Episode 037: Classical Liberalism and Natural Law

This is the second time I have ever actually apologised for an episode. It’s long. It’s dry. You might fall asleep. I’m sorry. Go ahead and skip it. I would.

 

Episode 035: Sam Harris, Science and Morality

So-called new atheist Sam Harris maintains that moral values are really scientific facts, and that they have no connection to God (indeed, God does not exist, thinks Harris).

Episode 35 is an analysis of a recent talk given by Harris gave on science and human values. The talk was part of a TED conference, and you can see it here. Here I offer an explanation of how I think he has failed. In brief, I think his entire presentation is an exercise in circular reasoning.

Harris has a new book on the subject, The Moral Landscape, which is to be released later this year.

 Glenn Peoples

Nuts and Bolts 005: Ethical Naturalism

G. E. Moore
G. E. Moore

Every now and then (and I’m assuming that this is true of most people who specialise in subject areas), I feel the urge to raise a complaint or point of clarification about a common phenomenon in a field of study (in this case, meta-ethics), and to explain why I think that something should be explained differently from the way that a lot of people explain it, or why I think that a widely held assumption or belief on the part of those who work in that field isn’t quite right. However, I’m also aware that sometimes that complaint needs some context or it won’t make a great deal of sense to a lot of people.

It’s a bit like standing in the room with a chemist who is intently focused on an experiment that he is undertaking while he also follows someone else’s notes. About two hours into the experiment he throws up his hands and says “Oh for the love of Pete, why did he have to use sodium monohydrogen phosphate? It’s obvious that he should have used sodium dihydrogen phosphate!” As an observer, you wouldn’t really know what either of those chemical compounds were, or why a chemist should use one rather than the other. In order to make the comment in a way that is helpful to the observer, the chemist would need to say “Look, this is the experiement I’m conducting. Here is what I’m trying to figure out. This is the method the other guy followed. He used sodium dihydrogen phosphate, and here is the effect of sodium monohydrogen phosphate. See how that effect isn’t going to be what the experiment requires? Now look, I’m going to use sodium dihydrogen phosphate, and look, it does just what we need.”

OK, enough with the analogy already. In some of the work I’m doing on meta-ethics, the moral argument for theism and divine command ethics, I’ve frequently encountered a characterisation of divine commands – one even accepted by some who advocate a divine command theory – which I think is unnecessary and unhelpful, but in order to say why I think it is so I need to first explain the subject matter that is the context of this characterisation. That subject matter is the concept of ethical naturalism.

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Nuts and Bolts 004: Logical Positivism

What  is logical positivism?

It has been a while since I added an installment in the “Nuts and Bolts” series, where I lay out some of the fundamental ideas and terms used in philosophy (and I’ll do some in theology as well). This time I’m briefly covering the perspective called logical positivism, a point of view with important consequences in science, epistemology, ethics, philosophy of religion and probably a whole lot more.

Logical positivism was primarily an earlier to mid twentieth century movement, arising among a group of philosophers now referred to as The Vienna Circle, but I won’t wade through the history of the movement here. Logical positivism is not a standpoint on what is true and what is not. Instead, it’s a standpoint on what kind of utterances count as real statements that have meaning.

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