Bogardus' New Paper on Evolutionary Debunking Arguments

The paper aims to make trouble for naturalists, arguing that, given the facts of evolution, they should abandon moral realism, accept a rationalism in tension with naturalism, or give up naturalism. In this way, it brings out an apparent epistemological tension between atheism and moral realism.


Angra Mainyu said...

Hi, EA,

A couple of cents:

1. Bogardus's claim about the percentage of anti-realists doesn't take into consideration that different philosophers construe the expression "moral realism" very differently. For example, Geoff Sayre-McCord's definition in the SEP's entry on moral realism is compatible with the view that, say, if species#2 evolved very differently (e.g., from something like orcas) in the way proposed in Bogardo's argument, and as a result they had beliefs very different from our moral beliefs, they wouldn't have moral beliefs and moral language at all, but #2-moral beliefs and language, and the fact that their #2-moral beliefs would not be a close match for our moral beliefs would not pose a threat to our moral knowledge.

Bogardus - and most or all defenders of evolutionary debunking arguments - seems to implicitly reject that a view of that sort would be a form of moral realism. But if he doesn't count that sort of view (and some others) as realism, he seems to have no good info on the percentage of moral realists among philosophers.

2. More importantly, his claim that an evolved human faculty for evaluating the world in moral terms presupposes moral realism is false if a view like the one I sketched in 1. above is not classified as realism, since we may well have a human faculty for evaluating the world in moral terms, while #2-orcas have a faculty to evaluate the world in #2-moral terms, and so on.

3. One can make a parallel color-symmetry debunking argument:

(13') Our color faculty was naturally selected to produce adaptive color beliefs, and not naturally selected to produce true color beliefs.
(14') Therefore, it is not true that: had our species evolved elsewhere, elsewhen and we later formed color beliefs using the same method we actually
used, our beliefs would be true.
(15') It is not clear whether we are in a better epistemic position than our many nearby counterfactual selves who disagree with us on color matters.
(16') Therefore, our color beliefs do not count as knowledge.

Actually, more evidence can be given against the particular sort of color realism that parallels what Bogardus seems to demand of moral realism, considering that we already know that many other animals widely "disagree" with us on color matters (I don't think that's disagreement at all, but that's what the Bogardus seems to imply in the moral case, and I'm making a parallel in the color case).

Now, there is no equivalent of what Bogardus calls "Rationalism" in the case of color - e.g., it's apparent to all that reason won't tell us what color an apple is.
So, it seems to me that Bogardus's argumentation, translated to the color case, would lead to the conclusion that either there is Divine Color Revelation (and so, it seems bees and eagles unfortunately have false color beliefs, but we're not in trouble because God revealed to us the true colors of the world), or else color realism is false, and apparently, that entails our color beliefs do not count as knowledge. As I see it, that's a problem for Bogardus's argumentation, not for color knowledge (and Divine Color Revelation is false).

Aragorn said...

Maybe I'm just way too under-informed, but I really don't see how one's nearby counterfactual selves will have different moral principles given a different set of evolutionary history. A moral realist will certainly disagree. Seems to me, the argument merely presupposes this or at least supports it inadequately.