Philippa Foot (2001), Rosalind Hursthouse (1999), and Michael Thompson (2008), along with other philosophers, have argued for a metaethical position, the natural goodness approach, that claims moral judgments are, or are on a par with, teleological claims made in the biological sciences. Specifically, an organism’s flourishing is characterized by how well they function as specified by the species to which they belong. In this essay, I first sketch the Neo-Aristotelian natural goodness approach. Second, I argue that critics who claim that this sort of approach is inconsistent with evolutionary biology due to its species essentialism are incorrect. Third, I contend that combining the natural goodness account of natural-historical judgments with our best account of natural normativity, the selected effects theory of function, leads to implausible moral judgments. This is so if selected effects function are understood in terms of evolution by natural selection, but also if they are characterized in terms of cultural evolution. Thus, I conclude that proponents of the natural goodness approach must either embrace non-naturalistic vitalism or troubling moral revisionism.
The Cartesian Circle, infamously, turns on justifying the principle that everything perceived clearly and distinctly is true without first appealing to God’s existence. What results for that problem upon close scrutiny of Descartes’ own notion of clarity? I argue that Cartesian clarity should to be interpreted phenomenologically, i.e. under both psychological and epistemological aspects. Descartes can be (and often has been) exonerated of his most infamous putative circularity, but interpreting clarity phenomenologically means that the bigger problem of justifying the Clarity and Distinctness Principle remains.
Northwest Philosophy Conference
Central Washington University
November 7-8, 2014
Many people, perhaps most, think that if scientists let their political values affect their research then those values will interfere with their objectivity. The situation is presumed to be even worse when research is influenced by the political values of non-scientists, such as politicians, or otherwise politically-motivated individuals or groups (like feminists, gasp!). I think, however, that much depends on what we mean by political values, objectivity, and scientific research. I argue that political values affect scientific research all the time, and not always for the worse, indeed, sometimes for the better. This is counter-intuitive, I realize. At the very least, I need to show that and how we can make the distinction between political values that affect science for the better, and those that affect it for the worse. I admit that when we try to make this distinction, we might get it wrong. But this is no different than the other kinds of mistakes that scientists make all the time, that are then subject to correction. And of course we might get the distinction right. As we debate policy decisions affecting the fate of our planet, it is more important than ever that we get the distinction right.
Richard Boyd (Cornell University)
"Evolutionary Theory as Methodological Anesthesia: Methodological Lessons from 'Evolutionary Psychology'"
Friday, February 27
4:15PM, Eaton 209
According to mainstream ‘evolutionary psychology’ evolutionary theory makes an important methodological contribution to human social psychology. Plausible evolutionary scenarios regarding early human social behavior are said to provide a methodologically independent source of insights, identifying some psychological theories as those ‘predicted’ or otherwise especially supported by evolutionary theory. In practice the theories so identified are reductionist or nativist theories which minimize the role of social structures and of learning in explaining human social behaviors.
In fact, there is significant methodological independence between evolutionary scenarios and psychological theories but that independence guarantees that such scenarios do not favor reductionist or nativist theories over theories that emphasize the role of learning and of social structures (or vice versa). So, in practice, appeals to evolutionary theory function as a sort of methodological anesthesia, directing psychologists’ attention away from scientifically important alternatives to reductionist or nativist theories.
Nguyen Vu Hao (Vietnam National University, Hanoi)
Friday, April 10
4:15PM, Eaton 307
Pacific University Undergraduate Philosophy Conference
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