Thursday, January 22, 2009

A life of intellectual and moral virtue

“A serious and thoughtful objection against metaphysical naturalism is that it cannot provide a basis for some of our deepest and most intuitive moral judgments…The argument is clearly stated by Alvin Plantinga. He first notes that there seem to be instances of real and objectively horrifying evil in the world (Plantinga, The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, p. 326). The real and objectively horrifying acts that Plantinga means are those that are purposely and maliciously committed, like the hideous tortures and genocidal atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein, Stalin, the Nazis, or the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot.”

http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2009/01/naturalism-and-objectively-horrifying.html

And what is Parsons’ alternative?

“Nature has designed the human organism to fulfill a characteristic function, just as other organisms are adapted to the performance of their roles in the economy of nature.”

Notice how he personifies the natural process—attributing goal-oriented behavior to the natural process. But from a secular standpoint, this is literal nonsense.

So, if we remove the teleological ascriptions, what, exactly, does his claim amount to? Hard to see what’s left, really.

“Humans are naturally adapted to live a life of intellectual and moral virtue in society with other human beings.”

How could he possibly arrive at that conclusion from naturalistic evolution? How does evolution select for a life of intellectual and moral virtue?

Moreover, if his claim is true, then how does that explanation account for the atrocities of Stalin, Hitler, Hussein, Pol Pot, &c.? If human “organisms” are naturally “designed” or naturally “adapted” to live a life of intellectual and moral virtue, then how come so many human “organisms” fail to fulfill that very role that nature has assigned to them?

Put another way, what would count as evidence against his claim? Given the evidence of human barbarity, what evidence does he appeal to prove that this is just an aberration? What natural evidence supplies the norm?

8 comments:

  1. Steve: Put another way, what would count as evidence against his claim? Given the evidence of human barbarity, what evidence does he appeal to prove that this is just an aberration? What natural evidence supplies the norm?

    Vytautas: Perhaps Parson might say that if you take the total amount of societies in human history on the bottom of faction bar, and put the amount of the good societies defined in terms of intellectual and moral virtue on the top, then the percentage is high, so that Saddam Hussein, Stalin, the Nazis, or the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot are just a small amount of modern bad examples.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Evolution under an atheist/naturalistic scheme can't select for a life of intellectual or moral 'virtue', and such things don't count as virtue as typically understood in such a scheme anyway. At best, 'What I like'. But I think the Triablogue crew knows this as well as anyone.

    Funny how people who would reject teleology in nature have a habit of sounding like they endorse it, just by a different understanding. Edward Feser's writings on this topic seem more and more valid every day.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm shocked that you people are actually discussing this topic. I wouldn't have thought you could.

    Anyways, it is in our nature to live a life of intellectual and moral virtue. We are designed to acheive certain fulfillments. Evolution seeks the advancement of the fittest at the cost of the weakest. Hardly morally virtueous.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Also, to be morally virtuous a person according to the greatest good for the common humanity. Two different and contradicting views of nature are being considered. Hobbes and Aquinas.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Completely unrelated to the current post:

    http://www.darwinspredictions.com/

    Perhaps you could add it to the links.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Daniel: Also, to be morally virtuous a person according to the greatest good for the common humanity. Two different and contradicting views of nature are being considered. Hobbes and Aquinas.

    Vytautas: Please explain these two views, since you brought them up.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'm sorry Vytautas, I keep forgetting that I should not assume that people know what I know, and know these philosophers. I really do not have the time to give you a class on this, but I will break it down into its essential parts.

    Hobbes believed that humans are naturally in a perpetual struggle against each other, and that their wills are very deterministic. Therefore people align themselves to a head of state to order society.

    Had he known Darwin, he would have accepted his view of human nature fully.

    Hitler certainly carried this about.

    Aquinas view of human nature was quite different.

    Now I have to get back to work.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I can see why Plantinga could call something 'objectively evil' under a Christian worldview (ie, going against the revealed commands of God), but I would expect an atheist to challenge the idea of objective evil entirely. Interesting that he doesn't.

    ReplyDelete