In case you haven’t seen it, the target of today’s comic/rant is a ridiculous piece in the New York Times by David Brooks titled (no joke) “The End of Philosophy”. The title is especially absurd because he doesn’t target philosophy in the article at all – just ethics, which of course (but perhaps Mr. Brooks doesn’t understand this) is a sub-field of philosophy, not philosophy itself.
The worst part is the nature of the argument against doing normative ethics. As near as I can tell, the argument is that since the sciences (psychology, socio-biology, etc) are giving us evidence that moral judgments are something we make automatically, based on emotion and intuition rather than reason, we needn’t concern ourself with speculations about moral principles or justifications or the like. Morality is all built into us already, so there’s nothing to figure out! Right?
Wrong. This argument is, of course, completely idiotic. It commits the naturalistic fallacy in a manner that I might expect from one of my intro-philosophy students, not from an Op-Ed Columnist in a major publication like the New York Times. The very obvious fact is that no amount of description of how we actually tend to make moral judgments is going to resolve the question whether those moral judgments are right or not. To answer that question, we’re going to have to engage in good old fashioned philosophical reasoning and argumentation about moral principles. It should be no surprise if reflective moral evaluation yields the conclusion that at least some of our natural tendancies and biases produce faulty snap moral judgments and we decide that they need to be compensated for in various ways. But this is something that Mr. Brooks’ position rules out in principle.
Anyway, here is a nice blog on the article by one Sabrina Jamil (who first brought my attention the article), and another one here by PZ Myers. They’re both worth looking at. And those of you readers who are involved in philosophy, or who care about it at all – please spread the word. These sorts of ridiculous misconceptions of philosophy are damaging to our discipline and need to be answered.