Ethical naturalism

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Ethical naturalism (also called moral naturalism or naturalistic cognitivistic definism[1]) is the meta-ethical view which claims that:

This makes ethical naturalism a definist form of moral realism, which is in turn a form of cognitivism. Ethical naturalism stands in opposition to ethical non-naturalism, which denies that moral terms refer to anything other than irreducible moral properties, as well as to all forms of moral anti-realism, including ethical subjectivism (which denies that moral propositions refer to objective facts), error theory (which denies that any moral propositions are true), and non-cognitivism (which denies that moral sentences express propositions at all).

It is important to distinguish the versions of ethical naturalism which have received the most sustained philosophical interest, for example, Cornell Realism, from the position that "the way things are is always the way they ought to be"; few ethical naturalists believe such a slogan. Ethical naturalism does, however, reject the fact-value distinction: it suggests that inquiry into the natural world can increase our moral knowledge in just the same way it increases our scientific knowledge. Indeed, proponents of ethical naturalism have argued that humanity needs to invest in their science of morality - although the existence of such a science is debated.

Ethical naturalism encompasses any reduction of ethical properties, such as 'goodness', to non-ethical properties; there are many different examples of such reductions, and thus many different varieties of ethical naturalism. Hedonism, for example, is the view that goodness is ultimately just pleasure.


Morality as a science

Author Sam Harris Ph.D has argued that we over-estimate the relevance of many arguments against the science of morality, arguments he believes scientists happily and rightly disregard in other domains of science like physics. For example, a scientist may find herself attempting to counter-argue philosophical skeptics, when Harris says she should be practically asking - as scientists would in any other domain - "why would we listen to a [ solipsist ] in the first place?" This, Harris contends, is part of what it means to practice a science of morality.

Physicist Sean Carroll believes that conceiving of morality as a science could be a case of Scientific imperialism and insists that what is "good for conscious creatures" is not an adequate working definition of "moral".[2] In opposition, Vice President at the Center for Inquiry, John Shook, claims that this working definition is more than adequate for science at present, and that disagreement should not immobilize the scientific study of ethics.[3]

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