Thursday, October 1, 2009

Yet another argument against naturalism

The following argument is valid:

  1. (Premise) Every reasonable desire can be fulfilled.
  2. (Premise) The desire for moral perfection is reasonable.
  3. (Premise) Moral perfection requires being such that one is morally responsible and yet cannot do wrong.
  4. (Premise) If naturalism is true, a state that entails moral responsibility and an inability to do wrong is not attainable.
  5. Therefore, naturalism is false.

The argument being valid, the question is whether it is sound. I think (1) is plausible if we take "reasonable" in a strong enough sense. It is easy to argue for (4), since our best theories involve such a degree of indeterminism that, if they are complete descriptions of human beings, the possibility of doing wrong will always be there. That leaves (2) and (3). There is an argument from authority for (2): Kant thought so (and made an argument somewhat similar to this one). It does seem that a part of the moral life is the pursuit of moral perfection, and the moral life is reasonable in a strong sense.

That leaves (3). Let's consider two alternate views of moral perfection.

"Moral perfection only requires that one be morally responsible and never any longer actually do wrong." This is too weak, surely. It would mean that anybody whose existence ends with a morally responsible choice to do something right achieves moral perfection just prior to that choice.

"Moral perfection requires having all the virtues to a complete degree. Having the virtues to a complete degree is incompatible with self-initiated wrongdoing, but is not incompatible with losing the virtues or being forced through neurological manipulation into wrongdoing." This view is plausible, but I think the argument can still be run on this view, albeit with some complications. The challenge is whether an analogue of (4) is still true. I think it is. The morally perfect person is not blind to temptation—i.e., she is aware of the goods that temptation offers. (Courage is not achieved by not noticing danger.) But if she is aware of these goods and naturalism holds, then it is surely possible for her to choose these goods, where the choice is constituted by an indeterministic event in the brain, even if she has brain structures that are virtuously pointed the right way. And such a choice would be, surely, a morally responsible one, being a choice of a (lesser) good that comes from one's appreciation of that good. (If it be said that only deterministic choices are morally responsible, then moral responsibility is not available given naturalism in our indeterministic universe, and, again, moral perfection is unattainable.)


Andrew Jaeger said...

I like it! However, I have a small question.
I don't see how "having all the virtues to a complete degree" is compatible with loosing the virtues?

If you had every virtue to its complete degree then you would choose the virtuous action in any situation. (This just seems to be what you say, "Having the virtues to a complete degree is incompatible with self-initiated wrongdoing.")

And if you would choose the virtuous action in any situation then you would never choose to commit a vicious action.

I don't see how it is possible for you to loose the virtues if you would never choose to commit a vicious action. Doesn't loosing a virtue entail that you choose to commit a vicious action?

Sorry, if I am just being obtuse.

Martin Cooke said...

I also find this argument promising; but (although I'm no expert, to say the least, on Naturalism or Ethics) I'm not sure how good your argument for (4) is. If your brain spasmed spontaneously I don't think you would be held morally responsible for any consequent actions, even under Naturalism. It would be more stable structures, presumably built up via moral choices (or rather, associated with them), which would be morally responsible; and that seems (to me, prima facie) to be compatible with no remaining indeterminism. The resulting state would be compatibilistic but Naturalism does also seem to allow for the possibility of minds being uploaded to deterministic computers (and I also wonder if there would not also be a similar problem -- if there is here a problem for Naturalism -- for theistic ethics:)

Alexander R Pruss said...

I was thinking of a quantum event that counts as a free action, as in Kane's view. But maybe we can also think of a gradual fall from virtue, where indeterministic events slowly eat away at virtue, but do so in a way that is not freedom-cancelling.

If our current science is right, there are no deterministic physical systems--and in particular no deterministic computers.