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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Coyne on Blackford on Harris

Jerry Coyne has now joined this discussion. He has reservations, but largely agrees with my take on The Moral Landscape.

1 comment:

mark Sloan said...

Russell, thanks for the link to Jerry Coyne’s blog. He summarizes very nicely.

He reminded me I had not commented on something you said in your original review that I thought was well said. “If we are going to provide [a person] with reasons to act in a particular way, … sooner or later we will need to appeal to the values, desires, and so on, that she actually has. There are no values that are, mysteriously, objectively binding on us all … “

Carrying this thought forward a bit, what does this imply about a hypothetical culturally useful secular moral system? (Here, culturally useful means that most people, most of the time, accept its burdens and give precedence to it over their moral intuitions.) People would have to expect that accepting the burdens of such a hypothetical secular moral system will, almost always, better meet their long term needs and preferences (values and desires) than not doing so, even when, in the moment of decision, they expect the opposite.

This seems to me to be an obvious conclusion that puts severe limits on what a culturally useful secular moral system must be, but I have not seen these limits much discussed. For instance, Harris’s Utilitarianism, as well as simple Utilitarianism and Kantianism, (either each on its own or as some misbegotten conglomeration) appear to have no chance at all.