Sub-session 2 The Empirical Presuppositions of Evolutionary Debunking Arguments
The aim of this sub-session is to scrutinize the empirical presuppositions underlying different evolutionary debunking arguments. What are these presuppositions, how do debunkers argue for their (meta)ethical relevance, and are these arguments sound? For instance, what light does empirical research shed on the assumption that there are moral universals, and how might the universality or particularity of moral judgments affect EDAs? Another assumption that plays a role in many EDAs is the purported objectivity of moral judgments. Does experimental research corroborate the assumption that moral judgments are regarded as objective? Does such research have any metaethical implications?
Darwinizing Debunking Arguments: Converging Evidence and the Status of Moral Properties
Paul Sheldon Davies
Defenders of evolutionary debunking arguments (EDAs) need not be restricted to generic facts of evolutionary history. Nor should they accept such limitations. They should reason as Darwin does in The Origins and The Descent by appeal to converging evidence from diverse areas of inquiry, including evidence of belief-forming processes that are demonstrably non-truth-tracking. To reason in this way is to Darwinize debunking arguments. My aim is to illustrate the Darwinizing strategy with a single EDA that aspires to establish the following conclusions: (1) Within some non-trivial range of conditions, we cannot justifiably claim to know the reasons for the actions we perform. (2) If one cannot justifiably claim to know one’s reasons for a given action, one’s moral responsibility for the action is called into question. (3) If, for some non-trivial range of human actions, attributions of moral responsibility are called into question, the scope of human morality is proportionally limited. My main argument is a defense of (1) which appeals to converging evidence from affective and cognitive neuroscience and from social psychology. My defense of (2) is less an argument and more a strategy for an argument, one that would appeal to the evolutionary functions of judgments concerning the relationship between self-knowledge and responsibility. My defense of (3) rests on the argumentative potency of Darwin’s debunking refutation of special act creationism in The Origins.
Does a global shift towards ‘liberalism’ provide empirical support for moral realism?
Over the course of human history there appears to have been a global shift in values towards a broadly ‘liberal’ orientation. Michael Huemer (2016) argues that this shift better accords moral realism than moral antirealism: it is best explained by the discovery of mind-independent truths through intuition. In this presentation I argue for the contrary. Realism fits the historical data less well than Huemer suggests, whereas the antirealist has underappreciated resources to accommodate the relevant historical dynamics. I focus on two arguments that Huemer advances: what I call the ‘coincidence challenge’ and the ‘reasoning problem’. Huemer suggests that the rise of liberalism with regard to multiple issues and in different countries suggests that there is a large coincidence in need of explanation. But coincidences are only in need of explanation insofar as the coinciding phenomena are independent, and I argue that for many of the historical data Huemer highlights such independence is highly questionable. Moreover, for what remains of a coincidence, the antirealist has got ample resources to explain it. What I call the ‘reasoning problem’ is the apparent difficulty antirealists have to make sense of the role that reasoning has played in the global value-shift. I argue that the suggested advantage of realists here is no real advantage: rather than solving the problem, realists merely promise to solve it. Moreover, antirealists can draw upon a powerful and underappreciated resource to solve the problem themselves: ‘consistency reasoning’.