Friday, April 15, 2011

Theists and Atheists Agree...

Alexander Pruss of Prosblogion seems to have found an argument that theistic and atheistic philosophers agree on. From the comments:

So it looks like there are a number of people who have published on this, and all the papers that I've so far looked at basically agree that the following are not all true:
1. Evolution occurred pretty much as science describes it.
2. Naturalism is true.
3. Moral realism is true.
4. We have moral knowledge.
I don't understand all the arguments that lead up to this conclusion well enough to know whether to agree with it or not, but it's rather a fascinating conclusion if true.

Alexander, being a theist and a moral realist, naturally takes (3) and (4) to be true, and so concludes that either (1) or (2) is false - he then opts for naturalism being false.

I don't know enough about the whole realism/anti-realism debate to have a firm position, but I'm leaning anti-realist at the moment, so the argument doesn't present a real problem for me. But it seems to be a real problem for someone like Sam Harris, who is a naturalist and a moral realist. I don't think he would want to deny (4), either. From what I understand, he thinks that science can discover moral truths. So I wonder how Sam would respond to this argument.

But then, Sam thinks that discussions of metaethics and deontology only add to the amount of boredom in the world, so probably he wouldn't bother.


  1. I don't see a problem with the four points all being true at once, depending on how 'moral realism' is construed.

    Heck, I'd be surprised if Pruss really can't find professional philosophers who affirm it, considering how 366 out of the 931 philosophy faculty respondents in the PhilPapers survey affirmed both Atheism AND Moral Realism. I know these aren't the exact and full terms being asked about, but there's got to be a big chunk of these who fit.

  2. Yes, I think you're right, Garren. It seems to me that subjectivist, or intersubjectivist realism (using Sayre-McCord's classification) would avoid Pruss's problem of moral beliefs only accidentally tracking moral truths.

    (For instance, if "good" is taken to mean "good-for-me", then there is a clear evolutionary advantage to moral beliefs that seek the good.)

    So I wonder if Pruss is really talking about objectivist moral realism?

  3. Here's the link for the Sayre-McCord paper in case anyone else wants to look at it:

  4. Since I personally support Alonzo Fyfe's Desirism, I take all four propositions to be true. I think any utilitarian would as well, and there are quite a lot of atheist utilitarians. Richard Carrier's Goal Theory would also take all four to be true, and Richard Carrier is a famous atheist.

    Therefore I think Alexander Pruss did not fully research his claim.