in defence of morality as philosophy
In this essay I wish to offer a defence of morality, which has come under attack from the so-called debunking arguments either from Darwinians or those inspired by accounts from evolutionary biology of “morality revealed as social instincts”. The ground on which I stand asserts morality as a philosophical discipline, the conceptual distinctiveness of which may not be challenged by scientific evidence of what we are—because morality exists to show us what we could be. I also defend the claim that what Darwinians explain, and intend to explain, is human sociality. Acknowledging that it is a dead-ringer for morality, I have also seen it as my task to extricate morality from sociality by clarifying the relationship between the two: what makes a belief moral is not its content but its epistemological genesis. Moreover, I suggest that “moral beliefs” impugned by debunking arguments are those which would not qualify as ‘moral’, in the sense defined in this essay; on the other hand, that the debunking arguments against them might yet fail for not taking into account the fact of cultural diversity, which suggests that beliefs about what constitutes sociable behavior are man- and not gene-made. Accordingly, I complete my defence of morality by presenting Searle’s theory of social institutions as an alternative account of sociality which has the benefits of (a) continuing where the Darwinian story ends; (b) explaining both the intuition that social behavior occurs by an instinct, i.e. spontaneously, and its manifest rule-likeness. What Searle adds to the Darwinian story is the indispensable fact of language—which, conveniently, also explains cultural diversity. I conclude, then, that the object of recent scientific curiosity is a social phenomenon and not, in fact, morality.
introduction ................................................................. 1 1 morality as philosophy ............................................ 3
1.2.1 1.2.2 1.2.3
the presumption of morality .................................................... 3 the normative question ........................................................... 5
It must be an answer to the normative question ............................................................. 5 It must be transparent with respect to motivation ........................................................... 6 It must speak to who we are, to our sense of identity ..................................................... 6
a crucial distinction ............................................................... 7 not survival, but enquiry ........................................................ 8
debunking darwinian theories .................................. 9
“morality is a product of natural selection” .......................... 9
the fact of sociality .................................................................................................... 9 “the myth of morality” .............................................................................................. 10 social reality, 1; religious myths, 0 ........................................................................ 10 2.1.1 2.1.2 2.1.3
“a darwinian dilemma for realist theories of value” ............. 13
“a remarkable coincidence” ....................................................................................... 13 evolutionary instincts make no moral evaluations............................................... 14
“no epistemological warrant” ................................................ 15
“there are no moral facts” ........................................................................................ 15 what has not been cannot be a ‘considered judgment’ .......................................... 16
2.4.1 2.4.2 2.4.3
what is culture to “you” is reality for “us” .......................... 17
the cultural constitution of value conceptions .................................................. 17 it’s “real life”, not “our way of life” ....................................................................... 17 social instincts+cultural dispositions→“our” values .......................................... 18
searle’s social ontology ......................................... 21
a story of sociality (without the sin) .................................. 23
the darwinian myth—revisited................................................................................. 23 sociality—for the love of “mother”, not the fear of god .................................... 23 3.1.1 3.1.2
the difference of language .................................................... 24
from social instincts to social institutions .......................................................... 24 from institutional fact to interpersonal relationship ........................................ 24
3.3.1 3.3.2 3.3.3 3.3.4 3.3.5
“social instincts 2.0” ............................................................. 25
learning by doing ....................................................................................................... 25 social glue .................................................................................................................. 25 cultural attachment: being “at home” in one’s society ........................................ 26 right and wrong ......................................................................................................... 26 fact & value ................................................................................................................ 26
conclusion .................................................................... 27 references .................................................................... 30
In this essay I wish to launch a defence of morality, as philosophy, something that seems to have become necessary in light of recent debunking arguments advanced against it. The term “debunking” implies that “morality is not what you think it is”, and in so doing they intend to reveal “what morality really is”—and this essay endeavors to do just that. On the Darwinian view, morality is falsely believed to consist in the laws of social cooperation decreed by a sovereign authority with the power to oblige on pain of sanctions, necessary to enact and maintain order amongst those who would otherwise degenerate into savagery. In truth, they say, these laws are a gift from nature written into our genetic code, urging us to our socialized destiny. The new debunkers concur, but on their view, morality is falsely believed to consist in pearls of philosophic wisdom that, despite a veneer of respectability suitable for a post-religious age, do no more than echo the voice of our evolutionary instincts. Both the debunkers and their interlocutors are agreed on the idea that “morality” is the socializing force on human behavior that keeps human society together; they simply disagree on what it’s made of. Like the debunkers, I contend that there are widely-held misconceptions as to the nature of morality; unlike them, I aim to dispel these in its defence. I believe that morality faces this existential threat only because it has been mistaken for sociality. Perhaps well it would be if this were the case only for a bunch of philosophers, but recent experimental work by psychological scientists has shown that most people are quite prepared to judge each other by the rules of social behavior in ways that would seem to confirm the assertion of one prominent Darwinian debunker, Michael Ruse, that “morality is just a matter of emotions …no more than liking or not liking spinach”(Ruse 2010)—all in all, a resounding refutation of “morality” as the thoughtful, considered productions of rational cogitation par-excellence, borne in the tradition of venerated thinkers such as Kant, Mill, Williams and Rawls. Yet it is their conception of “morality” that I defend in this essay—one that, I claim, could not be impugned by evidence of what people actually do or believe, anymore than science may be indicted by the fact that the Azande believe in witchcraft. Beneath this furore, I believe, lies a fundamental misunderstanding about the concept of morality itself: it is not a means to compliance, but a guide to cognition devised upon the presumption that humans are thinking, reasoning beings fully capable of designing their own actions with others in mind. It assumes, in fact, that humans have an innate capacity for sociable behavior and aims, instead, to address the person who is moved to question the social order that forms part of his cultural inheritance. Morality, so construed, is constituted in the 1st-person: it consists in those beliefs one comes to endorse by a journey that begins with doubt and culminates in a considered judgment upon which one may act with the full confidence of justification. What is moral action, then, is distinguished not so much by in-situ deliberation—drowning children and potential trolley victims might not have that long to wait—but by the fact that you are prepared to claim it as your own, to be identified with it in the eyes of others. This is a view I intend to support by showing that what the debunkers explain with social instincts is a concept apart from morality as I conceive and define it. For one thing, Darwinians explicitly propose to explain “why people behave sociably”, which on the one hand assumes that “moral” means “sociable”, whilst on the other hand, neglects to fill in what may be vastly divergent behavioral details of what it in fact takes to be sociable between different social contexts. It is a 3rd-person explanation which entails an acquiescence to the established social order and does not account for cultural diversity: social instincts cannot be the cause of beliefs that one could only have acquired after one was born. More importantly, social instincts only trump alternate accounts because they can produce beliefs that one may act on without ever being aware of having them; beliefs that are debunkable in virtue of this property are a-fortiriori not moral judgments.
In other words, Darwinian “no rules required” arguments may only debunk those beliefs that are made by social instincts, exactly the kind you don’t need to act from, and for that reason not moral in the sense here defended—one that also covers any other “moral=sociable” beliefs that lead to evidently sociable behaviors, amongst which are culturally-specific rules of social behavior social instincts may not likely explain. I believe it is necessary to complete my defence of morality by filling the cultural hole left by Darwinian accounts, to which end I offer Searle’s theory of social institutions, which, by introducing the fact of language, not only explains cultural variation but may thus resolve the apparent paradox of how what are complex social rules are nevertheless expressible “by an instinct”. Here is a brief summary of the essay: In section 1, I give a definition of morality as I intend to defend it, and present Korsgaard’s conditions for an account of morality which I will use to illustrate the conceptual distinction, as I see it, between morality and sociality. Because they clearly resemble each other, I spend the rest of the section prising them apart to prepare my case against the debunking arguments, which I come to next. In section 2, I tackle the debunking arguments head on by first observing that Darwinians always meant to explain “why humans are sociable”, with which they debunk “anything else you might have heard”—especially religion. Next, I turn to Street’s arguments against value realism, according to which the remarkable similarity between common-garden judgments and “what our instincts would say if they could talk” cannot just be a coincidence. I endorse this view, and explain that this is precisely why they cannot be moral judgments—they are beliefs you never need to know you have to act on them. This characteristic feature of instinct-judgments is related to debunking arguments against those “moral beliefs” that also sound suspiciously like our social instincts—which brings out the point that “morality” is debunkable only to the extent that it just is our call to social behavior—though the fact that these are rule-like and the way these beliefs are culturally-constituted suggests that they are nothing our social instincts could have anticipated to give us. Whilst this could count against the Darwinians, I argue instead that epistemologically speaking, these would amount to acting on an instinct that (as with Street’s survival dispositions) could compel you to act against your will (you might do it out of necessity “because it is the norm”—but grudgingly) or in ways you might not approve of yourself (social compliance is no small part of one’s survival—needs must could necessitate anything). Above all, sociality cannot be morality because it obviates what is usually considered the constitutive role of conscience in moral action. Yet if we are in need of an account how people come to act in ways that are sociable with respect to their cultural notions of the same, social instincts won’t give it—but I believe Searle’s theory can. In section 3, then, I present Searle’s theory of social institutions as an alternate explanation of how people come by these conceptions of sociality that are rule-like, yet executed by an instinct; proprietary, yet may be held to with the force of moral necessity(i.e. one could feel like less of a person for not complying). The key to this apparent paradox is language: on the one hand, we learn as words the social concepts that define both our relationships with others and “how to live”; on the other hand, “home” is the place one understands and is understood—and where one’s values are shared. This is not to say that language and culture need divide us, only that it can. I conclude, then, with the final, defining difference between sociality and morality: no rule or principle that is in fact given by one’s social context can apply to the person, the exclusive concern and interest of morality, and the grounds on which it strives for a universal standard. If this is to be achieved, it must exclude all that is contingent and circumstantial to the person from its deliberations, even as it assumes that these are facts about the person that may not be denied; on the other hand, moral relativism is the inevitable consequence of failing to distinguish cultural from moral standards. All it takes for morality to exist is that we continue to believe in the possibility of morals, and in the “common humanity of mankind”.
1 morality as philosophy
1.1 the presumption of morality
What do you call that thing you do when you glower at someone for jumping the queue?—which you might not have, on a better day, a better mood, if you had just joined the queue, or if the queue didn’t seem miles long ahead of you? A moral judgment? Or when you responded that time to the plaintive “Got any change?” with every last penny you had, just because you had a particularly winning day at the office?—even though you heard it at least a dozen times before, and each time considered yourself justified for ignoring it “because they would spend it on drink and drugs anyway”? A moral act? If so, yours is the conception of morality shared by various biologists, psychologists, neuroscientists— and likely as not, much of the population. That, however, is not the view of those who sought with their philosophies to offer principles of right and wrong able to serve both as a DIY-guide to the matter of one’s own actions and as the grounds of ethical standards which inform social policy and professional codes of practice—altogether, the means to a better society. We could think of these philosophers as making a leap of faith with their ideas: they believed without question the possibility that humans are capable of having morals and thus of acting-morally. On the one hand, they took for granted the human capacity to fashion one’s own actions—both the ends and means—to one’s own design, limited only by one’s imagination and the awareness of the immense responsibilities one undertakes in acting: that material-consequences ensue from one’s actions; that others might not interpret our actions as they were intended; that whatever we do here and now is a possible action for someone else. On the other hand, being thus capable of acting for a reason(Korsgaard 2008) also means the ability to consider others when we act: we need only to take on their reasons as our own, to find the reasons we can share(Korsgaard 1993). This takes no more than the appreciation that every other human is a person like ourselves—just as capable of their own ideas about how to act, motivated by needs others cannot know, and a conception of the world all their own, made from everything they would call “me”. What I claim for “me” in virtue of being a person is—logically, even— equally valid for every other “me”. The presumption of morality, then, is that each person is reason-capable, whose life is a unique narrative that touches at least that of every other person he meets—reason enough to be mindful of others in what he does. Architect of his own actions1, he is a pool of original ideas, a creative resource who also faces the challenge of how to act in a way that doesn’t compromise the like freedom of others to do the same. Morals, on this view, are grown, not born. Why does this matter? Because “moral”, thus conceived, is assumed to be something someone can work at, get better at, to become a “good” person—what sense a meritorious attribution that cannot be earned? “Moral” pertains to one’s actions—like everything else you choose, you need guidance, even just to get started. Working out the contents of such guidance— moral-principles—is what moral-philosophers do. Their objective is to figure out how to make us better, not to find out what we are—something which informs their deliberations but need not determine it2. Moral-principles are supposed to show us what it is to reason-morally—as opposed to any other way—not to give us answers to moral dilemmas. That they do argue about it tells us that they believe no one gets to decide what is right; the point is to keep talking, and not just because better is worth striving for.
See also ((Korsgaard 1996),p.19) See ((Rawls 2005), lecture ii, §8, pp.86-88).
This, then, is the enterprise of morality and the purpose for which it was conceived. The quotidian phenomenon mentioned at the start of this section doesn’t have to be morality—one may be moral if one chooses; it’s neither given nor compulsory, it takes all of one’s willingness and just a little effort. Morality, so conceived, merely asserts the possibility—not the necessity—of one’s having morals and of acquiring them; queue-jumper-frustration and inconsistent-beggar-responses are familiar features of human social life—part of what we are—that thereby deserve attention as part of the human and social sciences. These are complementary disciplines that service different kinds of intellectual curiosities and need not compete for title. One could also argue, of course, that Kant, Hume, Smith and Mill “got there first” and have the claim of possession; but the fact that these are named as examples of “morality-in-action” suggests that it may well be what many people consider it to be. If so, this points to a confusion of concepts that poses an unnecessary threat to the possibility on which morality is presumed—morals must be grown per-person, and this requires society be alive to the concept and organized towards its promotion (see (Rawls 1999 (1971)), chapter viii for an explanation of this point). Moreover, if morality can be the guide to a better society, we would be the worse for losing sight of it; on the other hand, if we do lose sight of it, nothing would guide society either way that puts forth the person as a priority concern. This last point may only be addressed in section 3 with Searle’s account of how societies are made; suffice for now the claim that society, once made, includes mechanisms that entail the persistence of its current constitution which may sustain indefinitely, barring external interventions such as natural disaster or foreign invasion. Without a guiding conception that offers the confidence in proposals for change that promise to be worth the necessary pain of transition, societies don’t; the fact of “lost civilisations” suggest that cultures can run themselves into the ground and it is at least possible that this was partly due to a failure to respond appropriately to conditions which demanded it. In addition, the view I here espouse—that morality requires a philosophical defense—also forms part of the canonical tradition of morality as a purposive conception, perhaps first given in Kant’s Grundlegung (third section in general, iv-459:15 in particular), later endorsed by Rawls ((Rawls 1989), p.113). For these reasons, then, I assert the distinctiveness of morality as a normative discipline, the priority of the subject matter as it is still understood, and proceed to deny the claims from science for the title on the grounds that (a) the existence of morality is not capable of being proven by scientific evidence—any more than one might expect to find evidence of “science”; and (b) the object of scientific investigation is a social phenomenon, which I intend to identify and distinguish from morality. In case more is required, I’ll add the point that the interests of science don’t have to be affected by what might, from the scientific point of view, seem a finickety philosophical distinction—especially since I mean, in section 3, to offer an alternative home for their research endeavors. For the moment, however, I present what is usually thought to be required of an account of morality, as philosophy.
1.2 the normative question
The question how we explain moral behavior is a third-person, theoretical question, a question about why a certain species of intelligent animals behaves in a certain way. The normative question is a first-person question that arises for the moral agent who must actually do what morality says. __________________________________________________________________((Korsgaard 1996), p.16)
All societies have laws and rules that must be obeyed on pain of legal sanctions, the loneliness of social-ostracism and the dangers of social-exclusion. The fact of compliance is necessary to “getting-on”, but the act of compliance is not—most of these (as we’ll see) are learnt with language or as technique and done out of habit. These explain why people would do it, and do do it. But this is a different question. Consider the practice of offering inducements to expedite matters in one’s favor, standard operating procedure in certain countries. “Bribery” is a loaded English word that reflects cultural attitudes; the local word may have the same overtones as “tax”, and how a local speaker conceives of the practice that he learns about as part of growing-up in his world. Suppose someone in that society—because he has a brain; he happens to be well-off—wonders what exactly makes it ok, how it makes sense for the better-endowed to get things done more quickly just because they are in a position to be more persuasive, since “more urgent” or “greater need” seem better reasons for “more-quickly” than “better-benefits-package”—for the bureaucrat, of course, not the state-coffers. He knows it as “how it’s done”; he’s asking “why must I do this? Why must it be done so?” as a person. Morality, the intellectual discipline, asserts that this last is a question, one that requires an answer, one it endeavors to provide as a collective, peer-reviewed effort. If this kind of question could be put to the practices of that society, one that casts a critical eye on the constitution of these practices and is thought to deserve a reasonable (and not merely acceptable) answer, then anyone in that society who asks “why must I do it?” may have their genuine concerns addressed. This, I suggest3, then serves to engender a culture in which “why…” is understood as an invitation to reason and dialogue, and not have to be assumed as a contentious attempt to evade one’s obligation. If we think, as I shall assume, that persons do—or perhaps, even, should—ask the normative question, and do need the internal coherence of being justified in one’s actions—not just a (welfare-preserving) plausible excuse for one’s behavior—then we must accept that morality exists as it does to answer this need, and that accounts of morality are purposed to this end. If it is to do so, then, it must satisfy a few conditions4: 1.2.1 It must be an answer to the normative question
126.96.36.199 It must be a response to a request for justification
The normative question would never arise for behavior that one performs habitually or otherwise with no thought to the possibility of an alternative, so an explanation in these terms is not an account of morality: it won’t be a response to a request for justification because one will not have been made.
188.8.131.52 It must tell “me” what makes “it” ‘the right thing to do’.
The normative question demands an answer about “it”, to the first-person wanting to know what makes “it” the right thing to do. By implication, it must address someone who is cognizant of “its” omission as a material possibility(see 184.108.40.206). This, then, requires a account of right that states the conditions that “it” satisfies in virtue of which “it” is right, and which thereby makes “me” right for doing “it”—not just a means of attributing right or wrong to behavior witnessed in the third-person. in other words, this first condition—perhaps by way of illustrating how one’s morals grow from a question—says that an account of morality must be an answer that “satisfies us when we ourselves ask the normative question.” (op.cit., p.17; see also (Foot 1958), and (Williams 1972 (1993)))
See ((Rawls 1999 (1971)), §69-75) for general points about the relations between morality, moral psychology and society. See op.cit. for a more detailed—and better—explanation
It must be transparent with respect to motivation
It must be a reason for action that is ‘justifiable belief’
More fully, this is the condition that
society should be transparent, in the sense that the working of its ethical institutions should not depend on members of the community misunderstanding how they work ((Williams 1985), p.101)
and related to5 Rawls’ “publicity condition” ((Rawls 1999 (1971)), §23,p.115;§29—see also §69:fn-1,p.398 on the “noble lie”). This requires that an account of morality cannot be one the authority of which depends on the “true nature” of our moral motives being concealed from us—common-sense; if it’s not, consider that one’s reason for -ing’s being exposed as a lie or myth would tend to drain one’s motivation to do so. What is less obvious, perhaps, is that this would include the kind of exceptionalism woven into a culture’s (usually origin) myths used not just to elicit compliance to its rules but as a barrier against the infiltration of alien ideas “which don’t apply to us”. Publicity in this sense, then, includes the conception of liberty familiar to the free world (and spelled out by Rawls).
220.127.116.11 It must be a reason for action that justifies
Any normative theory, minimally, lights our way to actions that make sense to us. An account of morality, in addition, must guide us to actions that we may believe ourselves justified in doing; it cannot be one which includes motives that could influence us to act in ways we would not approve of ourselves for doing. altogether, the condition of transparency requires of an account of morality that explains our moral behavior as actions, the sense of which is made by reasons we are justified in believing, and which enable us to believe that we are justified in what we are doing. 1.2.3 It must speak to who we are, to our sense of identity Or: one’s morality must be part of who one is; the demands of morality must be those we make of ourselves. Why? On the one hand, moral-action is something you do, so to that extent part of you; on the other hand, if only because
a man whose moral judgments always coincided with his interests could be suspected of having no morality at all ((Rawls 1999(1971)), p.202)
“the right thing to do” can be unpleasant—yet one would, because moral commands issue from one’s morals, and thereby could motivate “as if one’s life depended on it”, so that to not do what it demands is to “not be me”. This is not so hard to understand if we consider that some of us would regard continuing to exist e.g. with severe dementia such as Alzheimer’s a fate worse than death— because to be living is to “be me”, or not at all. Morality, then, is something one would be prepared to sacrifice one’s life for. And this, I argue, is no more or less than the “morality” of collective living memory, what can move someone to act to their own apparent disbenefit or even in defiance of the “biological imperative”, survival—notably, in ways that contravene social rules and conventions; the sort of thing that could motivate the sheltering of Jews in Nazi Germany, evidenced in “standing up for what one believes in” even knowing it would alienate one’s fellows, or just in the child who refuses to “join in” with “the other kids” kicking the neighborhood dog. Korsgaard explains this condition by saying that “morality can ask hard things of us”—no less, I would add, than being “left out”, refusing to acquiesce in a status quo, sitting uncooperatively on the “wrong” seat on a bus, or standing in the path of an advancing tank. Morality has to be set up to bear the sting of social ostracism, to resist those social urges to “go along”, to enable the most unsociable behavior for the sake of some socially-unthinkable notion like “racial equality”, or supply conviction sufficient to risk life and limb for “freedom”. Knowing, as we do, that humans cannot live without social support, acting in defiance of the “crowd” or “establishment” can be as lethal as diving into a burning building to save a life. Morality demands no less; we know it’s possible, we do consider the acts thus produced “good”, and call them “moral”.
See ((Williams 1985), note 6, on p.236)
These, then, are the conditions that must be satisfied for an account to be of morality. We may note that although morality assumes certain possibilities—such as the need for justification, or that people may act morally, so construed—these not only happen in fact, but are also attributed to morality. Whilst this may lend weight to morality’s claim of its identity, what this claim really depends on is whether or not we believe “the normative question” is both meaningful to ask and deserves an answer.
1.3 a crucial distinction
Put otherwise, the question is whether or not we wish to uphold the notion that there is a conceptual difference between “doing it because it’s how it’s done” and “doing it because it is the right thing to do”, and whether or not this is the sort of distinction we think persons would do well to make, and make for themselves. If we think that it is possible for a person to “do the right thing” in the absence of deterrent or incentive either way—or even to figure out what that is, all by himself, and do it too—then we not only believe that there is such a thing as morality, but also that it’s not the same thing as sociality. If it were, we would not have been able to distinguish between protester and riotor, conscientious-objector and draft-dodger, or prisoner-of-conscience and plain-old-criminal—all in fact socially-disruptive behaviors who might understandably be considered to deserving of society’s punishment; lest we forget, those we regard as prisoners-of-conscience may, in their own societies, be held on locally-legitimate charges and duely processed through that country’s legal system. These social-distinctions exist only because we do have a system of concepts that enable us to differentiate between “socially-disruptive behaviors” in terms of the reasons for which they were done—reasons which, for being socially-recognized, were able to steer the course of society towards the now-established unsociableness of racist attitudes that were socially-normal just a century ago. Under a social conception, society just is—a place that couldn’t hold together unless it had
a suite of interrelated other-regarding behaviors that cultivate and regulate complex interactions within social groups [which] relate to well-being and harm, and norms of right and wrong attach to many of them. ((Bekoff and Pierce ), p. )6
—and so long as it does, there is nothing to choose between slavery or not, static castes or no. Many different “suites” could do the job, as evidenced in the fact that cultures may be diverse yet equally long-standing and stable. On this view, it matters not the particular “norms of right and wrong” that form the “suite”; social stability is what counts. There would be no way to rationally suggest that “slavery is wrong and must be abolished”—slavery would be “right”, in virtue of being the established way of life, the suggestion wrong even just for the social disruption abolition would entail, whatever it was that was being abolished. What regulates “complex interactions within social groups” are social concepts, of which (as we see in section-3) society is built and which do come with rules that its members must comply with if they are to live there, what Searle calls “the underlying glue that holds society together”.((Searle 2006),p.27; cf.footnote 6)
Bekoff & Pierce’s definition of morality, which continues: “Morality is essentially a social phenomenon, arising in the interactions between and among individual animals, and it exists as a tangle of threads that holds together a complicated and shifting tapestry of social relationships. Morality in this way acts as social glue.” (op.cit.)
All societies need to distinguish between, e.g. kidnap and incarceration, assault and “resisting-arrest”, even murder and execution—but not all find the need to invent a way to scrutinize the distinctions that have been socially-made. Concepts reflect cultural interests; the distinction between murder and execution is made by social-concepts; interrogating that distinction takes moral concepts. Unlike the Inuits, we don’t need to distinguish between several dozen types of snow; likewise, not every society has found it necessary to nitpick and analyse what are well-established systems of cooperation and coordination. This requires morality, and its expressions may not only take the form of unsociable behavior but demand the disruption of the social order. Society yields to its demands when convinced, upon reflection, of its reasonableness and hence the necessity of social change, however painful (cf.1.2.3). That is how morality differs from sociality, and what we need it for.
1.4 not survival, but enquiry
The very idea of morality starts from the one about morals, something each person possesses individually. This sense that persons are innately capable of designing their own actions and thinking for themselves, and that “being good” has something to do with honing that skill—not acquiescing in bare urges to socially cooperative behaviors—goes back to Aristotle. Modern moral conceptions differ on the content of moral principles—and hence in their answers to moral dilemmas—but they all assume the possibility of having morals, something no more or less than what someone exercises by reasoning their way to their own assessments and actions, over and above the social demands that are a matter of survival—a point made by Darwinian theories, as we see next. We don’t, I think, go far wrong to say that morality is constituted by the question, not the given, and that it starts in the person—the only place from which we’ll ever get the original idea that might make a better society. The thing that occupies moral philosophers, in this society at least, not only influences social attitudes via what Mill called “the intellectual culture” ((Mill 2001), p.31)7, but now and again also directly leads to changes in social policy—such as the abolition of slavery—because social leaders recognise the wisdom of its counsel. These are then inherited by the next generation as “the norms of society”. The link between what is moral, and what is social is not accidentally made. So by way of introducing the next section, then, I’ll end this one by agreeing with Michael Ruse when he writes that
Morality is not something handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai ((Ruse 2010))
but disagreeing with his point that
Morality is just a matter of emotions, like liking ice-cream and sex and hating toothache and marking student papers…[But i]t has to pretend that it is not that at all! If we thought that morality was no more than liking or not liking spinach, then pretty quickly[…]there would be no morality and society would collapse… (op.cit.)
because as I hope to have shown in this section, morality is nothing if not a way to reason. Emotion is no more a part of it than getting frustrated with the child who seems intent on thinking that 2+2 is anything other than 4. Societies don’t collapse without morality—though they might, without the sort of thing he calls morality: something that looks an awful lot like Searle’s social ontology.
“moral associations…are wholly of artificial creation, when the intellectual culture goes on…”—chapter III.
2 debunking darwinian theories
2.1 “morality is a product of natural selection”
2.1.1 the fact of sociality Human sociality is a fact—and apparently, a bit of a mystery, perhaps partly because it fails explanation with the standard homo-economicus model which prevailed throughout the 20th-century, a creature who didn’t do “other-regarding” social behavior. There was no explanatory model for sociality, nothing that could explain why a human would act with others in mind—or so it seemed, until Darwinian theorists reminded us that socialization is not a uniquely human phenomenon: if we want to know what it’s about, we might do better looking to the animal kingdom for answers. Frans De Waal’s (De Waal 1996) research, for example, shows several outstanding similarities between the social behavior of humans and other primates, up to and including the inclination to share one’s food and the pointless delights of dwelling in each other’s company that we would consider “uniquely human” only by a conceit. Like humans,
monkeys and apes care about the state of relationships in their own community…they seem to strive for the kind of community that is in their own best interest.(op.cit. p.205)
Capuchins, chimpanzees, even rats and vampire-bats seem capable of behaviors that so confounded homo-economicus. In fact:
Altruistic and cooperative behaviors are also common in many species of animal […]Vampire bats who are successful in foraging for blood…will share their meal with bats who aren’t successful. And they’re more likely to share blood with those bats who previously shared blood with them […]rats appear to exhibit generalized reciprocity […] long been thought to be uniquely human. _________________________________________________________((Bekoff and Pierce 2009), p.7)
There seems to be nothing short of a wealth of evidence to support the view that the now-classic suite of socialized behaviors—cooperation, altruism, reciprocity, etc.—are common by degrees to all social animals, which Darwin attributed to the “social instincts” that
lead an animal to take pleasure in the society of its fellows, to feel a certain amount of sympathy with them, and to perform various services for them ((Darwin 1871), p.72).
There is no reason to suppose that humans should be any less capable of these behaviors, manifest as they are in all mammals, and ever more “human-like”(even the sulking and petulance we see in our youngsters) the more closely-related the species. Humans have social instincts. We are given and driven to whatever behaviors are required to live in our societies. No society, human or otherwise, could stay intact without some form of built-in community awareness that enables us to figure out how to adjust our behaviors to each other in order to co-exist successfully. Socialization was nature’s idea; the requisite adaptations were par for the course. So far, so social.
2.1.2 “the myth of morality” Where, then, does “morality” come into it? Well, the Darwinians are agreed on one thing: “other-regarding” behaviors are to be found in a continuous line of species up to humans, in light of which it is time to dispel the myth that begins with Adam and Eve, peaks at Sinai and concludes with human-exceptionalism—for which morality has been frequently cited as evidence. The “God”-angle is not without significance, since Darwinians face a constant battle with the so-called “religious-right”, or “creationists”, some of whom apparently believe that “God”—literally—made the world in seven days. Unfortunately, many of these also lay claim to the title of “moral-guardians”— morality, in this case, being “the ten commandments” and the tens of dozens more picked up on the way to the Promised Land. Considering that the contents of these books—Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—still fill the sermons of hellfire-and-damnation preachers, those who would defend morality as philosophy, like myself, are probably right with Ruse when he celebrates the fact that
We can give up all of that nonsense about women and gay people being inferior, about fertilised ova being human beings, and about the earth being ours to exploit and destroy.((Ruse 2010))
except that according to him, this glorious day has come to pass because
Morality is flimflam.
Yet—revealingly—he also says that this is because
God is dead….there is no celestial headmaster who is going to give you six (or six billion, billion, billion) of the best if you are bad.
2.1.3 social reality, 1; religious myths, 0 A Darwinian account of morality consists in a Darwinian explanation of “other-regarding” behaviors. The fact that these “other-regarding” behaviors are present in other social animals shows that “other-regarding” behaviors are a product of natural selection. On the one hand, this would plug the gap in social-scientific explanations of behavior, hitherto stymied by their exclusive use of the homo-economicus model. On the other hand, it refutes (“debunks”) previously-advanced accounts of “other-regarding” behaviors, notably those by advocates of certain religions who champion the human exceptionalism opposed by Darwinians. The “morality” that is debunked, then, by Darwinian accounts, are alternative explanations of “other-regarding” behavior, what Ruse calls the
illusion put in place by your genes to make you a social cooperator.(op.cit.)
There are two senses of “morality” in use here. The reality that forms the central thesis of Darwinian accounts is the “other-regarding” behavior that is said to be in fact caused, or otherwise explained by “social instincts” that actually push us to behave as required to live socially. This is the sense of “morality” addressed in this essay, which I intend to explain as social normativity in section 3. The other, the illusion being debunked by these accounts consists of any other explanation of the reality. The central thesis is used by De-Waal in ((De Waal 1996)) and Bekoff & Pierce in ((Bekoff and Pierce 2009)), in conjunction with evidence of “morality”=“other-regarding-behaviors”8 in other animals, to debunk the idea that “morality” is an exclusively human phenomenon. This, in turn, is a view which is usually understood to derive from “morality”=“religious-rules”/“divine-commandments”, i.e. given by “God”, who saved the best for the last and seventh day of creation and created “Man” in his image, to whom he gave those commandments. What denies the theory of evolution is also, in Ruse’s view, the source of much of the “nonsense” quoted (approvingly!) above, and also provides the most widely-held conception of “morality” in Ruse’s world9. It is theistic-views like these that are in the main line of Ruse’s debunking fires.
Explicitly defined as such in ((Bekoff and Pierce 2009), p.7), and quoted in section i. De-Waal’s conception of morality is the inclination to behave in ways that take the interests of the community into account, what he calls “community concern” (see quote above) 9 The USA, home to a thriving subculture of creationists.
In general, then, we may say that the target of Darwinian debunking is evolution-denying religious conceptions and their account of morality, whereas the one I attend to in this essay is what Darwinians tout not as the illusion they debunk but the reality they offer with their theories—itself in turn the source of a different kind of debunking altogether, one given by Sharon Street’s argument against realist theories of value. But for completeness, and also to show how Darwinians neglect the cultural factor, I will also attend to Ruse’s debunking of the illusion—I do not dispute its status as an illusion (though for different reasons), but his explanation for its existence, I argue, is inconsistent with his theory of of the reality.
18.104.22.168 a cultural aside: picking a hole in ruse’s illusion
From the Darwinian perspective, any account of the reality that denies the role of natural selection is bunkum. The view of morality I am defending disqualifies any account of morality constituted in blind-obedience (see 22.214.171.124)or false-belief(126.96.36.199), which therefore can neither guide nor justify(188.8.131.52)—because in these cases, compliance derives either from habit (not one’s reason for complying) or “hellfire”(not a reason for complying that holds in virtue of the behavior itself, and a false belief if taken literally). Neither of “because it’s the way it is”/“because it’s the rule”/“because it’s laid on us”10 is a reason to think it is right; it is perfectly possible to do it for either of these reasons and still fail to be convinced that one is justified in doing so. To the extent that these are just the sort of reasons that Ruse’s illusions exist to provide, we are agreed that they are just that. But the reality—that it is social instincts that actually dispose us to “being good”—should be far more reliable than any illusion we could create in ensuring that we are, or want to be “good”. Why does Ruse then also suggest that without the illusion,
before long, we would find ourselves saying something like: “Well, morality is a jolly good thing from a personal point of view. When I am hungry or sick, I can rely on my fellow humans to help me. But really it is all bullshit, so when they need help I can and should avoid putting myself out. There is nothing there for me.” The trouble is that everyone would start saying this and so very quickly there would be no morality and society would collapse and each and every one of us would suffer. (op.cit.)
Why would we, if our social instincts do exert an influence on our beliefs (which is the basis of Street’s argument)? Why would we need, as he suggests, an illusion on top of what are already supposed to be— according to his theory—effectively motivating by themselves—and something he reaffirms later in the article by saying that
you are still a human with your gene-based psychology working flat out to make you think you should be moral. It has been said that the truth will set you free. Don’t believe it […]It doesn’t matter how much philosophical reflection can show that your beliefs and behavior have no rational foundation, your psychology will make sure you go on living in a normal, happy manner.
—which would again suggest that we never needed the illusion in the first place. Which is it? I believe that the point Ruse wanted to make both in this article and Taking-Darwin-Seriously(Ruse 1986) is simply that because our social instincts offer a complete explanation of socialized behavior, religious explanations are false. He seems, at best, undecided about where the illusion that he denounces as “flimflam” fits into the picture of the reality of social instincts. If it is a species-wide conception, we are left without an account of how it extends, in particular, to cultures without gods or with those who mind their own business. And perhaps if they don’t have an illusion for Ruse to debunk, why do we? Ruse seems curiously unconcerned with the niceties of a phenomenon he nevertheless seems keen to debunk. His explanation of why the target of his debunking exists at all, in light of his theory about the underlying reality, is unsatisfactory.
This one from Ruse himself, in (Ruse 2010).
But this, I suggest, is because the illusion he has in mind to debunk is the creationists’-God, a fact barely concealed in his writings—even Darwin himself does not escape criticism for harboring some theistic notions(see Darwin-&-Design(Ruse 2003), chapter 5). Without suggesting that his views carry a tint of anti-theism, I believe it does explain how it has escaped his notice that theism11 is not a species-wide phenomenon. This rather limits his debunking to his intended target alone, because he leaves us none-the-wiser as to what he would identify as “flimflam” in atheistic cultures12 (nor how they got by without it where others could not).
Belief in god-creators that intervene in human affairs. Chinese culture. Ancestors, ghosts and god-like creatures; no serious belief.
2.2 “a darwinian dilemma for realist theories of value”
2.2.1 “a remarkable coincidence” The evolutionary explanation for human sociality was, in fact, the way Darwinians thought to debunk morality. Theirs was the news that we are “social cooperators” because we are wired that way— something equivalently described as “humans are naturally moral beings”(Ruse 2010). Arguably, even those who live in blessed ignorance of evolutionary concepts would have little reason to take that statement at face value. No need to be cynical; just consider what you might come up with if you had to think of 6 basic evaluative judgments that you would expect anyone to make—as Sharon Street (Street 2006) does:
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) The fact that something would promote one’s survival is a reason in favor of it. The fact that something would promote the interests of a family member is a reason to do it. We have greater obligations to help our own children than we do to help complete strangers. The fact that someone has treated one well is a reason to treat that person well in return. The fact that someone is altruistic is a reason to admire, praise, and reward him or her. The fact that someone has done one deliberate harm is a reason to shun that person or seek his or her punishment. table 1: p.115
and reflect on the fact that
There are so many other possible judgements about reasons we could make—so why these?[…] Evolutionary biology offers powerful answers to these questions, very roughly of the form that these sorts of judgements about reasons tended to promote survival and reproduction much more effectively than the alternative judgements. (op.cit.)
Judgments like those are recognizably familiar, and they are also the ones that are easily explained with the concepts of evolutionary biology. This is the thought that motivates Street’s conclusion that
the content of human evaluative judgements has been tremendously influenced[…] by the forces of natural selection, such that our system of evaluative judgements is saturated with evolutionary influence.
This, then, is the basis of the “Darwinian Dilemma” Street poses to “Realist Theories of Value”. Briefly, it goes like this: realist theories of value claim that a statement such as: [‡] “ is good/valuable (given that is/has )” is an objectively-verifiable fact-of-the-matter, i.e. it is possible to state the conditions-in-the-world that yield the truth of [‡] in terms of ’s properties. “Good/valuable” is an attribute, defined by an evaluative standard, that attaches to in virtue of ’s being or having (the conditions which would obtain should be demonstrably in possession of the specified properties and thereby render the statement true). The realist, then, claims with his theory that the fact of having or being makes “good/valuable” and therefore [‡] an “independent evaluative truth”. Yet, it is the realist’s evaluative attitudes that account for his attributing value to -ness. According to Darwinian theories such as Ruse’s, our evaluative attitudes are (more or less) “wired-in”, and may therefore be considered subject to the “distorting influences” of “evolutionary forces”. The realist could either deny such influence on his theory—and face the accusation that they have been(invisibly, as it were)—or he could accept it, which would amount to rendering his standard useless, since
allowing our evaluative judgements to be shaped by evolutionary influences is analogous to setting out for Bermuda and letting the course of your boat be determined by the wind and tides: just as the push of the wind and tides on your boat has nothing to do with where you want to go, so the historical push of natural selection on the content of our evaluative judgements has nothing to do with evaluative truth.(op.cit., p.121)
In other words, any assertion of some ’s value by a realist is hopelessly compromised, since he himself could not tell if he was not pushed to this evaluation under the influence of evolutionary forces—and either he admits it, or he is in denial.
2.2.2 evolutionary instincts make no moral evaluations Street’s argument, I believe, comes to this: the fact that judgments like those in table 1 (a) are “among our most deeply and widely held judgments”; (b) tend to increase the “reproductive success of creatures who made them”(p.116) (c) have “the sort of content one would expect if the content of our evaluative judgments had been heavily influenced by selective pressures” (p.117) so that
the observed patterns in the actual content of human evaluative judgements provide evidence in favor of the view that natural selection has had a tremendous influence on that content.(op.cit.)
Evolutionary pressures select dispositions that have biological-value. Creatures who had them tended to survive and reproduce successfully. They, not the ones who didn’t have those dispositions, are our ancestors, and it’s fair to say that this is why we do have them, and why we don’t not have them—and why the fact that promotes my survival is a reason to do it [†] effectively-moves us to . This doesn’t mean that you will necessarily , every time, but that you will, unless you acquired a reason that you judge to outweigh—be better than—“promotes one’s survival” for you to not —and hence, neither [†] nor your thereby -ing is a moral judgment. Why not? Start with : • moral judgments are made from moral-motives with moral-reasoning; • moral motives, a.k.a. your morals, are what makes your actions moral when you act on them • moral reasoning is what you do to figure out how to act on your moral motives and add, from section-1, that morals are not born, but grow from the “normative question”—i.e. “why should I ?”—you ask for the want of a reason, so that an account of morality is one of the moral-motives you acquire and come to accept in the course of this development. Now, assume that for you, it is a fact that (ƒ) Street’s point is that for you, (ƒ) entails [†] by an evolutionary-determination—i.e. “promotes one’s survival”, being nature-given, cannot not be a motive for you. The forces of evolution would have selected that instinct which ensures that you are disposed favorably—and not otherwise(p.116)—to any in virtue of its having the property . These instincts, then, are evolutionarily-“pre-installed” motives that may neither fail nor cease to be effective—and are therefore morally-inert: we have no choice about having them or how they influence us. These are motives for which acceptance is meaningless, since they have influence over us whether we accept them or not—or indeed, whether or not we acknowledge them. Moreover, the fact that they exert regardless is not just the possibility that they could move us to acting in ways we wouldn’t approve of (see 184.108.40.206) but they are in fact well known for doing so—backstabbing others for promotions, for example, or ditching old friends for more upwardly-mobile ones. I believe it is fair to say that even if table 1 judgments and the fact people do act on them are common enough, the fact that (1) & (2), for example, can be responsible for some ugly behaviors is not disputed—for (2): nepotism, the Mafia, the behaviors that ossify social divisions as the well-off “look after their own”— whilst “kindness to strangers”(3) and “turn the other cheek”(6) are better known as “the right things to do” even in the popular media. It seems to me, then, that the driving instincts (literally) behind those judgments tend more to be considered “normal” (to be expected) than “praiseworthy”. Both in the sense I presented in section-1 and in the popular imagination, then, neither of these would be considered “moral”.
has the property =“promotes one’s survival”
Moreover, being disposed to by an instinct couldn’t be right or wrong: that is, one could never be right or wrong for thinking [†], because the step from (ƒ) to [†] is not one we could fail to make, and therefore isn’t one for which we could be “praised or blamed”. Acting on a disposition requires no decision and thus accrues no moral credit— -ing on a disposition couldn’t be “the right thing to do”; it’s an end you could adopt more easily by never giving it a moment’s consideration. Morals have nothing to do with it whatsoever. Evolution determined that we would make the kind of judgments in table 1 and that their negations (p.116) would be unthinkable. Dispositions, as Wittgenstein once said, have no normative force. You don’t choose the ones you have nor which way you are disposed. What we might call “moral thoughts” would rather be those which question these judgments; examples, such as those given in the preceding paragraph, of where they can lead might, surely, be reason enough to doubt their “moral validity”.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
2.3 “no epistemological warrant”
2.3.1 “there are no moral facts” Street has been mildly criticised for her list of “sample human evaluative judgments”((Wielenberg 2010), p.462)—insofar as these are supposed to be sample moral beliefs that nevertheless appear to be a shameless parade of evolutionary concepts. But as far as I am aware, Street meant to target value-realism, not morality. If she is, as I believe, able to demonstrate the remarkable alignment between commonly held value-judgments and those which may be alternatively explained by Darwinian theories, perhaps it is because of a much overlooked truism about value: what is valuable—or good—is only so to a human being. If ’s possessing the property “promotes one’s survival” is thought to give it value, for example, it is only because it is thereby understood to enhance human life—which only a human would find valuable. And what is valuable to a human being is what is believed to be necessary to live, live better, or live well—which reads like nothing if not the call of the “biological instincts”. Put another way, the fact that only humans are capable of attributing value, there is no reason to suppose that nature was organized to accommodate the peculiarities of just one amongst the millions of other species on earth that are not, as far as we know, given to classify their environment into what is “valuable” or not. Since “value” is what humans attribute to objects in virtue of the extent to which they serve to fulfill human needs—chief among these, survival—it is hardly surprising that assessments of value are shown to be rather more to do with evaluative attitudes than the object of evaluation, and that these would be significantly aligned with those biological instincts the purpose of which is to alert us to our basic human needs. As mentioned above, Street’s is thought to contribute to a family of debunking arguments that have arisen from the Darwinian accounts of morality. Recalling that the Darwinians were keen to debunk traditional (read: creationist) conceptions of morality with their theory of social instincts, this line of debunking begins instead from the Darwinian theory and draws out its epistemological implications: considering that “moral beliefs” such as: ( ) demonstrate such a consistency with what our social instincts would demand of us anyway, it is unlikely at best that these instincts have nothing to do with the fact that people do have such beliefs—or, more bluntly, it is highly likely that these beliefs are produced under the “distorting influence”(as Street puts it) of social instincts. This, of course, is the connection with Street’s argument: as with these “moral beliefs”, so with Street’s sample evaluative judgments: all articulate commonly-held attitudes to social behaviors, and are often taken as absolute measures of value—not just of things, but of humans—so that failing to oblige something like ( ) makes a lesser person of you.
One should share/cooperate/act with the good of the community in mind/etc
2.3.2 what has not been cannot be a ‘considered judgment’ I believe the points I made with respect to Street’s sample judgments could in fact be otherwise stated in the terms of these debunking arguments: beliefs earn their epistemological warrant on account of their source (where they come from, how you come to believe them) and those the objective credentials of which are suspect could not count as knowledge—that is, justifiable belief. This argument is used to discredit the position of realism, according to which beliefs such as ( ) could be true or false, i.e. facts; my point has been, firstly, that beliefs like ( ) are drawn from social concepts, so that it is to be expected where these coincide with social instincts. Secondly, beliefs that do derive from instincts— survival or social—demonstrate the characteristics I pointed out above in relation to Street’s arguments: they are essentially unfalsifiable to the human who has them, and(much more importantly) they are easily behaviorally-efficacious in those who are not consciously aware of having these beliefs at all. The link with the epistemological debunking argument is that people do generally act on beliefs like ( ), but not from them: I suggest that table 1 judgments are those which are, instead, retrospectively constituted from observations of human behavior and which, not surprisingly, tend to be endorsed by those who do tend to behave accordingly. In other words, what tends to deprive these beliefs of their epistemological warrant is also what puts them outside the scope of morality: epistemologically speaking, one may not decide to act the way one was already disposed to do, nor can it be one’s judgment a belief the absence or negation of which one has either never considered, nor could imagine if one tries. Not, at least, a moral judgment, minimally those13
in which our moral capacities are most likely to be displayed without distortion […]those judgments […] given when we are upset or frightened, or when we stand to gain one way or the other can be left aside. All these judgments are likely to be erroneous or to be influenced by an excessive attention to our own interests. Considered judgments are simply those rendered under conditions favorable to the exercise of the sense of justice […] The person making the judgment is presumed, then, to have the ability, the opportunity, and the desire to reach a correct decision […] Moreover, the criteria that identify these judgments are not arbitrary. […] And once we regard the sense of justice as a mental capacity, as involving the exercise of thought, the relevant judgments are those given under conditions favorable for deliberation and judgment in general. ((Rawls 1999 (1971)), p.42, my emphases)
It is an odd kind of judgment that does not start from a question (see section-1), what does not arise from one’s doubt as to the validity of one’s beliefs, yet this can only be the case for those beliefs that are born of the influence of evolutionary instincts. Together with my contention that social instincts explain sociality and not morality, then, I feel I may conclude that these debunking arguments do not debunk morality at all. Indeed, I believe that these debunking arguments—as does Street’s—do us the service of pointing out why we should not consider a “moral fact” either what is in fact a social-necessity—society could not exist without “social cooperators”—or a realist’s attribution of value. Given (a) the distinct flavor of self-denial in many of such beliefs, complemented with a defence to the effect of “the good of others”, and (b) that what are identified as objects of value (“the good”) tend to be those which are conducive to or otherwise enhance the human existence—i.e. the characteristic content of these beliefs and the fact that they tend to issue as directives or evaluations—it is not hard to understand why these beliefs are thought to be “moral”. It is not uncommon for these beliefs to overlap with those that one might arrive at from a moral perspective, but what would make the latter a moral belief is exactly what is missing from the former—being constituted by the due considerations outlined by Rawls, in the above quote—which is also the epistemological vacuum identified by the debunkers.
Note that for Rawls, our “sense of justice” is part of our suite of moral capacities.
2.4 what is culture to “you” is reality for “us”
2.4.1 the cultural constitution of value conceptions More important, however, is Street’s point about the untenability of value-realism. I believe she has only scraped the surface of the problem, because her sample judgments demonstrate but one of the many distinctive patterns into which human evaluative judgments tend to fall. These were intended, I assume, to be culturally-neutral enough for her to make her point; yet passing these through a cultural interpretation could yield a different set of judgments that belie their apparent species-generality. Consider, for example:
(4) The fact that someone has treated one well is a reason to treat that person well in return.
—not in cultures where that someone is thought to owe you that treatment in virtue of their “place in society”, e.g. those with rigid caste systems, or even the “upstairs, downstairs”-like social arrangements whereby one family(“downstairs”) is linked to another(“upstairs”) by a tradition of servitude, so that whether or not the former are in fact remunerated for their troubles, relations between them would not be constituted by the symmetry implied in the judgment, and nor would it be expected. These are cases, then, in which one person does not find it a reason to reciprocate the good treatment they have received from another. Moreover, it is also not unheard of for members of the family “upstairs” to behave badly to members of the family “downstairs”, or even to cause “deliberate harm”, yet because that society would not recognize it as ‘harm’ as such, the victims of such abuse would not rationally be able to come to the judgment that
(6) The fact that someone has done one deliberate harm is a reason to shun that person or seek his or her punishment.
In fact, setting aside the social factors at work in these senarios, the “downstairs” family might be considered “altruistic” for what they are willing to put up with, but we would hardly expect the “upstairs” family or the society at large to think so, thus belying
(5) The fact that someone is altruistic is a reason to admire, praise, and reward him or her.
This illustrates the way seemingly straightforward attributions like “altruistic”(behaving better than expected) or “doing-harm”(behaving as one ought not) are socially-constituted concepts: they pick out behavioral patterns relative to a social context, and arguably only exist in cultures which were at some point disposed to do so. We don’t kidnap convicted criminals, we incarcerate them—they have not been wronged, although we are in fact holding them against their will. 2.4.2 it’s “real life”, not “our way of life” Human evaluations, as observed earlier, often, if not always, derive from that human’s idea of what he needs to survive. As Darwinian theories show us, nature determined that humans must live in society, to which end nature outfits us with the inclination to socialized behavior requisite to social living. But the fact that each society is constituted differently means that what a human considers his “survival needs” also depend on his social—cultural—context. Conceptions of “value”, then, are not only subject to evolutionary influences but cultural ones. Moreover, it takes a remote Darwinian perspective to clump-together as “cooperation” the diversity of behaviors that constitute the notion in different societies. Rigid class systems like the one given above might seem to challenge our notion of “cooperation” (or “altruism”); yet within any society, being a “social-cooperator” just means to comply with the existing social order. The fact of cultural relativism suggests a human, not just a natural hand in the formulation of organized systems of social belief that some may argue social instincts do not account for. Put more poignantly perhaps, social instincts explain the pain but not the possibility of the faux-pas, the sort of thing that makes some of us wish we were “wired to be sociable”—yet our minds, however primed by evolution for sociability, could not know in advance what nature did not engineer: cultural conceptions.
2.4.3 social instincts+cultural dispositions→“our” values It seems, then, that social instincts do not fully explain human sociality. They account for the fact that humans do live in societies, are thereby disposed to “other-regarding behaviors”, are given to value-conceptions that determine their attitudes to social behaviors—but not for why humans do battle in the realm of ideas about the relative superiority of their cultural conceptions. Nor, indeed, for why some cultures grow myths for Darwinians to debunk and others don’t. Each cultural conception consists of what debunkers call “moral beliefs” and their interlocutors “moral facts”. These—it may be argued—exhibit enough intra-cultural consistency and inter-cultural diversity to suggest that they are facts—that these beliefs derive their contents from something other than social instincts, that they are contingently-consitituted—made from something in the world, not just the genes—and sits nicely with communitarian’s “different cultures, different values” view (see above point also). But there is something for everyone here: diversities in substantive cultural conceptions of “other-regarding” behaviors merely expresses, I believe, the fact that humans are complex enough to have to do some inventing on the ground in order to pull of the feat of living together and adapt the natural terrain to human needs. A culture’s distinctiveness reflects the unique circumstances from which it was wrought—it, too, is a product of evolution, and there is no more accounting for a culture’s tastes in food than their behavioral preferences. From the point of view of morality, then, the beliefs that derive from cultural conceptions are of a piece with those caused by social instincts.
summary of section ii
In this section, I have tried to unravel the tangled web of debunking arguments that are either advanced with, or have derived from, Darwinian accounts of morality, and I hope to have made clear by now that Darwinians identify morality with sociality. Or, more precisely, the morality they explain with “social instincts” is the “suite of interrelated other-regarding behaviors that cultivate and regular complex interactions within social groups”((Bekoff and Pierce 2009), p.7)—evidence of which may be found to varying degrees in all mammals, even vampire-bats—in light of which humans are (a) in fact by nature disposed to the behaviors that constitute sociality—not quite the Hobbesian creature once thought—and (b) not the only species to be so. The morality the Darwinians seek to debunk, where they do, is the conception favored by their greatest detractors, the creationists. This debunking I endorse—along, I assume, with the non-creationist universe, though for the different reasons I give—but I had a bone to pick with what I see as Ruse’s inconsistent explanation of why the “morality” he debunks exists at all, given the supposed efficacy of the instincts that on his account cause the beliefs and behaviors of the “social phenomenon” that Darwinians call morality, and the fact that not all cultures subscribe to these sorts of ideas. I think he never considered the “cultural factor”—a theme I return to later. Next I turned to Sharon Street’s debunking of value-realism, which draws on Darwinian ideas about instincts and the influence these exert on human evaluative judgments. It cannot be a coincidence, she argues, that common-garden judgments of value are quite the match they are to what we might expect our evolutionary instincts to tell us, and evidence, therefore, of evolutionary influences on our evaluative attitudes. A similarly suspicious alignment between what our social instincts might prescribe and what some call “moral facts” has been seized upon as proof positive that “morality” is no more than the mouthpiece of our built-in social minder. It has not been my interest to refute these arguments, but rather to show how these evaluative judgments and/or “moral beliefs” could not be morality as I have defined it in section-1 because, on the one hand, what is acting on a disposition cannot count— barring self-deception, etc.—as moral action and, on the other hand, what has not been cannot be a “considered” judgment. What makes a belief “moral” is not what it contains, but how it was come by. As a rule, one’s morals have to be present at the conception, and beliefs one does not know how not to have are always suspect. In a sense, then, these beliefs and judgments are debunkable for the same reasons they could not count as “moral”. The debunkers are successful insofar as they can show how a “moral belief” could have been the work of social instincts; but they do not—because the only species-wide description of social behaviors (apart from “social”) we could safely apply is “other-regarding”—as I hoped to have shown using a few of Street’s examples. The contents of live, behavior-causing beliefs on the ground of any society exhibit intercultural diversity that would stretch the “social instincts” explanation beyond all credibility— differences that make wars. I suggest, then, that any belief that possesses the general character of sociality can only be accounted for by introducing the notion of a cultural conception that supplies the contents of beliefs we may suppose social instincts primed us to receive. But what might well prove that the beliefs thought debunkable are in fact caused by facts also entails an arbitrariness of constitution that denies them the attribution of “moral”14. If this seems excessively fussy, consider that morality aspires to a universality that must deny the inclusion of arbitrarily constituted standards; on the other hand, it is also for being mistaken for these arbitrarily constituted standards that fuels the claims of moral skeptics. Arbitrary or not, beliefs like these are stable, consistent, and may be defended to the death by those who have them. They are, as they appear, the products of normative standards—or so I shall attempt to show. In the next section, then, I present Searle’s theory of social reality, according to which there is good reason to suppose that what have been defended as “moral facts” are in fact “social” or “institutional facts”.
See Rawls quote above—red underline.
3 searle’s social ontology
Morality is […] like liking ice-cream and sex and hating toothache and marking student papers […] no more than liking or not liking spinach.((Ruse 2010))
Perhaps the most striking feature of a culture are its tastes—as it is for an individual; likewise, there is in fact much, much more to a culture than its likes or dislikes. Every culture comes with a social system that describes the organizational structure of its society, social concepts which define social roles, relationships and practices—and a language, from which these are constructed. A culture, as we know, may persist even when its lands are lost and sovereignty stolen—it is not these, but its social institutions that define a people, and it may live on in their hearts and minds through their language. This, at least, is the picture of society painted by John Searle’s theory of institutions, first expounded in The-Construction-of-Social-Reality ((Searle 1995), hereafter CSR), with an updated statement given in Social-Ontology((Searle 2006), hereafter SO). It is not the purpose of this section to give a full account of the theory, but by way of completing my defence of morality as defined by the philosophical discipline; I believe that Searle’s theory offers an account of social normativity that is often mistaken— by proponents and debunkers alike—for morality. As I hope to have shown in previous sections, what are named as “moral facts” or “evaluative truths” thought debunked by Darwinian theories of morality are not part of the concept of morality, but neither are they the genetic illusions of our social instincts. Beliefs of this kind are systematic, coherent and sticky—it is not unimaginable for a child to feel more “at home” than an immigrant grandad who has lived next door for 20 years. They are not “moral”, on account of how these are acquired and— more importantly—the fact that they are easily, and arguably more effectively, behavior-causing the less-consciously they are held. Recent experiments by psychological scientists ((Haidt 2001),(Cushman, Young et al. 2006)) have apprised us of the existence of “social intuitions” that we may suppose express behavioral attitudes that reflect a society’s conception of sociality, and that these may differ significantly between cultures (O'Neill and Petrinovich 1998) in ways that are quite unexpected (Abarbanell and Hauser 2010). In addition, their research has shown that these are held quite unaccountably and the evaluations they produce are situationally-specific(Doris 1998) and vulnerable to what we might call one’s ‘state of mind’ ((Schnall, Haidt et al. 2008), (Wheatley and Haidt 2005))—which, I suggest, is what one would expect to discover about evaluative-judgments of spinach, or ice-cream: nice on a hot day, not so much in Arctic conditions. It is also fair to say, I think, that the phenomenon unearthed by these scientists constitutes evidence of what we might have suspected: that these behavioral dispositions and evaluative attitudes explain the occurrence of socialised behaviors in the per-culture patterns we have come to expect (and, indeed, caricature with cultural stereotypes). In fact, “a set of attitudes and behavior […] appropriate to the situation in its social context” is how Searle defines a social concept, and for its participants, “thinking that those attitudes are appropriate is itself partly constitutive of that social situation”((Searle 1991), p.340). Moreover, in these situations
we just know what to do, we just know how to deal with the situation. We do not apply the rules consciously or unconsciously __________________________________________________(CSR, p.143)
but there is a discernable logic, nevertheless, to every social situation we encounter which suggests the element of human design. That, then, is the paradox of social knowledge—that it must be instinctive in execution (or life would be unendingly tedious) yet based on rules, in order to capture the gamut of human interactions as well as enable the various social functions that humans require to exist as a society—which Searle proposes to solve with his social ontology.
Now consider that we have, on the one side, Darwinian ‘social-instincts’ that seemed to nicely encapsulate the aforementioned “instinctiveness” with which social behavior is performed but which cannot explain the rule-likeness that equally defines it, and on the other we have the realists15, who believe that rules are involved, that each rule is constituted by facts, and that suitable generalizations of these rules make for normative-truths—but they are countered by Darwinian-inspired arguments which claim that these “truths” are mere echos of our social instincts, urging us to behaviors that in fact our survival depends on. But they are at least agreed on the question: where do people get these dispositions and attitudes from? The answer, I suggest, must be one which satisfactorily resolves this paradox. Here, then, is the challenge for Searle: if it isn’t social instincts per se that makes people behave sociably, why does it look so instinctive? If it really is a matter of rules, how do the rules get learnt, and why do people get so emotional about it? And, of course, the question that started it all: where does “right” and “wrong” come into it?
Either moral or value realists
3.1 a story of sociality (without the sin)
3.1.1 the darwinian myth—revisited The “morality” thought to be challenged by recent scientifically-based accounts is, as I hope to have shown, is the “traditional” view of morality as a set of rules about social behavior into which humans are trained in order to ‘tame the wild animal within’—the myth they sought to debunk with an evolutionary explanation to the effect that humans are in fact naturally disposed to socialized (‘civilised’) behavior by our social instincts and not by ‘the fear of God’ (or, presumably, similar forms of indoctrination). It is worth pointing out that this is but one traditional conception of how the moral sentiments are formed16—notably, one historically rooted in the doctrine of empiricism17 and supplemented with the idea of “social utility”, usually attributed to Hume, according to which one’s conduct is “right” to the extent that it is beneficial to others and society, and “wrong” where it is “generally injurious”. Central to this conception is the presumption that humans come out of the box not only naturally motivated to do “wrong”, but lack sufficient motive to do the “right”, so construed—“defects” that “society must somehow make good”. The application of various “pleasure-pain” processes (“approval and disapprobation”, “bestowal or withdrawal of affection”) is thought necessary in order for the child to finally “acquire a desire to do what is right and an aversion to doing what is wrong”((Rawls 1999 (1971)), p.401). The two outstanding features in this account, which I believe debunking-Darwinians will recognize, are (a) “get-them-young”/“good-habits-start-early”: moral training should begin as young as possible, whilst the mind is most susceptible to moulding and indoctrination; (b) “original-sin”: humans are ‘conceived in evil’ and would remain so but for the baptism-of-fire each receive in childhood in preparation for their entry into civilised society. 3.1.2 sociality—for the love of “mother”, not the fear of god Searle’s is a similar story of how humans come to behavioral dispositions and attitudes fit for society— but without the theology. It begins familiarly enough: we are each born in a society, and with a remarkable capacity for language acquisition that we put to use soon after we are born18—but a point easily missed is that we are introduced to our first language within its social context—be it Sesame-Street or a parent—and we don’t learn words without picking up on the cultural nuances encoded in every one, not least because the words and the structure of a language reflect the historical interests and other dispositional peculiarities of a culture. Moreover, inasmuch as cat refers to the meowing creature with whiskers and formidable claws, mother is not just the looming figure who (if you’re lucky) likes you, but someone who is extra-nice when you do certain things and markedly less so on other occasions—someone who could make you cross by not being there. You may figure out that the person who behaves a lot like your mother to that child is their mother—whom you don’t expect to be as nice to you—and it might surprise you to learn that some kid you meet doesn’t have one. Even one’s first words are concepts acquired as a set of “appropriate attitudes and behaviors”. In like manner, then, you learn your language with the social organization embedded therein even as you see it expressed around you. And as you accumulate a list of behaviors you know how to perform, you may detect patterns in how they are received—for example, that “loudness” is not-ok, whatever you’re saying. Most importantly you learn—as with mother—that you stand in a relationship with every one you know, i.e. that they are your and you are their , which means, in particular, that you’d expect them to behave in certain ways and vice versa, and that if your behavior falls out of alignment with their expectations, you don’t expect it to end well—something you probably worked out from the fact that your mother upset you not because she wasn’t there per se, but that she wasn’t where you expected her to be—that’s the wrong part.
This account is drawn from ((Rawls 1999 (1971)), §69) A bit ironic. The other tradition (“rationalist”) assumes that all we need is to develop our intellect and we’ll pretty much figure it out as we grow up. 18 Research suggests that 8-month-olds only need a couple of minutes before being able to pick out words from speech by detecting the statistical relationship between adjacent sounds (Saffran, Aslin et al. 1996)
This is the basic principle of how society works, from relationships to getting things done: find out what it’s called, how it works, what you need to be or do to be eligible to take part, see if you can manage it. That’s all there is to it.
3.2 the difference of language
3.2.1 from social instincts to social institutions Conveniently, Searle’s theory begins where we do: with the assumption that
the capacity for collective behavior is innate […]the selectional advantage of cooperative behavior is, I trust, obvious. _______________________________________________________ (CSR,p.37–38).
So any species of animal—hyenas, wolves, etc.—with this capacity is capable of “doing something together” and in so doing make a social fact—such as “the wolf pack is hunting”, or “the Supreme Court made a decision”—a condition-of-the-world that came to pass because of what we did. Social facts, then, may apply to the collective activities of all animals which we may suppose they are capable of so doing in virtue of Darwinian social instincts—any instance of “cooperation”, then, is a social fact. But even by this point we have drawn the line between humans and other animals: a social fact is attributable to the behavior of other animals, though never by them. We are not the only social animals, but
you cannot begin to understand what is special about human society, how it differs from primate and other animal societies, unless you first understand some special features of human language. ________________________________________________________________________(SO, p.14)
We could not have or attribute facts without the fact of intentionality, a way of experiencing the world peculiar to humans, in virtue of which coming up with a common language was an inevitable consequence of humans otherwise living together just as other social animals do. Intentionality describes the human’s innate capacity to tell a £10-note from paper by looking, and language is how we made a £10-note from paper; intentionality is why humans perceive reality by an ought-is transition— from expectation(ought) to perception(is)—and language is how we communicate our expectations to each other. I believe that intentionality enables each human to see his own possibilities for behavior in any moment, and therefore why it became necessary for a bunch of humans to settle on “how to” do what they had to do together. Sharing a language opened up a world of cooperative possibilities to a human-collectives not available to other animals. Cultural diversity is nothing if not evidence of what humans are capable of doing together. A “social institution” is simply what happened when humans happened on a way of “doing it” that stuck. 3.2.2 from institutional fact to interpersonal relationship The term “social institution” that Searle favors may call to mind organizations with buildings, but it in fact refers to patterns of interactions so established that they earned a name and thus became a fact—an institutional fact. What makes something an institution for Searle is the way it is held together by the mutual-expectations of its participants and sealed by the human proclivity to have and fulfill them— something he calls, tellingly, a “collectively recognized deontology” (SO, p.28). This, I think, is the central plank of Searle’s thesis: the basic unit of society is the social concept which defines a relationship—whether between two or more individuals or between an individual and the social context—constituted by “obligations, rights and responsibilities”(op.cit.), without which it wouldn’t work. But you never need think of it that way: you’ll have seen how it’s done, or someone will tell you when you get it wrong. These are rules, but only to the fly-on-the-wall who sees a social-transaction with a certain logic to its proceedings; from your point of view, what transpires between you and another is not social but interpersonal, a micro-reality within which you act as you do because this is who you are—to them19. Social reality may be made of rules but it is not lived that way. With these basic points to hand, then, we may begin tackling the paradox of social deontology.
I believe it is this aspect of social reality that poses the greatest challenge to social science: the natural world is experienced the rd way it is available to scientific observation—in the 3 -person—whereas the social scientist is confined to the objective view of an intersubjective reality.
3.3 “social instincts 2.0”
What Searle adds to the Darwinian story is the vital component of language. With it, humans make a society from rules that each member of that society must follow in order to survive. Cultural diversity follows from the fact of different languages—humans split up before they had language. What remains, then, is the question of how the rules of a society become the behavioral dispositions and evaluative attitudes of its people, how institutions become persistent(“social glue”) and why people become attached to their cultures. 3.3.1 learning by doing In CSR, chapter 6, Searle gives a fantasy example of a tribe where children grow up playing baseball:
They never learn the rules as codified rules but are rewarded or criticized for doing the right thing or the wrong thing. For example, if the child has three strikes, and he says “Can’t I have another chance?” he is told, “No, now you have to sit down and let someone else come up to bat.” We can suppose that the children just become very skillful at playing baseball. (CSR, pp.144-145)
It is clear, I hope, that this is the way children learn the rules of social behavior. As with baseball, so it is with “being a schoolpupil/sibling/son/daughter/friend”: each one an institution, insofar as what it takes to be it requires that one comply with its constitutive rules. Most of us are thrust into roles from birth; we learn to tell them apart easily enough because each maps to different people and come with different expectations. We don’t ever really need to learn the “rules” of how to, e.g. “be a sibling”: we sense what our siblings expect, learn what to expect from them—and if one of us feels the other has “overstepped the mark” or “been unfair”, we may turn to the parental authorities for arbitration: how they rule sets the bar for future sibling relations. The paradox was founded on the assumption that rule-based behavior had to be learnt as rules—that is, it entailed accounting for the bridge between theoretical and practical reasoning. In fact we are capable of this: we learn that 2+2=4(theory), whereupon writing “4” in response to the question “2+2=?”, we deduce, is the “right answer” and therefore the thing to do(practical) in the maths test. (Needless to say, “wrong answers” make for lousy grades that can be upsetting.) What this baseball example shows is the possibility of obeying the complex rules of society by simply learning it as “how to do it”. Rules are (as his example continues) what a foreign anthropologist might deduce from his observations of the children playing. 3.3.2 social glue The “social-glue” mentioned both by Searle and Bekoff-&-Pierce(see section-1), then, is partly due to the way the “rules” are learnt and our “instinctive expectation” ((Howson 2000),p.110) that ‘the future will resemble the past’: if we can’t expect it from nature, we can expect it from each other—and just because humans are naturally unsettled when their expectations are violated, we learn not to as part of how to get along with each other. So on the one hand, members of the society might have learnt a social concept as the “set of attitudes and behaviors” that are “appropriate” to the situation as a fact, from which they take their cue when they become participants themselves; on the other hand, “appropriateness”—what to expect from each other—could be worked out by the participants as they go, yet these would in turn be constrained by established notions(the fact) of the same—especially when conflicts arise and mediators are called in (e.g. with parents and siblings). Either way, because “thinking that those attitudes are appropriate is itself partly constitutive of that social situation” ((Searle 1991),p.340)—so that participants who understand themselves to be in it are in it because they think so—a social concept consists in a series of self-fulfilling expectations of the participants which in turn feeds or reinforces the social fact that observers identify, ad-infinitum. There is no glue quite as sticky as human “expectational structures”((Howson 2000), p.112).
3.3.3 cultural attachment: being “at home” in one’s society
The point is, we should not say that the man who is at home in his society, the man who is chez lui in the social institutions of his society, is at home because he has mastered the rules of the society, but rather that the man has developed a set of capacities and abilities that render him at home in the society; and he has developed those abilities because those are the rules of his society. (CSR, p.147)
Because members of a culture (what an outsider calls a society) will have learnt “appropriate behaviors” not as such, but in the process of engaging in an interpersonal relationship(how social reality is lived), it becomes personal (“mine”). The foreigner who challenges their “way of life” also threatens the person whose way of life it is, the knowledge of which is entangled in the memories of relationships. Add the fact that humans could never feel comfortable in an environment they cannot make intelligible—we are like fish out of water unless we can read the signs and feel reasonably confident that we will be understood—language can be an impenetrable barrier between peoples. Social rules are “part of the language”, too: the instinctive distance we stand from others, how loudly we speak, and (to recall Street’s judgments) what passes for “altruism”(if there is such a thing in the local tongue) or “harm done”—each and all wound up in our expectational structures that because we didn’t learn as rules but as technique, we do not usually know that we expect something from someone until they violate it. Being mutually intelligible takes much more than merely consulting each others’ dictionaries. 3.3.4 right and wrong A different culture may not be an “incommensurable conceptual scheme”, but they do represent a history of different interests that they value because it’s theirs—and because they “got into it” at some point. For example, from the perspective of someone who has no appreciation for baseball, the behaviors can seem bizarre: swatting the ball with a bat and running like hell and the audience cheering just because he made it to the “right” spot in the field “in time”. But to the players on the pitch, behaving according to the rules of the game is the difference between right and wrong. An incorrect solution to an arithmetic problem is the wrong answer that can make a bad student. We would be mistaken to think that because it’s “just” baseball or “just” arithmetic that evaluative attitudes don’t come into force as much as they would in “moral-dilemma”-type situations, because
where human institutions are concerned, we accept a socially created normative component. We accept that there is something wrong with the person who when the baseball is pitched at him simply eats it[…]something wrong with the person who goes around spouting ungrammatical sentences. _______________________________________________________________(CSR, p.146, my emphases)
3.3.5 fact & value And because just as a £10-note is fact because “everyone” thinks so, “ is the right behavior” could only be a fact—that is, a statement the truth conditions of which obtain—as part of a social context that could make this possible. The “moral facts” of the realist, then, could only be a social or institutional fact; if “one-ought-to- ” ever was a moral principle, its being an institutional fact would just mean that morality has done its job. Or, to put it another way, “one ought to help those in need whenever one is able” is a moral principle but not a fact: the world doesn’t quite work that way(yet)—and that is why moral principles exist.
In a practical philosophy, […] we are not concerned with accepting grounds of what happens, but rather laws of what ought to happen, even if it never does.______________–Kant, Grundlegung, iv 427
In 1981, Michael Ruse was a key witness in a test case (McLean vs Arkansas(1981)) against Arkansas state law which mandated the teaching of “creation science” in Arkansas public schools20. It shouldn’t surprise us, of course, that he would not only be disgusted by such a law but also that he came to his view in light of his knowledge; with reason. In other words, he made a considered judgment that the state law was wrong, and acted to oppose it. In the sense of “morality” presented and defended in this essay, Michael-Ruse made a moral-judgment, and what he did about it was a moral act. He may aver that “morality is flimflam”, or “morality is just a matter of emotions”, but his actions speak otherwise. Consider that morality—however construed—colloquially consists in attributions of “right” and “wrong” to behaviors, rules, laws—anything that affects persons. If it were “just a matter of emotions”, then “ -is-wrong” would just mean “I dislike ”, or inevitably, “ is disadvantageous to me”. This obviously happens—and perhaps we may imagine that now and again, someone who thinks that way is just influential enough to swing laws in their favor, unlike the “little-person”, raised to the view that “wrong”=“dislike”, who couldn’t raise the conviction or the cash to do the same and has to be content nursing a grudge, whether or not his complaint was any more or less valid than the influential person’s. They—we—wouldn’t be able to distinguish between “racial” and “vegetable” ‘discrimination’; we would have lost the ability to say that some things are wrong for a reason, because “morality is a matter of emotions”. There would be no difference between someone who thinks it’s “unfair” that he can’t make it as a singer (because he’s tone-deaf) and another who feels the same because he was born a slave, into a social system and an economy that was run on slave labor. Both would just be “disliking” their lives. That’s what moral-skepticism comes to. The fact that the Act that Ruse and others opposed was passed at all could be taken as evidence that Arkansas is “a different culture”. Cultural relativism would say, “well, it’s their way” and moral-relativism would say “who’s to say they’re wrong about creation being a science”—that, I suggest, sounds as odd as moral-relativism, along with “who’s to say we’re wrong about slavery”(in the 19th-century). Cultural-relativism says “we shouldn’t interfere whatever we think”; moral-relativism—and skepticism— says “we shouldn’t think what we do”, not because our standards are faulty, but because they are “ours” and could never be anything else—implicitly denying both our common humanity and the possibility of a culturally-independent standpoint. And, of course, “ours” vs “theirs” can be defined any way you like—states, counties, social class, borough, street, individual—and we are right back to spinach and ice-cream. Cultural-relativism could be construed as a moral-position—because it is based not on considerations of culture, but the rights of persons to self-determination regardless of their culture. The message is not—as communitarians have claimed—that “culture doesn’t matter”, but that no one’s culture matters more or less than anyone else’s. Persons come in all shapes and sizes, little of which we choose and a lot of what we do choose derives from the bits we don’t (extra-tall people have especial concern about bed-sizes for example); if morality endeavors to provide guidance for “what ought to happen”, its principles must apply in virtue of what we can all guarantee to have in common: being persons. Put otherwise, had culture not been excluded in the original position, the principles of justice would have been fought out over a cultural pissing contest(guess who would win?); and for all its claims, the moral-skeptics would have had the right of it. The point was to put culture beyond the frame, because as all matters of inheritance— like evolutionary instincts—love it or loathe it, we’re stuck with it and we cannot know how much it distorts our judgments. Yet epistemological deficiencies—Humean skepticism or cultural scales over our eyes—can no more nullify science than morality, as long we remain the same irrepressible creatures who invented those two concepts. We just have to keep trying.
They won: the federal judge ruled that the state law was unconstitutional. See also his article: (Overton 1982)
Defending morality as a philosophical discipline—as I have intended in this essay—is to assert the possibility of a universal standard and the possibility of morals. My task, as I saw it, consisted in the following: i to define what morality is—what it is I am defending, and why; ii to examine what others would call morality to debunk, and explain that what is debunked is not what I am defending; iii to offer an alternative explanation for what I believe, and hope to have shown, is in fact the phenomenon that has been the object of recent debunking accounts of morality. I began with a statement of why morality exists as it does, what it is for and why we need it. Morality exists, I suggest, to remind us that it is possible for the human to be a person: to make reasoned, considered judgments and to choose or design one’s actions accordingly—from one’s moral point of view, every other human is a person too. But this takes moral-development—and society to acknowledge that it is possible (if not desirable) for a person to be able to distinguish between what “I like”, what “I do” and what “is right”. Yet science shows us that the average human makes little distinction between what is one’s taste and what one believes is right. Whereas what I call morality identifies a belief as moral on the basis of how one acquires it and not its contents, it seems most people consider a moral belief “strongly-held, motivating dispositions” directed to social behavior. Contra Ruse, I believe there is a difference, to which end I set out Korsgaard’s conditions for what is required to answer “the normative question” as the criteria for an account of morality. This essay was motivated by debunking arguments advanced by Darwinians or those inspired by them. In examining Darwinian accounts I have sought to make clear that (a) what Darwinians explain with social instincts is undisguisedly the phenomenon of sociality; (b) what they debunk are conceptions of morality hitherto believed responsible for “civilisation”, with all the overtones of its being an exclusively human phenomenon—which I believe the Darwinians have successfully refuted. The main thrust of the other debunking argument is this: we cannot say that “it’s-good-to-cooperate” is a fact if we are given to feel that way by our social-instincts and hence—as with Street’s samples— sufficient motive to act. This means we would act, and even being prevented from acting won’t stop us thinking it’s a good idea. Nothing could—except a moral argument:
“the fact that something promotes one’s survival is a reason in favor of it” unless it necessarily compromises someone else’s survival in the process
it’s good to cooperate, unless doing so entails acquiescing in a social system that is unjust
This, I hope, illustrates the nature of morality: reason is not required to act on these beliefs, only to refute them—and oddly, that’s where “moral” part comes in. It is, of course, because morality is so widely mistaken for sociality that there exist “moral beliefs” that sound like direct echoes of our social instincts—and why some would call them “moral facts”, since only phenomena could count as objectively verifiable facts-of-the-matter. But “it’s-good-to-cooperate” isn’t what people believe, as such—more “stand-to-the-right”, familiar to seasoned Tube-travelers and less so to tourists who may earn a dirty look or two from irate commuters. Humans do not have a suite of other-regarding behaviors21 but many, mutually challenging ones. The fact that one ought to stand to the right on Tube escalators is a domestic peculiarity that social-instincts don’t tell you about. It is not covered by the debunking arguments; if scientific evidence is anything to go by, just what people consider to be a “moral belief”. Norm-compliance is not a moral motive—a claim I cannot defend here—and Searle offers an account of such beliefs that he does not, as far as I know, ever call “moral”.
((Bekoff and Pierce 2009), p.7)
I think Searle’s theory is a better fit: it’s a story about something you learn young that prepares you for society, which runs like the one Darwinians sought to debunk, and he picks up where they leave off, with an account of social normativity that explains both the apparent instinctiveness of rule-based social behavior and why they would differ between cultures. My aim has been to show that morality exists not because people do it, but in order that they might. The only fact of the matter in all this is that humans are language-using, intentional beings who can harm each other more efficiently with what they say than with any lethal weapon. Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can break your heart—and change your mind. Morality exists as long as we believe that. Nothing more is needed.
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