Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Dec/08

7

The wages of reason

Just to be clear, I support the program of experimental philosophy.  Some of the arguments on this weblog have seen me be extremely dismissive of reason. If one is not ambitious, and keeps the chain of propositions suitably modest, there is certainly much utility in the use of reason.  But if you read a book like Experiments in Ethics you see that there is much empirical data which confirms that the verbal arguments of extremely intelligent philosophers do not capture the generality of the human condition & cognition.  Philosophy has ceded to natural science much of its ancient ground, and the intuitions and rationales of the savants of yore have been found wanting.   Induction tells us therefore to be suitably skeptical of the contemporary confidence and certitude of some philosophers who survey the domains left to their discipline.  Grand system building in the physical sciences have yielded us the age of affluence, while in social and humane domains it has by and large resulted in folly. That is why I am sympathetic to the position that we should do what has worked in the past in preference to what we think should work in the future.

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6 comments

  • slumlord · December 8, 2008 at 2:52 am

    Religion was one of the things that worked in the past. Compare it to other systems by body count. Just trying to be objective.

  • David Tye · December 8, 2008 at 5:07 am

    Mr Hume,

    I am very sympathetic to your approach… it would be wonderful if we could get by with nothing but science and inductive reasoning. The problem I see is that philosophy is necessary and inevitable. For instance, the nature and justification of “induction” is itself a philosophical question; the difference between true science and pseudoscience is a philosophical question; and the definition of what it means to “work” and what constitutes “folly” are philosophical questions.

    For example, an example I used before: Is our current abortion regime an example of progress or folly? I’m not assuming anything here. Some folks think it is a wonderful thing and the more the better, others see the millions of abortions as evidence that we have gone very wrong. Perhaps questions like this have no true answer one way or the other – but that is yet another philosophical question, isn’t it? Philosophy is going to happen one way or the other.

  • David Tye · December 8, 2008 at 9:19 am

    I suspect that you are going to call me out on the fact that your post starts by pointing to “experimental philosophy”, so it’s hardly fair of me to say that you don’t have a place for philosophy. That’s fair enough… from what I’ve learned of experimental philosophy, I would just say that it is very different that what is traditionally understood by “philosophy”, and it is philosophy as traditionally understood that I think is inevitable and necessary.

    But, in any case, I’m interested to read what you have to say on how experimental philosophy can help us resolve some of the thornier political problems… e.g. affirmative action, immigration, abortion, and the like.

  • Author comment by David Hume · December 8, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Philosophy is going to happen one way or the other.

    Fair enough.

    I’m interested to read what you have to say on how experimental philosophy can help us resolve some of the thornier political problems… e.g. affirmative action, immigration, abortion, and the like.

    Affirmation action and immigration are likely going to be clarified by our understanding of how humans really perceive justice & fairness. As for abortion, I think the key is that humans have strong empathetic responses to images of babies. Therefore, pro-life people should simply demand a “transparent society”…of course, that might just result in more widespread use of very early stage abortifacients.

  • Caledonian · December 8, 2008 at 11:20 am

    slumlord :
    Religion was one of the things that worked in the past.

    So is alchemy.

    Anyone up for studying alchemy, teaching alchemy in schools, using alchemy to make policy decisions, etc.? Anyone?

  • slumlord · December 8, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Alchemy didn’t work.

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