Philippa Foot (2001), Rosalind Hursthouse (1999), and Michael Thompson (2008), along with other philosophers, have argued for a metaethical position, the natural goodness approach, that claims moral judgments are, or are on a par with, teleological claims made in the biological sciences. Specifically, an organism’s flourishing is characterized by how well they function as specified by the species to which they belong. In this essay, I first sketch the Neo-Aristotelian natural goodness approach. Second, I argue that critics who claim that this sort of approach is inconsistent with evolutionary biology due to its species essentialism are incorrect. Third, I contend that combining the natural goodness account of natural-historical judgments with our best account of natural normativity, the selected effects theory of function, leads to implausible moral judgments. This is so if selected effects function are understood in terms of evolution by natural selection, but also if they are characterized in terms of cultural evolution. Thus, I conclude that proponents of the natural goodness approach must either embrace non-naturalistic vitalism or troubling moral revisionism.
Northwest Philosophy Conference
Central Washington University
November 7-8, 2014
Many people, perhaps most, think that if scientists let their political values affect their research then those values will interfere with their objectivity. The situation is presumed to be even worse when research is influenced by the political values of non-scientists, such as politicians, or otherwise politically-motivated individuals or groups (like feminists, gasp!). I think, however, that much depends on what we mean by political values, objectivity, and scientific research. I argue that political values affect scientific research all the time, and not always for the worse, indeed, sometimes for the better. This is counter-intuitive, I realize. At the very least, I need to show that and how we can make the distinction between political values that affect science for the better, and those that affect it for the worse. I admit that when we try to make this distinction, we might get it wrong. But this is no different than the other kinds of mistakes that scientists make all the time, that are then subject to correction. And of course we might get the distinction right. As we debate policy decisions affecting the fate of our planet, it is more important than ever that we get the distinction right.
Pacific University Undergraduate Philosophy Conference
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