Are Moral Facts Not Natural Facts? Everything Wrong with the Shafer-Landau Thesis

An old timey looking photo of a block of stone on which is written 'Nothing is written in stone'.Is moral truth a priori and not a natural property of the universe? So says Dr. Russ Shafer-Landau (as articulated in Whatever Happened to Good and Evil in 2003; and Moral Realism: A Defence in 2005). Even though I’m sympathetic to his project, he’s just wrong. And not merely wrong, but too obviously wrong for this to still be a thing in 21st century philosophy. Here I’ll explain why I think that. And in the process you’ll get a feel for how to actually think about moral realism, and how to better understand what morality actually is and how a morality is determined to be true.

This connects with a recent and very relevant interview of me on this same issue by J.J. Chipchase at Naturalistic Philosophy, titled On Moral Theory and Truth with Richard Carrier – Part I. There I outline many aspects of my take on metaethics that inform the following.

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How to Be Skeptical of a Technological Singularity

Chris Hallquist has hosted a guest post on his blog by Luke Muehlhauser, whom some of you might remember as the brilliant and balanced author of Common Sense Atheism and Worldview Naturalism, and who is now executive director of MIRI. As Hallquist describes the post, “Luke does not intend to persuade skeptics that they should believe everything he does about the technological singularity. Rather, he aims to lay out the issues clearly so that skeptics can apply the tools of skepticism to a variety of claims associated with ‘the singularity’ and come to their own conclusions.”

The description is apt. Luke’s article is a bookmarkable cornucopia of references and links and brief discussion of each, for anyone who wants to know what all this “singularity” business is about–or who know at least what it used to be about, but want to know what it has evolved into. Basically, if you were to read only one thing on the subject, it should be this. Luke’s article is “What Should Skeptics Believe about the Singularity?” Go give it a look. It’s fascinating, not only on it’s intended subject, but as a model example of how to approach speculative claims like this generally.

Ten Years to the Robot Apocalypse

Counting down. Soon we shall all be doomed.

Okay, I wrote this on the plane to Alabama about a month ago. It’s been languishing in my queue until now. So step back in time. I’m presently five miles above the earth hurtling through space in a giant metal bullet at hundreds of miles an hour. Earlier I was reading Science News (an old issue from last year; I’m behind) while waiting on the tarmac for takeoff. Got to the article on Eureqa, the “robot scientist” that can discover the laws of nature all on its own, just from looking at and experimenting with data. I was reminded of an earlier article a few years ago on the Lipson-Zykov experiment (mentioned in a sidebar). Then I caught another just recently, about Spaun (yeah, I’ve been reading Science News out of order). Spaun is a neural-net computer program that makes decisions like a person: it thinks, memorizes, solves problems, gambles, etc. All these developments, in the span of just a couple of years. Had some thoughts… [Read more…]

20 Questions

Are there “20 Questions Atheists Struggle to Answer” ? I was asked how I respond to Peter Saunders’ claim that there are, and how I would respond to those questions. According to God’s Advocate, Saunders thinks “there have not been any decent responses to [these twenty questions] in the past 40yrs,” but evidently he isn’t bothering to read any of the best answers available or even to find out what they are. The questions themselves are pretty much boiler plate, and consist mostly of fallacious loaded questions that ignore the established science behind nearly every one. I noticed that my work over the years has answered every one, except a few that are so lame I really can’t believe he thinks they need a better answer than science has already provided (at least with respect to whether atheism is true–I think science can always know or learn more about anything, but at a certain point you know enough to know God is not involved in whatever it is).

So here are my answers to his twenty questions… [Read more…]