…I begin with a Principle of Moral Good: Always act with someone else’s moral good in mind, and never act in a way that leads to someone else’s moral loss…
Well, that sounds good (and mighty close to Kant’s famous categorical imperative), except for the significant degree of begging the question hidden in Michael’s principle (but not in Kant’s). What is a moral good? Reading the principle as it stands I would have pretty much no idea of how to actually act, or whether my acting would lead to someone else’s moral good or loss.
Shermer in italics, Pigliucci below. That’s basically the problem I had, except that I (being an amateur) called it jumping to the middle as opposed to begging the question. Shermer doesn’t begin at the beginning by spelling out what’s in play, but instead simply assumes the very thing he’s supposedly elucidating, and jumps ahead to talk about it before he’s spelled it out.
Most men, for example, are much more receptive toward unsolicited offers of sex than are women.
The survival and flourishing of the individual is the foundation for establishing values and morals, and so determining the conditions by which humans best survive and flourish ought to be the goal of a science of morality.
Natural selection has everything to do with survival (and reproduction), but pretty much nothing to do with flourishing. The latter, in turn, is an inherently cultural concept, that is difficult to articulate and whose specifics vary with time and geography. Which means that Michael’s “smooth transition” between is and ought is anything but smooth.
Michael keeps talking about survival and flourishing in a single breadth, invoking natural selection as working to increase both. This is absolutely wrong. Natural selection increases survival, and even that only insofar as it assures reproduction (after that, good luck to you, my friend!). Selection has nothing whatsoever to do with flourishing, the realization of which completely breaks any evolutionarily based “smooth transition” between is and ought. Not to mention, of course, that Michael should know that natural selection likely also produced a number of nasty behavioral patterns in humans (e.g., xenophobia), which we have been trying — in good part through philosophizing about them! — to get rid of throughout the past couple of millennia.So, again, science — or more broadly, factual evidence — most certainly has a place at the high table of any meaningful discussion about how to achieve human goals and fulfill human desires. But philosophical reflection remains central to ethics because ethics is about reasoning on the implications of and conflicts generated by those goals and desires.
Natural selection isn’t moral. It’s the opposite of moral. Darwin said this in the “Devil’s chaplain” letter.
What a book a Devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low & horridly cruel works of nature!
Dawkins wrote a wonderful essay on the subject. Natural selection is an absolute shit. Without it we wouldn’t be here, but that doesn’t make it not a shit.