Thursday, March 01, 2018

Moral realism, moral non-realism, moral naturalism

In this post at Footnotes to Plato, Massimo Pigliucci talks about morals and not participating in the "Big Four" of Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon ever more dominating large chunks of the online world. The post is based on a new book about that.

A back-and-forth about moral framing issues between Massimo and Dan Kaufman in comments, with me largely agreeing with Massimo, led to me hinting that Dan is strawmanning Massimo on this issue (I still think he is, despite his denial), led to this last comment by Massimo:

“Massimo is also a moral anti-realist, as you know, as he’s said so here” 
It would be more correct to say that I’m a moral naturalist, as I think morality is a human invention (thus not “real”), but constrained by human nature, desires, and limitations (thus partially factual).
(His quote is of a previous comment by me.)

I told him in an email that with that explanation, I agree, and that it's why I think something like "ev psych done right," or a relabeled, start-from-scratch, the "evolutionary biology of psychology and sociology" is real — as long as said field includes gene-culture co-evolution.

That said, let me note a comment of mine there, not too much earlier, the one from which Massimo quoted:

Dan, you choose not to see any type of argument, especially if you don’t see “specialness” in something like trashing the entire planet’s climate. To further riff on Isaiah, I don’t try to reason forever where and when it’s a waste of time. 
Massimo is also a moral anti-realist, as you know, as he’s said so here. I’m a semi-anti-realist. Being a moral anti-realist is irrelevant here, other than the issue of language, and you choosing to make your division of where the word “moral” falls …
And others disagreeing
IF one wants to fully go down that road, and also be a moral anti-realist, every person in the universe can hive off by one’s moral self. If one takes it far enough, we can introduce Mr. Wittgenstein to Mr. Hobbes. 
That said, this is why I’m only a semi-anti-realist. Per the evolutionary development of human nature, I think we can find some moral values partially influenced by our human backgrounds. 
And, as for Mr. Wittgenstein meeting Mr. Hobbes? Based on the paragraph above, homey can either not play that game, or else play it in deliberately contrarian way, usually based on Cynic ideas.
I can do exactly that. I can call a person like Dan immoral, if I think he or she is for willfully narrowing their "moral arc," per Martin Luther King.

And I do think exactly that. Per the Markan explainer (reduplicated by Q with the Parable of the Talents) of the moral of certain parables, that, "to him who has much, more will be given," and even more, per the Lukan different explainer on a different parable cycle, that, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded," and that virtue ethics morals, based on Massimo's moral naturalism, is somewhat of a sociological project (Massimo talks about writing and exemplifying) I think it is realistic to say that we as a society should expect a broader moral arc from people with higher intellectual gifts, especially if they have a more prominent social standing with it.

That said, whether it's "don't want to" or "can't," at times, Dan's psychological arc isn't highly expanded. He's said more than once that he just doesn't "get" families with less than a fairly high degree of cohesion, let alone families where blood is certainly not thicker than water. Taking it charitably as "can't" within his current psyche, and knowing of some of his gifts, I hope that both on that in particular and moral arcs in general, his arc does expand in the future.

Do I think Dan is as immoral as a person who drowns cats, let alone a suicide bomber? Of course not.

But, yes, and seriously — not just to play Wittgensteinian linguistic schadenfreude — I do think it's a moral failing of a small degree to not expand one's arc further, especially if part of that is willfully wanting to not expand one's arc.