Sunday, May 2, 2021

From 2012... Evolutionary debunking arguments in three domains: Fact, value, and religion

Evolutionary debunking arguments in three domains: Fact, value, and religion. John S. Wilkins, Paul E. Griffiths. In James Maclaurin Greg Dawes (ed.), A New Science of Religion. Routledge (2012). Phil Papers,

Abstract: Ever since Darwin people have worried about the sceptical implications of evolution. If our  minds are products of evolution like those of other animals, why suppose that the beliefs they  produce are true, rather than merely useful? We consider this problem for beliefs in three  different domains: religion, morality, and commonsense and scientific claims about matters of empirical fact. We identify replies to evolutionary scepticism that work in some domains but not in others. One reply is that evolution can be expected to design systems that produce true beliefs in some domain. This reply works for commonsense beliefs and can be extended to scientific beliefs. But it does not work for moral or religious beliefs. An alternative reply which has been used defend moral beliefs is that their truth does not consist in their tracking some external state  of affairs. Whether or not it is successful in the case of moral beliefs, this reply is less plausible for religious beliefs. So religious beliefs emerge as particularly vulnerable to evolutionary  debunking.

5. Evolutionary skepticism and ethics

Since the late nineteenth century most moral philosophers have rejected attempts to derive moral principles from evolution. But most of these philosophers have not supposed that evolution actively undermines our moral principles. But there is an evolutionary debunking argument which has precisely this implication. The argument suggests is that evolution of the moral sense is an ‘offtrack’ process because it has no intrinsic tendency to produce a moral sense that tracks moral truths. This idea can be found in Darwin’s own discussion of the evolution of morality:

“In the same manner as various animals have some sense of beauty, though they admire widely different objects, so they might have a sense of right and wrong, though led by it to follow widely different lines of conduct. If, for instance, to take an extreme case, men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.”(Darwin 1981 [1871])vi

Darwin argues that if our ecology had been different, then we would judge different things to be right and wrong, just as different species of animals judge different things to be beautiful. Animals are aesthetically attracted to things to which it is fitness-enhancing for them to be attracted. Just so, Darwin argues, they will approve whatever actions which it is fitness-enhancing for them to approve. This would seem to imply either that evolution is an off-track process with respect to evaluative truth, or that evaluative truths are truths about what maximises reproductive fitness. If this is right, then the only alternative to moral scepticism would, indeed, be evolutionary ethics.vii There is no Milvian bridge connecting moral truth to pragmatic success and thus defending morality from evolutionary skepticism, because contemporary evolutionary explanations of morality, just like Darwin’s explanation, do not involve any adaptive advantages produced by detecting and acting in accordance with objective moral facts.viii But Kahane notes that the assumption that moral truths correspond to objective moral facts is one that is questioned by many moral philosophers for independent reasons.

The evolutionary skeptical argument against ethics would be better stated as follows:

1. Causal premise. Our evolutionary history explains why we have the evaluative beliefs we have. 

2. Epistemic premise. Evolution is not a truth-tracking process with respect to evaluative truth.

3. Metaethical assumption. Objectivism (moral realism) is the correct account of evaluative discourse 

 C. Evaluative scepticism. None of our evaluative beliefs is justified.

If we deny the assumption that evaluative beliefs denote moral realities then conclusion fails to follow. Non-cognitivist ethical theories, according to which the function of ethical judgments is not to express facts but to express allegiance to a norm, remain viable in moral philosophy (van Roojen 2009). Moreover, it has been argued that some forms of cognitivism also evade the argument because their account of moral truths does not involve the existence of moral facts which need to be ‘tracked’ in the manner envisaged by the argument (Harms 2000; Carruthers and James 2008). So the evolutionary debunking argument is best conceived as an argument against strong forms of moral realism, rather than simply against moral truth. The case of ethics shows that there are two responses to an evolutionary debunking argument. The first is to build a Milvian bridge, and argue that evolution will select cognitive faculties that track truth in a domain. The second is to argue that ‘truth’ in a certain domain is not a matter of tracking some external state of affairs, so that the question of whether evolution is an off-track process in that domain does not arise. In the next section we ask if either of these responses is available when evolutionary skepticism is applied to religious beliefs.

No comments:

Post a Comment