Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Experiments in ethics

One version of Naturalism starts by thinking of ethics not as the search for a single immutable all-serving principle, but rather as an entirely human endeavor, a project begun by our remote ancestors tens of thousands of years ago and continuing indefinitely into the future. There is no mountain to climb, no final compendium of ethical truths, but only a central human predicament, from which we escaped by learning—imperfectly—to regulate our own conduct. The philosophical study of this project must absorb the insights of various natural and human sciences, bits of evolutionary biology and primatology, of psychology and anthropology, of archaeology and history. (Naturalism should be elaborated broadly, recognizing the potential contributions of all rigorous forms of inquiry across the entire spectrum, from art history and anthropology to zoology; there is no need for Naturalists to lapse into the scientism of taking some particular area of physical science as fundamental.) Sensible conclusions cannot be reached by pitting imprecise principles against fanciful cases, but rather by looking, as carefully and as comprehensively as we can, at the details of ethical practice and ethical change.
-- from Philip Kitcher's review of On What Matters by Derek Parfit

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