Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Apparently not...

... Are There Secular Reasons? (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

... If public reason has “deprived” the natural world of “its normative dimension” by conceiving of it as free-standing and tethered to nothing higher than or prior to itself, how, Smith asks, “could one squeeze moral values or judgments about justice . . . out of brute empirical facts?” No way that is not a sleight of hand. This is the cul de sac Enlightenment philosophy traps itself in when it renounces metaphysical foundations in favor of the “pure” investigation of “observable facts.” It must somehow bootstrap or engineer itself back up to meaning and the possibility of justified judgment, but it has deliberately jettisoned the resources that would enable it do so.


  1. Oh, Stanley.

    A secular morality or ethics, I would put forth, is derived from the inherent value of the human person. From there, we make our values together: morality and ethics are only human, only inter-human, only social; I have no moral relationship to a stone or a tree — only to another person — therefore ethics comes about through implicit agreements based in the mutual respect of others and through discourse. [Why, yes, I have been reading Habermas lately, haha]

    Science helps us better understand the consequence of our actions and the practical working of our large systems; science is not the "root" of anything, just a tool, a process by which we discover modest, verifiable truths.

    Well, that's what I would say.

  2. Well, so-called primitive peoples often feel a profound moral relation to the animals they hunt. I feel a moral relation to the flowers I tend and the birds I feed out back. Of course, I could be merely eccentric. But you would seem to be suggesting that morality is simply one more human construct that is purely utilitarian and, presumably, relative. The claim on the other side is that a given behavior is right not because we do it, but rather that we do it because it is right and that it remains right whether we do it or not.

  3. Sorry I didn't see that you responded.

    It's no more "utilitarian" than any other principle of ethics, but it is definitely circumscribed to human society and based on only human value (meaning that even a relationship to a tree, if moral at all, is moral only in relation to how an action affects other, even unknown, people). It shouldn't make morality "relative," except insofar as the same action in two different scenarios might also have entirely different consequences or meanings. But some action may also have an inherent moral consequence regardless of the scenario as well.

    This still leaves ambiguities and difficulties, and requires an element of humility in each subject; but then again, if we desired clarity and ease we would choose dogma and slavery.