Interpreting Pragmatic Naturalism An inquiry into a scientific approach to ethics
Interpreting Pragmatic Naturalism Name
An inquiry into a scientific approach to ethics
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Table of contents
Abstract................................................................................................................................................3 1. Introduction......................................................................................................................................4 2. Chapter One: The Fundamentals: Moral Naturalism and Pragmatism.............................................7 2.1. Moral Naturalism....................................................................................................................7 2.2. Scientific Values Only: Positivism and Logical Positivism...................................................8 2.3. Science and Politics: a New Rise of Technocracy?..............................................................10 2.4. Moral Pragmatism................................................................................................................11 2.5. Fighting Ethical Elitism: the Ideas of John Dewey..............................................................11 3. Chapter Two: Philip Kitcher’s Pragmatic Naturalism....................................................................13 3.1. The History and Evolution of Morality................................................................................13 3.2. Analysis Through Dynamic Consequentialism....................................................................15 3.3. How to Move Forward; the Mechanisms of Pragmatic Naturalism.....................................16 4. Chapter Three: Room for Improvement.........................................................................................19 4.1. Problems with Pragmatism, Concepts and Mechanisms......................................................19 4.2. Deriving Ought From Is.......................................................................................................20 4.3. On the Ambiguous Values of Naturalism and Consequentialism.........................................22 5. Conclusion......................................................................................................................................24 Bibliography.......................................................................................................................................26
This paper explores the effects a scientific account of morality could have on the future of ethics. The main research is based on Philip Kitcher’s approach of pragmatic naturalism, which he elaborates on in his book The Ethical Project (2011). Seeing as there has never been general consensus on many diverging ethical matters, this paper investigates whether an empirical enquiry based on objective scientific facts could help solve some of our most profound conundrums, and help us achieve a greater level of universal rights for all. Despite the fact that such an endeavour is not a new one, with greater advances in technology it could be technically possible to develop a new, all-encompassing morality based on notions of humanity instead of religion or superstition. This paper compares Kitcher’s philosophy to past attempts at placing science on the forefront of society, such as Auguste Comte’s positivism, and elaborates on the core theories that Kitcher has used for his own approach. This paper asks the following research question: what mechanisms and values do scientific accounts of morality, such as Kitcher's, provide the field of ethics with? How does pragmatic naturalism aim to solve ethical dilemmas? These questions are answered by analysing Kitcher's analytical framework, and by comparing it to preceding science-based accounts of morality.
1. Introduction In an article published in 1981, philosopher-sociologist Jürgen Habermas expressed his concerns about the scientific legacy of the Enlightenment, seeing that a major part of the 20th century had been characterized by death and demise instead of progress in achieving greater well-being (BenHabib & Habermas, 1981). It seemed as though the ideals of scientific progress had only provided humanity with new ways of conducting warfare and exterminating one another. If this was all science could show for, would it not be senseless to keep trying to advance it and increasingly intertwine it with society? Yet, in today's world, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario where science and technology would not be at the very core of our existence. In spite of having expressed doubts about modernity and post-modernity, even Habermas eventually concluded that people ought to keep trying to make the best out of scientific discoveries and inventions, as they may benefit the future structure of society (ibid). And so, it would appear that humankind is not only basing its various disciplines, such as economics and politics, on scientific breakthroughs but that we are inherently dependent on everything it has supplied us with, ranging from vaccines to mobile tablets. Even if one is to not go as far as to say that science is a key actor in defining our identities, its special function in society is most definitely implied. What the ultimate role of science in society should be, however, is far from being agreed upon. For a long time, science was publicly viewed as an entity which simply provided descriptive knowledge and information about various earthly phenomena. Attempts of bringing science to the forefront of society have been met with both disdain and concern. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) depicted the dangers of technology by portraying science as a means to control people instead of something that could enable greater happiness and health. Darwin's theory of evolution, despite becoming increasingly empirically verified, has been, and is even today, rejected by many on the account of it being against religious and traditional values. Certain medical procedures, such as the discontinuation of a pregnancy, are viewed as religiously immoral, and are hence limited or entirely outlawed in some countries (United Nations, 2013). This clash between religion and science is by no means novel, but if science really has such an enormous grip on our everyday lives, is excluding scientific innovations and discoveries in certain fields not merely hypocritical? There is especially one sphere in which science and society do not often seem to coincide: ethics. Now, when ethics is discussed, science may not be the first thing that comes to mind, nor does it at first sight seem to have much to do with how we perceive and generate societal moral norms. After all, the term science can entail a variety of things: exact sciences, such as mathematics and physics, or biology, anthropology, psychology, or just any empirical inquiries in general. What these disciplines have in common, however, is an aim to be as factual as possible in order to generate 4
accurate knowledge and deepen our understanding of a myriad of issues. How come, then, is there a need to exclude scientific facts from ethical policies, if they could aid humanity in understanding the origins and possible reasons behind a good deal of moral dilemmas? It seems as though the main criticism against giving science a more prescriptive role in morality is that one cannot derive ought from is; this is what is known as the naturalistic fallacy. It concludes that science ought to be value-free, and that facts cannot be turned into moral codes. Despite the claimed incompatibility of science and ethics, there are people who promote the importance of scientific knowledge for the future of ethical policy-making. Being one of these people, in his book The Ethical Project (2001), philosopher Philip Kitcher proposes a novel way of evaluating existing ethical codes, and advancing them further. His theory of pragmatic naturalism draws from the meta-ethical notion of naturalism and the ethical theory of pragmatism, though Kitcher's own approach to ethics is more proactive than the ones it is based on. In The Ethical Project he depicts ethics as an ancient tradition based on biological responses which to this day is not complete, nor might not ever be, because of its ever-evolving nature. He argues that it would be of grave importance to let the natural and social sciences assist in developing ethical thinking for a greater well-being of society, as only natural facts can help us understand the motives and reasons behind our sense of morality. He suggests bridging the gap between philosophy of science and political philosophy, for he believes that the future of solving ethical problems lies in the hands of scientists and philosophers who can provide the public with better understanding of the evolution of morality. This paper asks the following research question: what mechanisms and values do scientific accounts of morality, such as Kitcher's, provide the field of ethics with? This question is asked so that it could be illustrated what Kitcher considers the core values of science, and how promoting those values through certain mechanisms could help with solving deep-rooted societal issues. The methodology of this paper relies mainly on discourse analysis, although practical cases are also evaluated in order to answer the research question more concretely. The main claim of this paper is that science is not objective, and that it does not need to be, unlike what is commonly believed. There just needs to be consensus among scientists and the public on what the driving values behind it are in order for there to be actual ethical advancement. Hence, this paper investigates what science-based moral theories have offered in the past and what they offer today, and whether or not their plans of action propose a way to actually reach consensus about advancing ethics. In order to provide a thorough answer to the research question, this paper takes the following steps. Chapter One gives a short history and conceptual analysis of both ethical naturalism and pragmatism in order to explain the core of Philip Kitcher's theory. It outlines the main clashes that both naturalism and pragmatism have had with society in the past, and shortly introduces the main 5
schools that have promoted scientific values. It also discusses the practical shortcomings of these theories to show why they have not been more successful. Chapter Two introduces Kitcher's own values and mechanisms in order to show how he intends to better society, and how he aims to improve the old ideas and put them into practice. Chapter Three moves on to discussing the possible dangers of mixing science and societal values, as introduced by Kitcher. This is to show that no matter how appealing it may be to some to dispose of certain scientifically ungrounded moral codes, the possibility of science being able to produce new oppressive codes should not be ignored. Some of the more important secondary sources for this paper are The Scientific Life (2008) by Steve Shapin and Technocracy and The Politics of Expertise (1990) by Frank Fischer. Kitcher's theory is used as a primary source for this paper. This paper limits itself to presenting some of the more influential schools of thought in relation to science and ethics. All the mentioned theories are far more exhaustive than presented here, yet this paper aims to mention the key elements of all apropos the research question and claim. There are other developments in contemporary scientific philosophy in regards to ethical progress than Kitcher's, however, for the sake of clarity and focus this paper is only concentrating on his proposals.
2. Chapter One: The Fundamentals: Moral Naturalism and Pragmatism In order to understand how one could infer moral judgments from scientific facts, it is necessary to know the processes behind linking the two together. The following paragraphs discuss moral naturalism and its connection to science through its history, concepts and relevant theories as to show the groundwork for Philip Kitcher's approach to ethics. The most prominent movements involving naturalism and scientific values are introduced, and their legacies and shortcomings discussed. Then, to connect moral naturalism to a more proactive framework of making ethics, the means and objectives of moral pragmatism are also introduced. The main focus is on the connection with science and values, so only the relevant elements of both theories are mentioned. 2.1. Moral Naturalism Moral naturalism in itself is actually a meta-ethical theory instead of a prescriptive one, unlike deontology (there are moral rules which should not be broken no matter what the consequences) or consequentialism (only the outcome of an action has moral value). This means that its main concentration is on what constitutes a sense of morality, and what the origins of ethics are. It is often used interchangeably with moral realism, as naturalism shares the same core definition; it can be ”. . . minimally defined as the idea that moral properties can be identified with natural properties, or are at least definable in terms of natural properties.” (Edwards, 2012, p. 2) Hence, a sense of morality stems from natural occurrences instead of being fully socially constructed, and exists independently of a person's mind. Since moral naturalism relies on being discovered from nature, it plays well together with scientific accounts that aim to reveal truth about the surrounding world. In spite of the fact that moral naturalism appears rather straightforward, it is one thing to claim that there are natural facts, such as gravity, and a whole other to say that nature can help us discover something as complex as to what is good or bad. This is why moral naturalism has often restricted itself to providing descriptive rather than prescriptive notions of morality by simply portraying moral concepts instead of making a judgment call about them: the ”. . .purpose is to explain how people come to have their ethical beliefs.” (Ward, 2005, p. 201) Hence, the terms of 'good' and bad' are often used to describe the beneficial or harmful traits that various species have in accordance to their overall survival and evolution (Maull, 2013). One example of such a theory is synthetic ethical naturalism, which ”. . .identifies moral properties with natural properties but which does not make analytic claims about the meanings of moral terms being equivalent to natural terms.” (Edwards, 2012, p. 2) It seems more accessible to analyse the origins of, and reasons behind an existing moral system than to begin to derive them from empirical facts, which is why synthetic ethical naturalism 7
does not take a normative stance. The abovementioned naturalistic fallacy refers precisely to this problem: how, then, could an is be turned into ought? Albeit that the naturalistic fallacy seems to be an imminent point of criticism in most naturalistic accounts, there have been attempts to either ignore it or overcome it. ”From what can ought be derived?” asks philosopher Daniel Dennett in Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995, p. 467) as an attempt to point out that the problem of naturalism is not deriving values from facts, (because what else could they be derived from?) but that values ought not to be completely reduced to natural occurrences; the social context should also be accounted for. This justification, however, does not profit the naturalistic thinker much, as the theory would require deducing social acts to their biological origins (Lenman, 2014). The naturalistic fallacy is analysed further in the following paragraphs, and in Chapter Two. 2.2. Scientific Values Only: Positivism and Logical Positivism When examining the history of science as a philosophy, one of the most notable accounts is that of Auguste Comte (1798–1857), the father of positivism. His theory placed science and empirical inquiry on the forefront of society, and in its most extreme forms even aimed to discard any metaphysical or unobservable entities, such as deities or any kind of Platonic transcendence (Scharff, 1995). This aim was not solely philosophical, as Comte also intended to transform politics by exchanging politicians for scientists, who would serve the ”common good” of humanity (Mellone, 1897, p. 79). His political ambitions were mainly directed towards Britain and France; he would have wanted to dispose of a central government and replace it with several smaller, more local administrative bodies (Bordeau, 2014). Anachronistically, it could be noted that Comte's views were rather left-wing, as he viewed states as redundant entities and would have preferred the world to unite under positivist principles: ”[t]aken as a whole, the Positivist System would provide the scientist-humanist equivalent to what systematic theology had been in the high Middle Ages: it would serve as the intellectually unifying basis of the new industrial order.” (Wernick, 2001, p. 2) Ethically, Comte's views emphasised collectivity, reason, and people working together in order to achieve their highest good (Wernick, 2001). In order for humanity to thrive, there was a need for a consensus on what constituted morality. The role of science, then, was to help uncover nature's mysteries as much as possible, and to serve as a 'proven' framework for any social issues. Science was to act as a de-mystifier, which is why only scientists ought to be placed in the public sphere; only they could be relied upon as the guardians of common societal values (Scharff, 1995). Abstract ideas and metaphysics could not be properly examined, so they were not to play a role in defining what societal values should be, which is why Comte wanted to dispose of religious practices 8
altogether (Mellone, 1897). For Comte, there was no naturalistic fallacy. Only the observable truths from nature could tell us how to behave, and these truths were what formed Comte’s paradoxical religion of science: ”[i]ts full establishment required a doctrine (dogme), a moral rule (régime), and a system of worship (culte), all organised and coordinated through a Positivist Church.” (Wernick, 2001, p. 2) This project, however, did not catch fire in its contemporary, religious societies of Britain and France because it was viewed too radical. Did Comte's attempt to bridge science and society fail? From today's perspective, his core ideas do not seem too far removed. On the one hand, science has taken enormous leaps since his time, and many of the limitations that Comte's society had are no longer an issue, and in a democratic system even a scientist can become a politician. On the other hand, most, if not all, developed countries of the world still emphasise a variety of religious practices, both in the public and the private sphere, and so the metaphysical has not been disposed of. Science has not yet managed to unite humanity under a certain set of values, despite there being a rise in secular humanism in Western countries (British Humanist Association, 2015). In the 1920s, a group of Austrian philosophers reignited the fire in positivist thought by beginning to promote ideas of neopositivist philosophy. This group was called the Vienna Circle, and it was founded by physicist-philosopher Moritz Schlick (Uebel, 2011). Neopositivism, or logical positivism, drew from Comtean positivism by stigmatising the ”. . .metaphysical, theological, and ethical pronouncements as devoid of cognitive meaning. . .” and advocated ”. . .a radical reconstruction of philosophical thinking which should give pride of place to the methods of physical science. . .” (Achinstein & Barker, 1969, p. v) Since the Vienna Circle consisted mainly of physicists and mathematicians who aimed for objectivity and verifiability, logical positivism was not concerned with ethics per se. Science was considered impartial. It did, however, give way to two ethical theories: emotivism and universal prescriptivism. Emotivism was the view that morality simply reflected the attitude of the person making a moral claim (e.g. ”killing is wrong”), and universal prescriptivism claimed that moral utterances were meant as imperatives (”one should not kill”) (van Roojen, 2014). If combined, logical positivism and universal prescriptivism provide an insight to what the ethical heritage of the Vienna Circle could be have been: a sense of morality that is deeply connected to the empirical nature of science, and that this sense would have to be universal, the same way as Comte had envisioned it. In spite of having had great influence in the field of philosophy of science, logical positivism was not interested in involving the natural sciences in ethics or politics, and so the ideas of the Vienna Circle were mainly about logic and linguistics (Achinstein & Barker, 1969). Emotivism and universal descriptivism, being both meta-ethical theories, also did not offer much of a reform to the 9
field of ethical thinking, especially since neither theory actually viewed ethics as more than subjective discourse, and not thus worthy of being properly analysed. Science, in terms of the logical positivist, remained highly theoretical and exclusive only to academics and scientists, which made it inaccessible to the general public. 2.3. Science and Politics: a New Rise of Technocracy? Despite the abstract character of the Vienna Circle, not all socio-scientific movements remained only theoretical: ”[t]echnocracy has roots deeply embedded in our cultural past, particularly the scientific and technological worldviews of the modern Western tradition. . . it refers to the emergence in Europe of a Western form of life increasingly shaped by science and technology.” (Fischer, 1990, p. 59) Being greatly influenced by the philosophy of Henri Saint-Simon, Comte's mentor, technocracy refers to a hypothetical state system ran by scientists from various fields, who would then resolve social problems with the help of scientific inquiry (ibid.) The point of having a technocracy would be that any societal issues could be settled by people who would be experts in their respective fields. For example, policies about pollution, carbon footprints, and energy consumption would be decided upon with the help of empirical data about climate change (Greenland, 1959). Every decision would be backed up by evidence, so that policies could not be made just to benefit certain people. In a technocracy, much like in Comte's ideal system, there would be no space for metaphysical religions; all societal values would be scientific values, such as empiricism, accuracy and rationality (Fischer, 1990). Despite being rather clear-cut about their advocated values, the technocratic dialect about ethics was ambiguous and somewhat restricted to repeating how, if brought to the centre of society, science and technology would advance world peace by bringing the needed unity that was missing from the world (Greenland, 1959, Shapin, 2008). Technocracy as a movement was perhaps most prominent in the United States, especially after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. It favoured ”corporate liberalism” as the key design of politics: ”[b]oth the method and the world-view of this new ideology were based on an appeal to the rationality of science.” (Fischer, 1990, p. 79) Considering the unstable circumstances of the movement, the main focus of the Technocrats was to improve the economy and politics by applying reforms to education, and by replacing politicians with scientists: ”. . .the strategy was an attempt to transfer the corporation's ”rational” methods of administration and planning to the political sphere.” (Fischer, 1990, p. 81) The Technocrats, who formed an organisation called Technocracy, Inc., quickly became a distinctive group with their own uniforms and salutes, but failed in their grandiose pursuits of a new society as their cult-like appearance was unattractive and too elitist for most 10
people to want to join (Burnham in Fischer, 1990, p.86). As appealing as the fundamental ideas of a technocratic system may appear at first, it is necessary to remember that a technocracy would ultimately be a rule of an elite – it was not meant to be democratic. The elite rule would perhaps be more efficient in decision-making than a democratic one, yet, it remains unclear how such an order would emerge and work in practice without being totalitarian in nature: ”[i]n holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” (Habermas in Shapin, 2008, p. 81) Being an expert in biology or physics does not give one an unwavering sense of moral integrity, even if one is to fully rely on empirical facts when making decisions that affect a countless amount of people. The ethics of technocracy are not explicit or distinctive enough for it have worked properly. The transformation of the Technocracy movement to a rigid, hierarchical cult in the United States only speaks against adopting technocratic ideals more widely.
2.4. Moral Pragmatism ”The colloquial meaning of “pragmatist” can thwart comprehension of this notion of workability, which is especially troublesome in an ethical context. In common parlance, the cold-eyed pragmatist is opportunistic, calculating, morally indifferent.” (Fesmire, 2003, p. 42-43) As the name already suggests, pragmatism is an approach which analyses acts and their consequences in order to illustrate which act leads to what (Hookway, 2013). Instead of hypothesising too much, pragmatists aim to find truth about knowledge and ethics by looking at real-life examples of what has happened, and making conclusions about the outcomes. Hence, the theory-practice axel is hermeneutical, as the theory keeps evolving through practical examples, and vice versa: ”"there is no such thing possible as an ethical philosophy dogmatically made up in advance."” (James, 2010, p. 92) This statement from William James seems somehow to be common sense, except that most moral theories have indeed been theories before (or if) they were put into practice, such as Kantian deontology. Pragmatism is consequentialist in character, and it could be criticised as too simplistic and too dependent on labelling things as causation instead of correlation. Despite that pragmatist ideas have not perhaps been as inspiring as naturalist ones, they have been influential especially in the field of epistemology (Hookway, 2013). What is relevant for this paper, however, is to focus on the ethical dimension of pragmatism, and more precisely on the account of John Dewey, as it is most important for Kitcher's theory. 2.5. Fighting Ethical Elitism; the Ideas of John Dewey 11
Dewey's main project was to transform ethics from an oppressive, elitist model to something that could act as a liberator and guide: ”Dewey's ethics replaces the goal of identifying an ultimate end or supreme principle that can serve as a criterion of ethical evaluation with the goal of identifying a mechanism for improving our value judgments.” (Anderson, 2014) Being also devoid of a need for a metaphysical reality, he did not believe that there was a need for a priori ethical models that originate from a divine will. Instead, in order to understand human nature and create codes of conduct that would improve society, social psychology would have to be given more emphasis (ibid.) According to Dewey, only examining the behaviour of humans could lead to greater awareness of what the reasons behind certain actions are, and that this could be formulated to a normative theory (ibid.) He saw ethics as a constant development that could only be improved through people coming together and discussing their issues: ”[e]thical concepts develop as the publics that constitute the Great Community carry on a continuous dialog, aimed at managing the ever-changing conditions of their collective life.” (Parker, 1993) Despite being liberal at heart, Dewey, like the Technocrats, believed that there was an urgent need to renew certain institutions and educational practices: ”[b]oth needed to be reconstructed so as to promote experimental intelligence and wider sympathies.” (Anderson, 2013) Dewey's ethics were grounded on the premise that morality was not subjective, yet it was also not restricted to having an unchangeable core; humanity had experienced a variety of deeply flawed moral systems, which could only mean that a sense of ethics was an ever-developing process (Fesmire, 2003). Therefore, a pragmatic approach could both help us understand the defects of previous systems by showing their disadvantageous practical consequences (e.g. condoning slavery) and provide us with some ground rules for developing ethical practices in the future. Despite being systematically thorough and socially advanced, the main problem with Dewey's approach was its dependence on behaviouralism, both politically and psychologically; it is not always possible to find a reliable reason for a person's actions simply by discovering what they are. Many ethical systems perhaps do favour the upper classes, but that does not mean that everyone from the lower classes is necessarily of great moral character. By rejecting the importance of an 'inner' life, of whomever in question, and concentrating on physical responses only, a considerable portion of hidden motives may be overlooked. Hence, even when analysing past ethical systems from a pragmatist point of view, many aspects may remain concealed. This means that any pragmatic test results may not provide accurate data, and in turn may not be able to further formulate desirable normative guidelines.
3. Chapter Two: Philip Kitcher’s Pragmatic Naturalism “Pragmatic naturalism aims to understand the character of the ethical project by exposing major features of its evolution.” (Kitcher, 2011, p. 138) In The Ethical Project (2011) philosopher Philip Kitcher introduces a novel way of perceiving and conducting ethics; pragmatic naturalism. Despite that his theory is grounded on a variety of philosophical traditions, such as the already introduced naturalism and pragmatism, it offers an innovative approach to analysing moral systems of the past as well as helpful notions on how to improve our current ethical structures. The following paragraphs examine his theory in relation to how he intends to better society through scientific enquiry. First, his main ideas about the history and development of ethics are discussed to show how he defends the chronology of certain ethical progresses. Second, the ideas and values of pragmatic naturalism are explored, and Kitcher’s “plan of attack” in relation to societal and political change introduced. Kitcher has argued for his theory also in his previous publications, however, this paper concentrates mainly on how pragmatic naturalism is portrayed in The Ethical Project. As the book is a lengthy and thorough explanation, this paper focuses on giving concise summaries of the different parts of his theory.
3.1. The History and Evolution of Morality The first part of The Ethical Project is fully devoted to presenting an idea of how a sense of morality could have developed since the beginning of humanity. Kitcher’s ethical project is hence a collaborative idea based on biological pre-conditioning, and later on social interaction: “[t]he position to be elaborated—pragmatic naturalism, to give it a name— envisages the ethical project as begun by our remote ancestors, in response to the difficulties of their social life. They invented ethics.” (p. 3) Pragmatic naturalism is a mixture of naturalism and social constructivism, meaning that the social character of morality was built on a naturalistic, biological base. Morality, or a sense of it, has hence evolved throughout time to what it is today, even though various systems of morality are in place simultaneously. Kitcher is not, however, a relativist in the most fundamental meaning of the word; even if the ethical project keeps evolving and changing, humanity must have a certain moral core which can be discovered through historical progresses, because otherwise all our past deviations and mistakes (e.g. the Nazis) would have to be tolerated as simply a cultural diversion (p. 139). This means that there is still work to be done in relation to discovering the origins of morality, and developing our sense of it even further. 13
Kitcher admits early on that his theory is more or less limited to the scope of humankind’s written history, but that he still tries to demonstrate how humans could have acquired a sense of morality through working together and being also in a sense hard-wired to seek profit, not only for themselves but for their families or close groups (pp. 17-18). The primitive notion of biological altruism has been a driving force in how we have developed: although at first it might have served as a means to survive (i.e. I will help you so that you will help me), through evolutionary means it has become an intrinsic part of humanity: “[a] central theme of my approach to altruism is that there are preethical forms of altruism and that these are realized in animals who have not yet acquired ethical practice.” (p. 44) The fact that patterns of altruism can be witnessed in non-human animals and even some plants (in the form of symbiosis) means that there must be a prevalent biological condition that allows such a thing to exist. Most humans now have the capability of empathising with others and aiding them even if the act provides no personal gain (p. 45). Kitcher stresses the importance of Darwin’s evolutionary theory also for ethics; being a naturalist, he believes that a basis for morality can be found in various biological processes, and can also be also discovered through means of science (p. 36). Even if the exact reason for the development of altruism has not yet been pinned down, it should not be ignored as being an important part of uncovering morality, and a force of everyday actions. An important part of Kitcher's thesis is to scrutinise the details of how ethical change takes place. He makes a distinction between ontogenetic and phylogenetic change; ontogenetic change is tied to an individual, whereas phylogenetic change symbolises cultural or societal shifts (p. 330-331.) Individual change can influence society if it becomes 'mainstream', and societal change can, and does, also influence individual belief systems by acting as a framework. “Once the ethical project was begun, each generation inherited a body of established ethical beliefs, indeed ethical truths, from which people drew false consequences. . .” (p. 194) The distinction between these types of change is made so that it can be understood how progress is made; in today's society, individual change and divergence are usually behind triggering a greater change. As a very current example of phylogenetic change through individual effort is the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the Republic of Ireland by popular vote in May 2015; despite being a conservative Catholic country with a matching set of traditional norms, an old law was discontinued for the sake of greater equality, through the contribution of the general population. In the last sections of Part One, Kitcher moves on to analysing three examples of ethical dilemmas as to illustrate how phylogenetic progress was made in relation to them: female rights, chattel slavery and sexual divergence (pp. 145-166). By introducing these dilemmas he does not claim that they have been entirely solved, but that there have been improvements, and the reasons 14
for these improvements are worth looking at, for the sake of comprehension and for solving future problems. Despite the fact that the mentioned issues are superficially different, they are all grounded in the notion of certain social discourse. Many religious and cultural practices have limited the female scope of life by placing strict rules on womanhood: being considered property, not being allowed in the public life or in educational circles, and later on not being allowed to vote (pp. 146-147). Chattel slavery was the outcome of colonialist ideologies of a “white man’s burden” of needing to force Western culture on people who were deemed inferior, and since they were inferior it was alright to use them for personal gain (pp. 153-157). Sexual divergence, then, being deemed as ‘biologically unnatural’ is still something that is widely debated, also due to religious dogma and fear (pp. 162-164). Therefore, what these examples have in common is either some assumed dogmatic norms grounded in tradition, or pseudo-scientific ideas that were used to gain control of certain groups. The way these issues were partially solved was by allowing increased public discussion and discovering new things from nature; e.g. finding out that the size of one’s brain does not contribute to intelligence helped advance equality, and discovering that homosexuality was present in many other species than humans also worked towards proving that it was not unnatural (pp. 145, 154). Here Kitcher sees an established link between ethics and scientific progress: unless conducted incorrectly and not integrated in social discourse, science has very rarely contributed to oppressive norms. This is why it is important to let there be open, interdisciplinary discussion and criticism even about the most established moral codes that a society may uphold (p. 153). By learning about the oppressive systems of the past we can keep evolving the ethical project onward and reach new levels of general well-being.
3.2. Diagnosis Through Dynamic Consequentialism
In Part Three, Kitcher moves on to propose the more practical side of his own theory and the ideas it entails for the betterment of society, through a diagnostic and a methodological part. The diagnostic part explains how ethics has evolved over time, and the methodological part outlines the key mechanisms through which society ought to further construct ethics. It is in this part that he aims to distinguish his theory as more proactive than those of his predecessors. The following paragraphs discuss his main arguments and ideas. In order to understand the status quo of ethical policies, Kitcher provides a diagnosis of moral affairs by discussing dynamic consequentialism: people have “. . . an implicit conception of the good and take the rightness of actions to depend on their promotion of the good as they envisage it.” 15
(p. 288) What this means is that people have a sense of morality and what is right, and they act upon that, hence producing a connection between an idea of good and an action that supports it. Some of these actions are more useful and compatible, which means that some actions get elevated and some actions disappear as time passes (p. 289). Through examining past conflicts and their resolutions, it is possible to give a diagnostic analysis of various occurrences and further theorise it – which is what Kitcher is ultimately doing. As idealistic as this thought process appears to be, Kitcher defends it by referring to the progressive steps taken in relation to the abovementioned moral dilemmas: feminism was successful in its aims because its ideas and the corresponding actions meant greater well-being for an increased part of the population. Thus, the idea of feminism outweighed the idea of misogyny by providing more people with better opportunities. This is why Kitcher calls his brand of consequentialism dynamic; the ethical project evolves and makes progress instead of remaining still, yet, he claims that there is no ‘end’ to the project since there cannot be a “last word” as that would turn his theory into a very dogmatic account of ethics (p. 289). Kitcher’s choice of consequentialism is influenced by his distrust in deontology, since he believes that deontology does not allow for exceptions and can be used to oppress people who do not agree with it (p. 294). Admitting that consequentialism faces hard critique from those who believe that it confuses correlation with causation (just because B follows A does not mean that A has caused B), Kitcher still insists that consequentialism can be interpreted in a more progressive and flexible way than most other theories of morality, such as any deontological ones (p. 293). The ethical project relies on a notion of ethical breakthroughs, mainly through continuous trial and error, but still with the underlying goal of leaving behind sentiments that do not work (e.g. “white man’s burden”). The main value that dynamic consequentialism holds is that of being able to reflect on existing moral codes and institutions in the light of the betterment of society (p. 296.) In order for humanity to reach new stages of well-being, it is necessary that no existing codes of morality are held as absolute or unchangeable, and that scientific progress is not rejected. Kitcher's own main example is creationism (the belief that our world was created by an all-powerful Deity), as it continues to dismiss empirical evidence on the basis of it going against what has been written in the Bible. Although he admits that religious forces have not always been the persecutors, in today's society they seem to have immense influence on moral issues and cause many conflicts, which is why there is a need to recognise and dismiss some of the more oppressive religious values (p. 325). The aim of pragmatic naturalism, he claims, is to solve existing moral conundrums through re-evaluation of moral norms, and the dismissal of a morality based on an ungrounded “Divine will” (p. 287). 3.3. How to Move Forward; the Mechanisms of Pragmatic Naturalism 16
Kitcher does not simply diagnose the flaws in common moral thinking, but suggests a way to solve them: “[a] proposal: continuation of the ethical project should include an attempt to frame a conception of the common good responsive to the desires of the entire human population. “ (p. 304, original italics) In order to reach such a global goal, Kitcher emphasises the importance of the cooperation of philosophers and scientists, and the general public (p. 286). In spite of the fact that the ethical project is an all-encompassing scheme which all people contribute to, Kitcher believes that there ought to be certain discussion leaders who would have “. . . the task of facilitating discussion of how we should continue the project of living together.” (p. 286) He feels that philosophers are capable of finding consensus through the mechanism of reflective equilibrium by operating “. . . between general ethical principles and so-called intuitive judgments.“ (p. 334) The mechanism of reflective equilibrium operates in three stages:
1. Identify the functions the ethical code is to serve. 2. Show how an amended code directs action in the situation that gives rise to the puzzle. 3. Show how the amended code improves discharge of some functions without compromising any others. (p. 336) This would mean navigating through the ontogenetic and phylogenetic values and finding an ultimate solution to any moral issues through the scientific method of falsification and verification: by testing and challenging various moral codes and discovering their flaws and benefits. However, despite this sentiment which would aim to solve existing moral dilemmas, and propose a future of ethics, he does not think that philosophers and ethicists ought to first envision a theory and then force it top-down unto the general population. Like Dewey, Kitcher also believes in the circularity of ethical progress: actions create ideas which then create further actions – hence the term reflective equilibrium. This pragmatic circularity would also involve civil societies, and not merely the moderators of the discussion. Another two of Kitcher's mechanisms that can be adopted even more widely and locally by the public, are those of mutual engagement and conscious altruism: there need to be more opportunities in democratic societies to encourage and uphold conversation about moral issues, in order to discover any problems or oppression that people may be facing in their communities, even if those problems only affect a minority (p. 344-345). More concretely, these problems can range from inequality to denying or refusing medical care to genital mutilation. All opinions ought to be heard, yet, solving dilemmas must always prioritise the well-being of a person. Pragmatic naturalism asserts that, even though e.g. genital mutilation may be considered a 'traditional' value, its 17
consequences must be taken into account: pain, physical and psychological trauma, and long-lasting issues with health should not be justified with old religious norms. For the ethical project to progress further, it is necessary to try and resolve such conflicting ideas about sexuality, and the only way this can happen is if people engage and improve the quality of life of themselves and others. The core of Kitcher's theory relies heavily on the ideas of naturalism: the origins and reasons for our ethical practices can be discovered through thorough research of empirically existing phenomena, which is why it is necessary for scientists of various fields to engage in conversations about ethics instead of hiding behind the naturalistic fallacy (p. 344). In fact, Kitcher denies the overall existence of such a fallacy. He states that when the idea of the naturalistic fallacy was first introduced by David Hume, our scientific knowledge was much more limited than it is today, or even slightly after Hume's time. This means that it can be considered an outdated concern, and should no longer be used against scientific accounts of morality (p. 255). “Once ethics is viewed as a social technology, directed at particular functions, recognizable facts about how those functions can better be served can be adduced in inferences justifying ethical novelties.” (p. 262) It is important to demystify ethics and make it as concrete and understandable as possible, which means that it ought to be fully detached from religious and traditional institutions and generate its own empirical research and results through the help of scientific progress and philosophy of science (p. 287).
4. Chapter Three: Room For Improvement Kitcher's goals are ambitious – but not more ambitious than those of Comte or the Technocracy movement. It is not the ambition, however, that proves a problem for his overall theory, but the fact that there are inconsistencies between the various parts of his book, and they hinder the theory from reaching its full potential. Even though the values promoted by Kitcher's pragmatic naturalism are aimed at improving general well-being for everyone by emphasising the progressiveness of science and its potential in solving dilemmas and moving forward, his theory ought not to be taken at face value. The following sections introduce three general points of criticism in relation to segments of Kitcher's theory, concentrating more on his mechanisms and implied principles than on his analytic account of history. First, the discrepancy of his pragmatist approach and concepts is analysed, and it is showed why the practical side of his proposal is insufficient. Second, his failure to overcome the naturalistic fallacy is explained. Third, his reliance on the values of naturalism and consequentialism is discussed in relation to the dangers of malevolent scientific inquiry and drawing harmful conclusions.
4.1. Problems with Pragmatism, Concepts and Mechanisms
Despite emphasising the importance of pragmatism and the hands-on character of his theory, Kitcher's mechanisms remain utterly theoretical; providing a step by step programme for assessing existing moral codes does not entail in itself just how it would be adopted by policy-makers (Sager, 2014, p. 434). The theory is there but it lacks the execution. Kitcher discusses in length the necessity of open discussion, but does not specify how people ought to be encouraged to join in on the conversation – he seems to find it obvious that everyone would want to participate in progressing ethics, although this should by no means be considered a given. Not everyone is interested in discussing ethics or taking part in publicly debating ethical issues. Additionally, it only takes someone to disagree with the core of Kitcher's theory for him or her to be disinterested in taking part in developing his ethical project. Since Kitcher emphasises the importance of an open democracy, receiving the support of the majority would be essential to his project, yet it could prove very difficult to achieve in practice. Even if a certain society is becoming increasingly secularized and accepting of scientific inquiries into moral issues, there would most likely also be great resistance to let science dictate the future of ethics (Sager, 2014, p. 436). It is due to this resistance why controversial research often is greatly limited, even if it would have the potential to save lives. As a current and relevant example, 19
one could discuss the topic of stem cell research; the research itself could help advance medicine and help cure certain medical conditions, yet it is considered by many as immoral as it requires probing the embryonic tissue and can pose a risk to the fetus and the mother. Another objection to it is that some view it as scientists 'playing God' and interfering with natural processes (National Bioethics Advisory Commission, 1999, p. 45). Due to the great disagreement on the topic, stem cell research has been limited or even outlawed in some places (ibid.) Agreeing on whether or not to continue such research in the future would, in Kitcher's terms, be left for philosophers and scientists to mediate between the public and the decision-makers. Kitcher does not support a Platonic hierarchy in making ethics, yet it still remains unclear what the exact role of the philosophers would be (Kitcher, 2011, p. 315). If he attempts to fight ethical elitism, like Dewey, by placing the emphasis on the public instead of a certain group, he ought to also be more specific in explaining why the contribution of the philosophers is so important. It also remains unclear how consensus would be reached – when deciding upon stem cell research, a myriad of religious arguments are going to surface, yet, in Kitcher's view, those arguments ought to not be taken seriously as they are not grounded in scientific facts. Concluding that only the opinions of a handful of people are worthy of being acknowledged in ethics draws back to Kitcher's own fear of dogmatic deontology, which makes it an obvious inconsistency. Hence, even if Kitcher is not consciously favouring certain values over others, his project could still turn into an elitist model, which is exactly what happened with the Technocracy movement. Although it should be noted that Kitcher's overall intentions are good, and that he mainly objects to harmful religious traditions (such as genital mutilation), his reluctance to include any nonnaturalistic values cannot be ignored in the bigger picture. If Kitcher intends to fully dispose of a morality that is based on a will of a Deity, he will be also disposing of many traditions and convictions that people hold dear, which will most likely not make them want to take part in his project (Derpmann, Düber, Rojek & Schnieder, 2013). Thus, Kitcher's statements about including the aspirations of the entire world population is not merely overreaching but also contradictory to his proposed mechanisms, as it becomes apparent that it is only the will of the few that should be taken seriously for the sake of the 'greater good' – something which could and should never take place in a proper democracy, as it can easily spiral into a tyrannical rule.
4.2. Deriving Ought From Is
As mentioned in the previous chapter, Kitcher denies that the naturalistic fallacy poses a threat to his theory, as a great deal of advancement has been made since the fallacy was first initiated. 20
According to him, by discovering the biological and social origins of certain ethical behaviour it is also possible to derive optimal codes of conduct that would lead to a better life for all (Kitcher, 2011, p. 106-107). However, stating that the naturalistic fallacy does not exist because it is 'outdated' does not seem like a good enough explanation for its dismissal. The fallacy has been immensely debated upon, and supported by a myriad of philosophers, such as G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, who both claim that one cannot equate natural properties to 'good' or 'bad' or any other attributes, or that any such features could then also be found in nature (Ridge, 2014). Even if today's technological paradigm is more evolved than it was a hundred or two hundred years ago does not mean that empirical facts about nature can simply be turned into beneficial imperatives, even with the help of philosophical deliberation (Derpmann & al., 2013, p. 69). Kitcher seems to consider pragmatic naturalism to be an exception to the fallacy, as he aims to show an implicit connection between scientific progress and the development of the ethical project, which means that natural facts and ethics would be interdependent. Yes, understanding nature has perhaps helped us develop our ethical policies, as Kitcher aims to show with his example of how knowledge and acceptance were mutually correlated in relation to homosexuality. However, this is merely his own suggestion and analysis, which is not necessarily true. It is not always possible to accurately distinguish between correlation, causation and coincidence, as pointed out earlier. Another problem with denying the naturalistic fallacy is that even if, hypothetically, ought could be derived from is, it could also have terrifying consequences for society. Kitcher disregards some of the mistaken conclusions that scientists have drawn from ‘natural facts’ in the past: phrenology (matching the shapes of one's skull with certain personality traits), for instance, was widely regarded as scientifically accurate, despite the fact that it was mainly used as vindication for racist policies in regards to slavery (Poskett, 2013). It was simply concluded that specific dents in the structure of the skull bore meaning to one's characteristics, such as submissiveness in black slaves (ibid.) Even if there had been similarities in the phrenologists' findings, there was no real scientific ground to it, yet, that did not hinder phrenology from becoming a successful scientific paradigm all over the world. Here lies the real danger of deriving ought from is: if pseudo-scientific theories, such as phrenology, gain success, they will have enormous consequences for society until someone manages to disprove them – a process which can take time (Weingart in Machamer & Wolters, 2004, p. 118). Simply because times have changed and science evolved does not mean that pseudoscience cannot take over once more. Consider the anti-vaccination movement of recent times, for example: without any real evidence to support their claim, a group of people decided that vaccines lead to autism, which has resulted in many unnecessary deaths in the last years (Melnick, 2011). Seeing that the anti-vaccine movement operated on the notion of it being 'morally wrong' to 21
vaccinate children, it only shows what a misinformed reading of a scientific study can ultimately lead to (ibid). It cannot be concluded that Kitcher has convincingly shown how, and especially why, ought could be derived from is, which means that him basing his ethical theory on converting natural facts into moral norms suffers from a lack of credibility in this area (Derpmann & al., 2013, p. 73). Even though this paper acknowledges that science does not have to be value-free, there still need to be common codes of conduct if ethics is to be based on naturalistic facts. Therefore, even if overcoming the naturalistic fallacy would one day be possible, scientists and philosophers have not yet found a way to truly transform natural facts into moral codes without there also being room for negative effects, which is something that Kitcher should take into account with his own theory.
4.3. On the Ambiguous Values of Naturalism and Consequentialism
As this paper is looking into the values promoted by scientific theories of morality, it is necessary to also address the values that are entailed in Kitcher's theory and their possible shortcomings. Kitcher, despite being liberal and progressive in character, often overlooks the problems that may arise with intertwining science and morality. First, the foundational problem lies in assigning naturalism such an important role in determining values; this relates profoundly to the naturalistic fallacy. Even if it is possible to decipher certain behavioural codes through looking at their origin, how are we to explain harmful natural occurrences which occur in most of the world's species, such as rape? If one is to conclude that rape is a 'naturally occurring' part in a majority of the existing species, including our own, how could it be dismissed when constructing ethical codes that are based on natural facts? This example is a very extreme one, but it should not be ignored as a possible danger. It seems difficult to begin to distinguish every single type of 'natural' behaviour and determine whether it is grounded enough to become an accepted rule. It is true that by having a philosophical deliberation and interdisciplinarity, e.g. rape would probably not become a generally acceptable code of conduct, but it does not exclude the possibility of someone misusing 'natural facts' in order to control or oppress others. Thus, naturalism in itself cannot be seen as good or right: a fact may be true, but using it may be morally wrong (Putnam in Lehrer, 1987, p. 47). Second, even though Kitcher discusses consequentialism mainly in relation to his account of the history of morality, it could be said that he does adhere to some of its intrinsic values, as it is a key part of his analytical framework. Despite being more flexible than deontology as a moral theory, consequentialism is not problem-free. From the viewpoint of consequentialism, certain controversial research could be encouraged if the benefits would outweigh the harms, since the core 22
of consequentialism lies in maximising pleasure for as many people as possible (Sinnott-Armstrong, 2014). In addition, since consequentialist ethics concludes that only the outcomes of an action matter, science could have the potential to be greatly misused for questionable experiments. If the results of an experiment would be positive by coincidence, the actor would not be held morally responsible for whatever it might have taken for him or her to get to those results (ibid.) Hence, if the value of an action is only applied to it in hindsight, there cannot be a general set of rules that scientists and philosophers could follow. Kitcher's aversion to deontology is understandable, as he does not want his theory to be dogmatic, but his reliance on consequentialism can also prove precarious, as it is much more unreliable. Only adhering to a meta-rule (maximum amount of pleasure for a maximum amount of people) could prove very problematic when deciding on whether certain research should be conducted or not, such as stem cell research, as it is not always possible to know the results before the action. Using a consequentialist scheme in science and ethics would render pre-emptive deliberation next to meaningless. This makes one question the applicability of consequentialism in all ethical issues: even if it can serve as a valuable tool in evaluating existing moral norms, it still leaves a lot of room for exploitation especially in the field of scientific ethics.
4. Conclusion ”The first step in the evolution of ethics is an enlargement of the sense of solidarity with other human beings.” This quotation from the Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer sums up the ideal state of mind in which ethical rules and judgments ought to be constructed (Schweitzer, 1965, p. 9). Albeit that one could claim this sentiment to be a very obvious one, the ethical development of today seems to remain at an impasse. There might be general consensus on certain ethical laws – do not kill, steal or harm others – yet, human rights' violations take place every day, and some of them entirely unnecessarily. Humankind justifies these violations by referring to cultural differences, and tries to find balance between respecting traditions and upholding a sense of equality – a task that is often unsuccessful, and the cause of many conflicts. How should humankind go about the future of ethics in order to overcome the stalemate? This paper introduced the possibility of intertwining science and morality, and asked what scientific accounts of morality have to offer for the advancement of ethics. Considering how prevalent science is in today’s society, it would be ill-advised to ignore the prospects of a morality based on a scientific account, as it might help uncover the origins of a sense of morality and aid in advancing that sense even further. In order to truly understand how science and ethics could be interconnected, this paper showed the history of scientific ethics leading to this day, and to the pragmatic naturalism of Philip Kitcher. The positivist ideas and goals of August Comte were discussed in relation to placing naturalism and science at the centre of society, as he believed that only science could help advance humanity. The Vienna Circle later adopted those ideas, yet failed to connect them directly to morality and society as a whole, and hence science remained a rather elitist affair. The Technocracy movement also aimed at basing societal and political norms on science, but instead it became a hierarchical cult and eventually perished. It seems as though the main issues with all these past accounts were their exclusiveness, lack of practical applicability, and being unappealing to the general public. The last point proves especially problematic as it is obvious that the support of the majority would be needed in order for progress to be made in a democratic society. In order to avoid the mistakes of the past, Philip Kitcher initiates a theory which entails both a scientific and a pragmatic aspect. Following in John Dewey’s pragmatic footsteps he embarks on a quest to explain the origin of morality through our evolutionary history and societal interaction; he finds common denominators in our past and shows how the ethical project has progressed over time. He believes that ethics is ever-evolving and needs to be coordinated with the help of scientists and philosophers. Like Comte, he believes that it is possible to find answers to moral conundrums from observing nature, discussing the facts, and by then turning those facts into policies. Yet, unlike 24
his naturalist predecessors, Kitcher emphasises the importance of involving the public, and hearing everyone out equally, for which he proposes various mechanisms, giving his approach a pragmatic structure. Through his theory Kitcher promotes open-mindedness, progressiveness and equality for all – a set of values which everyone ought to have. Even though pragmatic naturalism combines aspects from existing theories, it still is a relatively novel approach. Yet, many parts of the Ethical Project (2011) have already been assiduously scrutinised by Kitcher’s peers. However, since this paper concentrated on naturalistic values and mechanisms, the criticism it provided was primarily focused on the relationship between science and values and limited to three key points: problems in pragmatism, concepts and mechanisms, failing to overcome the naturalistic fallacy, and the dangers of naturalism and consequentialism. By providing examples and analysis of Kitcher’s framework, this paper answers the research question by stating that Kitcher's set of mechanisms and values may be laudable, but his overall theory still suffers from issues of applicability and inconsistency; in spite of the promising essence of sciencebased accounts of morality, there is still room for improvement. His theory is more thorough and advanced than the naturalistic and pragmatic theories of the past, as it combines 'the best of both words', however, pragmatic naturalism is unsuccessful in showing what the compelling principles of science ought to be, and how people ought to be convinced of allowing scientists and philosophers to moderate the future of ethics, even if the public would be encouraged to participate in decisionmaking. As the main claim of this paper was that science need not be value-free, but guided by a set of generally agreed upon values, it seems that pragmatic naturalism does not propose tangible enough values for it to be the leading theory in the field. The main claim was defended with concrete examples of present-day ethical dilemmas and the methodology of thorough discourse analysis of relevant sources. Science has provided humankind with a variety of tools with which to explore the world, whether on a microscopic or macroscopic level. On the one hand, these tools have helped overcome many societal obstacles. On the other, there still is reluctance to let science contribute to all aspects of life, including that of ethical thinking, for the fear of its possible tyranny; sometimes scientists do not work for the greater good of society, but serve another agenda, which can make conducting experiments dangerous and unpredictable. Thus, if the future of ethics does lie in the hands of science, it is necessary to make sure that experiments are regulated, and that there is open discussion about what the principles of science are. Some of the issues with pragmatic naturalism could be solved by combing it with fractions of other moral theories; Kitcher's dismissal of deontology should not be so absolute, but his theory could try and incorporate a sense of a priori ethics into it in order to avoid the problem of applying 25
value to actions only in hindsight. This paper only discussed the ideas of one contemporary theory, but there should be a call for the further inspection of other similar theories in order to discover the explicit potential of science when it comes to issues of morality. And so, as long as people are driven by acceptance and a Kantian Good Will, many of today's crises could already be solved in the near future.
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