it explains the haphazard way most of us lead our lives without destroying dignity and choice. Moral intuitions have primacy, Haidt argues, but they are not dictators. There are times, often the most important moments in our lives, when in fact we do use reason to override moral intuitions, and often those reasons — along with new intuitions — come from our friends.
The rise and now dominance of this emotional approach to morality is an epochal change. It challenges all sorts of traditions. It challenges the bookish way philosophy is conceived by most people. It challenges the Talmudic tradition, with its hyper-rational scrutiny of texts. It challenges the new atheists, who see themselves involved in a war of reason against faith and who have an unwarranted faith in the power of pure reason and in the purity of their own reasoning.
Finally, it should also challenge the very scientists who study morality. They’re good at explaining how people make judgments about harm and fairness, but they still struggle to explain the feelings of awe, transcendence, patriotism, joy and self-sacrifice, which are not ancillary to most people’s moral experiences, but central. The evolutionary approach also leads many scientists to neglect the concept of individual responsibility and makes it hard for them to appreciate that most people struggle toward goodness, not as a means, but as an end in itself.

nytimes.com/2009/04/07/opinion/07Brooks.html

Basically this changing intellectual trend does away with the need to seek legitimacy for one’s beliefs according to the ground rules set up those who would oppose it.

After all, what’s so legitimate about their emotional beliefs?

Two interesting posts in one day!

I heard once someone say (cannot remember from whom) something like this (Sorry it’s been a while):
“Philosophers today certainly know science, but they do not know philosophy.”

I recall my history of philosophy professor last semester would go on about how scientific findings denied Aristotle (physics yes, but he never actually addressed Aristotle’s philosophy), and modern philosophy is in-line with scientific knowledge. He seemed, certainly, to claim that any philosophy advocating an objective reality was patently false.

Another interesting statement (I think it may have been from the same person as the first) was: “Philosophers today do not seek the depths of the human experience, but are instead focused on being clever. Cleverness is not philosophy.”

I’m just going to say that I disagree with a lot of this.Just one example:I would say in this society today people still have a sense of what is moral and amoral.However more and more people are actually going against what is moral and in alot of cases they have been led to believe that their is no innate morals.Today children and even adults can’t distinguish whether porn.or even illicet sex or homosexuality is moral or not.they have been so influenced and taught that their are no moral fundamentals by scientists and doctors who say that everything is material(genes,ect) that they decide that we are a people without a soul or spiritual human beings.We are being taught we are no more than machines and through medicine we can eventualy solve every human failing.

“Our** brain** is computing value at every fraction of a second. Everything that we look at, we form an implicit preference. Some of those make it into our awareness; some of them remain at the level of our unconscious, but … what our brain is for, what our brain has evolved for, is to find what is of value in our environment…
Think of what happens when you put a new food into your mouth. You don’t have to decide if it’s disgusting. You just know. You don’t have to decide if a landscape is beautiful. You just know.
Moral judgments are like that. They are rapid intuitive decisions and involve the emotion-processing parts of the brain. Most of us make snap moral judgments about what feels fair or not, or what feels good or not. We start doing this when we are babies, before we have language. And even as adults, we often can’t explain to ourselves why something feels wrong."

The abandonment of reason in favour of emotion is a logical consequence of regarding our decisions as the result of brain processes. The element of choice doesn’t come into the picture because we are regarded as biological machines!

It is not a new idea. Emotivism was propounded by A.J.Ayer in his book Language, Truth and Logic way back in 1936!

THat moral judgments happen usually as emotional responses (though not always; in complex cases we often take the time to examine all the participants, what each really did, etc), no-one denies. But that doesn’t mean that the search for the rational basis of these emotional responses is fruitless. On the contrary: it may sometimes reveal that our automatic emotional responses can, on occasion, be wrong and biased.

Same with aesthetics, by the way.

While that is a good point, an emotivist won’t be phased by this argument. They only claim to describe the content of moral statements - that is - they are merely expressive assertions based upon emotion. They have no truth value. So the statement: “it was wrong for X to murder Y” is neither true nor false. It is only an emotional declaration. Emotivists are quite willing to swallow the reductio and admit that their emotional moral beliefs are no more legitimate than yours.

The major problem with emotivism is that it fails to describe conditional moral propositions (if-then statements). For example, “if X lies to Y then X will have done something wrong” does not appear to contain any emotive or expressive content. It is not even asserted here that X actually lied to Y. There is an entire category of moral statements then that emotivism fails to describe, but that is exactly what it purports to be able to do.

Emotivists may object that conditional statements are never moral statements or that they are meaningless. The problem is that if a conditional statement like the example above is not a moral statement, then what kind of statement is it? What is it seeking to describe if not precisely that a certain action would be morally wrong? On the other hand, the objection that conditional propositions such as these are meaningless begs the question of why they are meaningless. It can’t be because they are emotive assertions that lack truth value. Conditional propositions are not expressive.

The bottom line is that emotivism fails to describe what it says it can describe: the content of moral statements.

As I understand it, the science is a long way from emotivism.

The evidence (from MRI scans, etc.) is that a lot of everyday life involves intuitive decisions made by the emotional parts of the brain. Intuitive judgments are very fast, much quicker than having to think through every decision rationally, and so may be crucial to survival - a purely rational computer would get overwhelmed by the amount of processing involved. But the rational parts of the brain also light up, indicating that we can consciously validate and if necessary override our intuitions. This is probably how we learn new intuitions, and of course we can also think through our actions later when we have more time.

You could summarize by saying “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” – Romans 2:15 NIV :slight_smile:

So the science verifies something Paul already knew, but importantly it reminds us again that morality also involves our hearts, it’s not just dry logic.

What do you suppose an emotivist would make of the claim that “Einstein was a good scientist”?

There is definitely a judgment taking place there…moral in that it calls him “good.”

I think this is beyond personal emotional preference…the theory of relativity and of special relativity are valid scientific theories – objectively verifiable – and thus such a claim I would think would be devastating to their claims?

As for the article above, outside of its pre-determined materialism, I don’t have a problem as a Thomist with stating that our passions/emotions influence how we morally reason. In the vicious man, he detracts from reason by pursuing his passions instead of listening to the “utterance” of reason. So the heart case continues to eat deep fried foods even though it will kill him. The passions actually quicken or short circuit reason…no problem with science discovering that.

Obviously, the materialist/emotivist, could claim that I am making a judgment of personal preference in stating that it is vicious for a heart case to eat fried foods in excess. But…if we put the argument in the context of purpose, we can certainly make objectively valid claims.

Dying is bad (one can certainly deny this, but only because of accidental conditions, so take away the terminal illness and pain, and euthanasia becomes a non-issue).

Eating fried foods will make me die.

Therefore, I shouldn’t eat this (or for the technicians, eating fried foods is bad).

If the purpose is to avoid death, then emotivism claim against objective moral claims is false. At least that’s how I see it.

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