Mark Linville’s Argument from Evolutionary Naturalism, Part IV


Darwinian counterfactuals, ethical nonnaturalism, and theism


The nonnaturalist has a ready reply to the argument from Darwinian counterfactuals. For he might wish to maintain that certain natural properties bear a necessary relation to the moral properties that they exemplify, regardless of any evolutionary possibilities. But nonnaturalists who are also metaphysical naturalists seem to have problems of their own in the face of such Darwinian counterfactuals. How is it that unguided human evolution on earth has resulted in just those moral beliefs that accord with moral verities? As Gould has argued, everything about us, even our very existence, is radically contingent. If we were to rewind the reel, it’s highly unlikely evolution would again attempt the experiment called Homo sapiens. The Dependence Thesis in the hands of the nonnaturalist seems highly improbable. A sort of moral fine tuning argument is suggested. The theist may have an advantage just here. For, on theism, as Santayana put it, the Good is also nature’s Creator.

The theist, like the nonnaturalist, is in a position to say why there is a necessary connection between certain natural properties and their supervenient moral properties. Adams, for example, suggests theistic Platonism, so can account for why nobody could exhibit Hitler’s qualities without being depraved and an affront to God’s nature. But the theist also has an account of the development of human moral faculties—a theistic genealogy of morals—that allows for something akin to Street’s “tracking relation”: we have the basic moral beliefs we do because they are true, and this is because the mechanisms responsible for those moral beliefs are truth-aimed. The theist is thus in a position to explain the general reliability of those considered judgments from which reflective equilibrium takes its cue. Certain of our moral beliefs—in particular, those that are presupposed in all moral reflection—are truth-aimed because human moral faculties are designed to guide human conduct in light of moral truth.

Humean skepticism or Reidean externalism?

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Linville reads Hume as a skeptic across the board, not just in ethics. His ethical views were part of a seamless whole that includes his discussion of the beliefs of common life. In each discussion—causality, substance, personal identity—he aims to show both that the belief in question is without any epistemic credentials and that relevant human propensities explain the belief without making any assumptions about the truth of the belief. From a Humean perspective, we lack positive reasons to accept either the dependence or independence thesis. His is a variety of epistemological moral skepticism, so it resembles AEN.

Reid countered Hume by common sense. Curing a madman is not arguing with a philosopher but casting out a devil, as Chesterton put it. There is no set of premises more certainly known from which such beliefs follow. Hume is right: the beliefs of common life are not endorsed by reason, but, instead, are the inevitable by-products of our constitution. But Hume is mistaken in inferring from this that such beliefs are, therefore, without warrant. Why, after all, trust the rational faculties to which Hume appeals, but not trust the faculties responsible for our commonsense beliefs? Both come from the same shop, and Reid thought the shop was God’s creation.

Reid thought the commonsense beliefs that arise spontaneously and noninferentially given our constitution are warranted even though they fail to measure up to the exacting standards of epistemic justification assumed by foundationalists after the Cartesian fashion. These days we say such beliefs are properly basic. A belief is properly basic just in case the faculty through which it is acquired is functioning as it ought. Plantinga puts it this way: a belief is warranted just in case it is the product of a belief-producing mechanism that is truth-aimed and functioning properly in the environment for which it was designed. This account accommodates those perceptual, memorial, testimonial, and even metaphysical beliefs that are the guides of common life and, closer to our purposes, are among the fund of native beliefs with which we begin in theory assessment. Even closer to our purposes, such an account accommodates those moral beliefs employed in reflective equilibrium.

Reid appealed to a set of “first, or ‘self-evident’ principles” of morality discerned through faculties that he thought were wrought in the same shop as reason and perception. Just as there is no reasoning with the man who, despite apparent evidence to the contrary, is convinced that his head is a gourd, neither is there advantage in engaging in moral argument with a man who fails to recognize self-evident principles of morality.

There are moral principles to which we should “pay homage,” as Norman Daniels puts it. We pay such homage when we utilize them as data for the construction of moral theories or as a kind of court of appeal in assessing them. But our confidence in these constitutional beliefs is wisely invested only in the event that we have reason to believe the faculties responsible for them to be truth-aimed. Reid’s theism provided him with such a reason; the moral faculties were forged in the same shop as our other cognitive faculties. They are designed by God for the purpose of discerning moral truth. “That conscience which is in every man’s breast, is the law of God written in his heart, which he cannot disobey without acting unnaturally, and being self-condemned.”