"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Crazy Contradictions of Naturalism

Daniel Dennett, who once suggested religious persons might have to be kept in cages, and Brian Leiter, who writes tirelessly of the frightening Texas Taliban (which is all about people who send their children to fight the Taliban, but are somehow themselves Talibanesque), have come together in an advocacy group called The Center for Naturalism. Both are esteemed academicians, which gives an aspiring academician like me great pause.

What immediately struck me about the group is that it commits to the same bizarre reasoning employed by their forebear John Dewey. They tell us that we are the product of random forces and that there is no meaning to life, BUT then go on to make policy prescriptions for the good life! On the same page, Dewey could explain our meaningless rise from microbes and then go on to promote a just industrial order! What?!!!

Leiter and Dennett's group does the same thing. From their webpage:

Because it replaces traditional free will with a causal understanding of human development and behavior, naturalism has significant implications for social policy. For an overview, see the Policy page. The CFN’s policy areas include, but are not limited to:

Criminal justice – A naturalistic understanding of the causes of criminality helps undercut retributive attitudes favoring the
death penalty and punitive prison conditions, while building support for alternative sentencing and policies that address the conditions which generate crime and recidivism. Realizing that but for the luck of circumstances, any of us could standing in the criminal’s shoes, generates compassion for offenders as well as for victims. See Criminal Justice page and the Council on Crime and Causality initiative.

Social and economic inequality – Since on a naturalistic understanding, persons are not self-made, but owe their successes and failures to the conditions into which they were born and developed, major social and economic inequalities cannot be justified on the basis that individuals strongly deserve their status. CFN supports policies that will increase the material and psychological well-being of those who are unlucky in life, and that reduce the extreme disparities in income and opportunity so characteristic of our society. See for instance the
Progressive policy implications of naturalism.

For some reason I've yet to discern, the resort to meaningless ends in left-wing politics rather than nihilism. It doesn't make any sense and somewhere Bob Dole reminds us that he knows it, we know it, and the American people know it.

12 comments:

Tlaloc said...

oh please, Hunter. You can hardly claim that a sense of divine origin is the only way to come to a moral perspective on life. morality can be based on any number of things only a small number of which are the wishes of vast alien intelligences.

Hunter Baker said...

I suspect I can claim exactly that. Without the "alien intelligence" or some other truly ultimate foundation, one is simply unable to propose why any particular mode of life is better than another. This is why the notion of God-given rights is so consequential in history.

Tlaloc said...

You are actually going to claim that every philosophy on earth except the few that depend on a moral creator god are flawed?

For a simple example consider moral relativism, there is no one moral source but each individual is their own moral authority. This is a perfectly self consistent system that does not include a God and yet does not lead to nihilism.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Good luck, Hunter. This is the question of our age.

Will follow your progress.

As a bit of cheat, I like pop philosopher/theologian Dennis Prager's take on this---he'd trust rationality if not for rationalization. We can convince ourselves of anything.

Tlaloc said...

"As a bit of cheat, I like pop philosopher/theologian Dennis Prager's take on this---he'd trust rationality if not for rationalization. We can convince ourselves of anything. "

Speaking of philosophies that lead to nihilism...

Or did you mean people can convince themselves of anything EXCEPT that invisible entities promise an eternal afterlife of perfection unless we do one of the ten things they hate?

Hunter Baker said...

Tlaloc, what I have highlighted is the absurdity of claiming a purely naturalistic philosophy and then going on to proclaim the need for a "just" social order. Let's take your moral relativism. Why should anyone listen to you and your personal authority? Why shouldn't I recruit a group of individuals with the goal of subjugating and exploiting the rest of the world for our pleasure? One is no better than the other. Do you really believe that? You don't even if you say you do. This was actually the genius of Francis Schaeffer. He challenged any true relativist or naturalist to live in perfect accord with his claimed philosophy. They can't and never do, that is, with the rare exception of a true sociopath.

alex said...

How is it that you can claim that naturalism, specifically the philosophy of Dewey, denies meaning to the life of naturalistically derived individuals, when Dewey himself produced an enormous ouvre of work positing exactly the opposite of this claim? His philosophy does not deny meaning in life, it grounds the very concept of meaning within lived experience, attempting - rightly, I believe - to refocus the scope of philosophy on the actions and interactions of people in their actual contexts, away from various correspondence truth theorems or the reliance of individuals upon some received doctrine of revelation or another.

It is not invalid - in fact, I would say that it epitomizes validity - to state the need for a just society, without relying upon some fixed idol of Truth and Value. For Dewey, he makes the claim as a matter for dialogue and discussion - not dogma - and believes that only through an acceptance of the organic nature of our society and cultures can we have system of governance that provides protection and dissuasion from exactly the evils that you posit - oppression, tyranny, and suppression of differing opinion. These realities are not solved by adherence to a universal doctrine of truth - such adherence has a tendency to break down into "I'm right, you're wrong" pseudo-discourse, and does untold harm to any notion of truly democratic enterprise.

Tlaloc said...

"Tlaloc, what I have highlighted is the absurdity of claiming a purely naturalistic philosophy and then going on to proclaim the need for a "just" social order."

It's not absurd, it's just that what you mean by "just" is not universal. I'd consider a society in which each individual follows their personal moral code to be perfectly "just."


"Let's take your moral relativism. Why should anyone listen to you and your personal authority? Why shouldn't I recruit a group of individuals with the goal of subjugating and exploiting the rest of the world for our pleasure? One is no better than the other. Do you really believe that? You don't even if you say you do."

Hunter I believe that each person should do what they believe to be right. Absolutely. If you really think you are right to shoot me in the head then i think you should try. I of course may have a different outlook and I'm free to try and stop you. Our goals are opposed but both of us are doing what is right.

Here's a piece I wrote a long time ago about the difference between results and process orientations:

http://www.gnn.tv/users/user.php?bid=1602


"He challenged any true relativist or naturalist to live in perfect accord with his claimed philosophy. They can't and never do, that is, with the rare exception of a true sociopath."

A fine test except that no one in 2000 years has managed to be a perfect christian either. Does that automatically invalidate Christianity? Having a high ideal means it's hard to always meet the bar, thats a positive not a negative as you assume.

Tlaloc said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tlaloc said...

"Tlaloc, what I have highlighted is the absurdity of claiming a purely naturalistic philosophy and then going on to proclaim the need for a "just" social order."

It's not absurd, it's just that what you mean by "just" is not universal. I'd consider a society in which each individual follows their personal moral code to be perfectly "just."


"Let's take your moral relativism. Why should anyone listen to you and your personal authority? Why shouldn't I recruit a group of individuals with the goal of subjugating and exploiting the rest of the world for our pleasure? One is no better than the other. Do you really believe that? You don't even if you say you do."

Hunter I believe that each person should do what they believe to be right. Absolutely. If you really think you are right to shoot me in the head then i think you should try. I of course may have a different outlook and I'm free to try and stop you. Our goals are opposed but both of us are doing what is right.

Here's a piece I wrote a long time ago about the difference between results and process orientations:

http://www.gnn.tv/users/user.php?bid=1602


"He challenged any true relativist or naturalist to live in perfect accord with his claimed philosophy. They can't and never do, that is, with the rare exception of a true sociopath."

A fine test except that no one in 2000 years has managed to be a perfect christian either. Does that automatically invalidate Christianity? Having a high ideal means it's hard to always meet the bar, thats a positive not a negative as you assume.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Hunter, thank you for the reference to Francis Schaeffer. I like him already and am looking forward to going deeper.

Best,---P-Dude

Hunter Baker said...

Alex, I've read Dewey and I know what he was trying to do, but the effort was and is doomed to fail. He cannot conclude what he does about the nature of the universe and then get past a just society as anything more profound than a preference for chocolate over vanilla.