Friday, February 24, 2012

Pragmatic Naturalism In Short

Kitcher has a nice, short article about his ethical theory - he calls it pragmatic naturalism - here. I'm going to try an even shorter version here, starting with this caricature:

There are two pieces of cake, and Alphie and Beth both want the larger piece. Their argument gets more and more heated, until finally Beth takes a deep breath and says, "Wait, let's think about this. What would be a good way to divide the cake?"

Alphie answers, "We should each get the same amount of cake."

Beth says, "Yes, that would be fair."

They proceed to divide the pieces of cake so that each gets an equal amount, and both are content.

For Kitcher, the ethical project begins in social conflict: specifically, altruism failures. Alphie and Beth both have desires. Altruism would lead them to satisfy the other's desire. Without sufficient altruism, they come into conflict.

The conflict can be resolved if they can find a rule that they both agree to. Kitcher sees ethics as a social technology for resolving conflicts. There can be progress in ethics, but it's not progress towards some abstract Good (which he doesn't think exists). Rather, it's progress away: away from social conflict.

He compares it to other kinds of technology: there's no "ideal airplane" that engineers are working toward. There are only technical problems - how to go faster, carry more, be more reliable - that can be solved bit by bit. The solutions to the current set of problems reveals, or creates, new problems that must be solved in turn. And so technology progresses.

Without the social technology afforded by ethical principles, hominids would never have gotten beyond small roving bands, Kitcher suggests. Ethics allowed us to live in larger groups, more peaceably. Greater cooperation led to greater evolutionary success. And so ethics progressed.

Ethics is our invention. Human beings do not discover ethical truths....

We create them.

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