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Fact-Value Distinction: Reductive Naturalism

Naturalism ResearchThe Reductive Naturalist perspective argues that the goodness and badness of a particular is defined upon the effects of the individual. For example, chocolate ice cream is one person's ideal dessert and is thus 'good.' Another person, however, has severe lactose intolerance thus the chocolate ice cream would be 'evil.' While the ice cream itself is neither good nor evil in and of itself, it becomes such through an individual's interpretation. One of the many traits that distinguish humans from other species is the ability to form value judgments and create meaning from random events that do not mean anything at all in a purely objective sense. The 'science' of divination has arisen from observing the patterns of birds in flight or the lines on a person's hand; wars have been fought and lost over several million green pieces of paper, and billions of people around the world base their lives around the claims of people who claim that the Creator of the Universe is speaking through them (or claims to actually be the Creator of the Universe). Mankind's search for meaning in the patterns of reality are legendary and worth exploring. According to A.J. Ayer, 'Any attempt to make our use of ethical and aesthetic concepts the basis of a metaphysical theory concerning the existence of a world of values, as distinct from the world of facts, involves a false analysis of these concepts' (114). The natural world simply exists independent of any system of morality and values. Take, for example the wars over resources between early humans. While the fact of the matter is that limited resources encourage strong competition, those that embrace the value of peace will say this kind of killing is wrong. Lifelong monogamy is also an ideal social and cultural value that is rarely practiced in most human cultures, yet most expect that their mates will adhere to these standards. Ethics and values appear in order to exert control over an undesirable reality of self-serving competitiveness. From a purely utilitarian perspective, the adoption of ethical guidelines and positive social values has led to the formation of well-ordered civilizations. According to Anscombe, most of these social laws had to have its origin in the divine because there were very few methods beyond brute force to exert authority over other humans (217). Nevertheless, she notes that quite often, feelings of ethical obligation can remain strong even in the absence of religion - especially if these laws and customs have been culturally reinforced for thousands of years. "But if such a conception [of God as lawgiver] is dominant for many centuries and then is given up, it is a natural result that the concepts of "obligation", of being bound or required as by a law, should remain though they had lost their root" (Anscombe, 217). Culturally ingrained behaviors are incredibly difficult to break because historically, mimetic change had been extremely slow.

Factual Non-Naturalism: The Unnatural Nature of Goodness

Thinkers have grappled with the problem of good for thousands of years. Ancient philosophers defined 'good' as a list of virtues the individual must possess in order to have a good life. Aristotle developed a list of virtues and ideal as guideposts that show others how to live the 'best' life, and theologians have produced thousands of volumes on how to identify goodness in terms of deeds, actions, and presentation. Factual non-naturalism, proposed by G.E. Moore states that moral facts might be grasped only by intuition. Everyone has his or her own ideas of what 'good' really means. Most human conflict can be traced to interpretive differences in defining what is 'good' and what is not. For some, barbecue pork ribs are extremely 'good' indeed, but for others it may be a sin to eat pork—thus for them, that barbecue pork rib meal would be sinful. To continue with evaluation of how different people view certain particulars, it is very easy to descend into complete ethical relativism and forget most of the arguments. G.E. More seeks to resolve this conundrum by keeping ethical philosophers outside of positions that involve giving personal advice (46). This is rather peculiar considering that those studying ethics (or at the very least determining which guidelines are most effective for a well-functioning society) would prefer to outline which personal characteristics one could cultivate in order to lead a good life. Moore is the opposite in that he does not think it can be defined because of the fact that if one were to hypothetically ask one thousand people about the definition of good, it is possible to receive one thousand different answers concerning what this entails:

"If I am asked 'What is good?' my answer is that good is good and that is the end of the matter. Or if I am asked 'How is good to be defined?' my answer is that it cannot be defined, and that is all I have to say about it. But disappointing as these answers may appear, they are of the very last importance (48). Moore then discusses ordinary things that typically receive a designation of 'good' or 'bad.' Propositions about the good are all of them synthetic and never analytic and that is plainly no trivial matter" (Moore, 49-50).

Because of this, there is no way to explain what 'good' is to an individual that has no idea of what 'good' is. The best one can do is explain certain behaviors, guidelines, and elements of what makes certain people or things good and hope that the person in question will intuitively grasp the mysterious shadow realm of what constitutes 'goodness.' In other words, in order to be considered a 'good person' and have all the privileges that come with it, the individual would have to follow a social contract and achieve certain guidelines that are important to their culture (e.g. financial independence, caring for elderly parents, etc.) Such is the way morality and the conception of 'the good' is passed down in society.

Non-Factual Emotivism/Expressivism

Most theological arguments can be classed under the category of non-factual emotivism and expressivism. For example, the statements that 'God is good' or 'Everything happens for a reason' appears to have some basis in reality because they have already constructed a worldview that is not only orderly, but under the jurisdiction of a benevolent being. Individuals that have had this metaphysical conditioning would take the aforementioned statements as fact rather than emotivism. Thus any kind of argument based on empiricism will quite likely fail - even if the opponent in question agreed with all facts presented. According to Ayer:

"We feel that our own system of values is superior, and therefore speak in such derogatory terms of [our opponent's]. But we cannot bring forward any arguments to show that our system is superior. For our judgment that it is so is itself a judgment of value, and accordingly outside the scope of argument. It is because argument fails us when we come to deal with pure questions of value, as distinct from questions of fact, that we resort to mere abuse" (90).

The Christian church has undergone many schisms in its long history. However, it was possible for these other churches to gain a following because they are starting from a common ground. Nevertheless, it would be much easier for a Presbyterian to convert a Catholic than it would be for a neo-Pagan. Similarly, a Republican will more likely become a Libertarian than a member of the Green Party because the Libertarians share some values in common with the Republican.

Brute-Relative Relation

Brute facts explain what is, while relative facts present the same story with judgments. For example, the eggs in the hen house hatched yesterday, or Janet owes Bill $100 for the chocolate he gave her yesterday. To turn these situations into relative facts, the relation must convey a judgment, e.g. the hens were happy their eggs hatched yesterday; Janet bilked Bill out of $100 for the chocolates. "They have now acquired a special so-called ' moral' sense when one says that a man should not bilk. But they have now acquired a special so-called 'moral' sense i.e. a sense in which they imply some absolute verdict like one of guilty/not guilty on a man" (Anscombe, 217). Janet owing Bill $100 would be 'brute' relative to the description of her as a 'bilker.' Intriguingly, Anscombe does argue that one cannot possibly create a sound system of ethics until a sound philosophy of psychology is created because defining an individual as 'bad' would require rigorous proof in terms of what is true of human nature. Unfortunately, a definitive guide to humanity, as it were, is still missing. "This part of the subject-matter of ethics is, however, completely closed to us until we have an account of what type of characteristic a virtue is a problem, not of ethics, but of conceptual analysis" (Anscombe, 216).

Works Cited

Anscombe, G.E.M. "Modern Moral Philosophy."

Ayer, Alfred Jules. Language, Truth, and Logic. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1952

Hume, David. An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. New York, NY: Cosimo, Inc., 2006

Moore, G.E. Principia Ethica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1903

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