Advertisement

Empirical moral rationalism and the social constitution of normativity

  • Joseph Jebari
Article

Abstract

Moral rationalism has long been an attractive position within moral philosophy. However, among empirical-minded philosophers, it is widely dismissed as scientifically untenable. In this essay, I argue that moral rationalism’s lack of uptake in the empirical domain is due to the widespread supposition that moral rationalists must hold that moral judgments and actions are produced by rational capacities. But this construal is mistaken: moral rationalism’s primary concern is not with the relationship between moral judgments and rational capacities per se, but rather with developing a conception objectivity normativity that avoids Platonism. In light of this, I develop an alternative approach to translating moral rationalism into the empirical domain that builds on the common rationalist view that normative requirements are explained by the relationship between agents and the social structures and practices in which they are embedded. I propose that this social conception of normativity can be translated into a scientific framework by interpreting it as a claim about the importance of constraint-based explanation when accounting for norm-governed behavior. In order to develop this point more concretely and show that it is empirically tractable, I turn to research on macaque social organization that highlights the ways in which (proto)normative standards are generated by empirically observable social structures. The insights garnered from the macaque case allow me to then locate moral rationalism’s core claims about the relationship between morality and the standards of practical rationality within an empirically plausible framework.

Keywords

Metaethics Empirical moral psychology Moral rationalism Social practices Constraints Evolutionary anthropology 

Notes

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Liam Kofi Bright, Peter Carruthers, Bryce Huebner, Enoch Lambert, James Mattingly, John Mikhail, Evan Westra, and an anonymous referee for helpful comments on earlier drafts.

References

  1. Alberts, B., Johnson, A., Lewis, J., et al. (2002). Molecular biology of the cell (4th ed.). Abingdon: Garland Science.Google Scholar
  2. Allison, H. E. (1990). Kant’s theory of freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Apicella, C. L., Marlowe, F. W., Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A. (2012). Social networks and cooperation in hunter-gatherers. Nature, 481(7382), 497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barkoczi, D., & Galesic, M. (2016). Social learning strategies modify the effect of network structure on group performance. arXiv preprint arXiv:1606.00753.
  5. Bechtel, W. (2008). Mental mechanisms: Philosophical perspectives on cognitive neuroscience. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Bechtel, W. (2017). Explicating top-down causation using networks and dynamics. Philosophy of Science, 84(2), 253–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bicchieri, C. (2005). The grammar of society: The nature and dynamics of social norms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bicchieri, C. (2016). Norms in the wild: How to diagnose, measure, and change social norms. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bickhard, M. H. (2009). The interactivist model. Synthese, 166(3), 547–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Boehm, C. (1999). Hierarchy in the forest: The evolution of egalitarian behavior. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Boehm, C. (2012). Moral origins: The evolution of virtue, altruism, and shame. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  12. Boyd, R., Richerson, P. J., & Henrich, J. (2011). The cultural niche: Why social learning is essential for human adaptation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(Supplement 2), 10918–10925.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brandom, R. (1979). Freedom and constraint by norms. American Philosophical Quarterly, 16(3), 187–196.Google Scholar
  14. Brandom, R. (1994). Making it explicit: Reasoning, representing, and discursive commitment. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Christensen, W. D., & Hooker, C. A. (2000). An interactivist-constructivist approach to intelligence: selfdirected anticipative learning. Philosophical Psychology, 13(1), 5–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Collier, J. D., & Hooker, C. A. (1999). Complexly organised dynamical systems. Open Systems and Information Dynamics, 6(3), 241–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cummins, D. D. (2000). How the social environment shaped the evolution of mind. Synthese, 122(1–2), 3–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Darwall, S. L. (1983). Impartial reason. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Darwall, S. L. (2006). The second-person standpoint: Morality, respect, and accountability. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Derex, M., & Boyd, R. (2016). Partial connectivity increases cultural accumulation within groups. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113, 2982–2987.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Doris, J. (2015). Talking to our selves: Reflection, ignorance, and agency. Oxford: OUP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Doris, J., & Stich, S. (2005). As a matter of fact: Empirical perspectives on ethics. In F. Jackson & M. Smith (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of contemporary philosophy (pp. 114–152).Google Scholar
  23. Flack, J. C. (2012). Multiple time-scales and the developmental dynamics of social systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 367(1597), 1802–1810.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Flack, J. C., de Waal, F. B., & Krakauer, D. C. (2005). Social structure, robustness, and policing cost in a cognitively sophisticated species. The American Naturalist, 165(5), E126–E139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Flack, J. C., Erwin, D., Elliot, T., & Krakauer, D. C. (2013). Timescales, symmetry, and uncertainty reduction in the origins of hierarchy in biological systems. In K. Sterelny et al. (Eds.), Evolution cooperation and complexity (pp. 45–74).Google Scholar
  26. Flack, J. C., Girvan, M., De Waal, F. B., & Krakauer, D. C. (2006). Policing stabilizes construction of social niches in primates. Nature, 439(7075), 426–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Flack, J. C., & Krakauer, D. C. (2006). Encoding power in communication networks. The American Naturalist, 168(3), E87–E102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Foot, P. (2001). Natural goodness. Wotton-under-Edge: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Green, S., & Batterman, R. (2017). Biology meets physics: Reductionism and multi-scale modeling of morphogenesis. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 61, 20–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Greene, J. (2013). Moral tribes: Emotion, reason and the gap between us and them. London: Atlantic Books Ltd.Google Scholar
  31. Haidt, J. (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review, 108(4), 814.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hamilton, M. J., Milne, B. T., Walker, R. S., Burger, O., & Brown, J. H. (2007). The complex structure of hunter–gatherer social networks. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 274(1622), 2195–2203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hampton, J. E. (1998). The authority of reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hare, B. (2016). Survival of the friendliest: Homo sapiens evolved via selection for prosociality. Annual Review of Psychology, 68(1), 155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Harman, G. (1977). The nature of morality: An introduction to ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Harman, G. (2000). Is there a single true morality?. Explaining value and other essays in moral philosophy (pp. 77–99). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Henrich, J. (2004). Demography and cultural evolution: How adaptive cultural processes can produce maladaptive losses: The Tasmanian case. American Antiquity, 69(2), 197–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Henrich, J. (2016). The secret of our success: How culture is driving human evolution, domesticating our species, and making us smarter. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hill, K. R., Walker, R. S., Božičević, M., Eder, J., Headland, T., Hewlett, B., et al. (2011). Co-residence patterns in hunter-gatherer societies show unique human social structure. Science, 331(6022), 1286–1289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hooker, C. (2013). On the import of constraints in complex dynamical systems. Foundations of Science, 18(4), 757–780.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Huebner, B., & Jebari, J. (2019). Computational theories of group behavior. In M. Sprevak & M. Colombo (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of the computational mind. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  42. Isler, K., & Van Schaik, C. P. (2012). How our ancestors broke through the gray ceiling: Comparative evidence for cooperative breeding in early homo. Current Anthropology, 53(S6), S453–S465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Joyce, R. (2006). The evolution of morality. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  44. Kauffman, S. A. (2000). Investigations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Kitcher, P. (2011). The ethical project. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kornblith, H. (2012). On reflection. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Korsgaard, C. M. (1996). The sources of normativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Korsgaard, C. M. (2009). Self-constitution: Agency, identity, and integrity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Krakauer, D. C., Page, K., & Flack, J. (2011). The immuno-dynamics of conflict intervention in social systems. PLoS ONE, 6(8), e22709.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Ladyman, J., Ross, D., Spurrett, D., & Collier, J. G. (2007). Every thing must go: Metaphysics naturalized. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Levy, A., & Bechtel, W. (2013). Abstraction and the organization of mechanisms. Philosophy of Science, 80(2), 241–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Mackie, J. L. (1977). Ethics: Inventing right and wrong. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  53. May, J. (2018). Regard for reason in the moral mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. McDowell, J. (1978). Are moral requirements hypothetical imperatives? Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, 52, 13–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. McDowell, J. (1979). Virtue and reason. The monist, 62(3), 331–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. McDowell, J. (1994). Mind and world. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Mercier, H., & Sperber, D. (2011). Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 34(2), 57–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Mikhail, J. (2011). Elements of moral cognition: Rawls’ linguistic analogy and the cognitive science of moral and legal judgment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Mitchell, S. D. (2003). Biological complexity and integrative pluralism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Moreno, A., & Mossio, M. (2015). Biological autonomy: A philosophical and theoretical enquiry. Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Muthukrishna, M., Shulman, B. W., Vasilescu, V., & Henrich, J. (2014). Sociality influences cultural complexity. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 281(1774), 20132511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Nado, J., Kelly, D., & Stich, S. (2009). Moral judgment. The Routledge companion to philosophy of psychology (pp. 621–633). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  63. Nagel, T. (1970). The possibility of altruism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Nagel, T. (1986). The view from nowhere. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Nagel, T. (2012). Mind and cosmos: Why the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Nichols, S. (2002). How psychopaths threaten moral rationalism. The Monist, 85(2), 285–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Nichols, S. (2004). Sentimental rules: On the natural foundations of moral judgment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Norenzayan, A., Shariff, A. F., Gervais, W. M., Willard, A. K., McNamara, R. A., Slingerland, E., & Henrich, J. (2016). The cultural evolution of prosocial religions. Behavioral and brain sciences, 39, E1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. O’Neill, O. (1989). Constructions of reason: Explorations of Kant’s practical philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the commons: the evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Prinz, J. J. (2007). The emotional construction of morals. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Putnam, H. (2002). The collapse of the fact/value dichotomy and other essays. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Railton, P. (2014). The affective dog and its rational tale: Intuition and attunement. Ethics, 124(4), 813–859.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rand, D. G., Arbesman, S., & Christakis, N. A. (2011). Dynamic social networks promote cooperation in experiments with humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(48), 19193–19198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Schapiro, T. (2001). Three conceptions of action in moral theory. Noûs, 35(1), 93–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Smith, M. (1994). The moral problem. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  77. Sterelny, K. (2012). The evolved apprentice. Cambridge: MIT press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Street, S. (2006). A Darwinian dilemma for realist theories of value. Philosophical Studies, 127(1), 109–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Thompson, M. (2004). What is it to wrong someone? A puzzle about justice. Reasons and value: Themes from the philosophy of Joseph Raz (pp. 333–384). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  80. Thompson, M. (2008). Life and action. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Tomasello, M. (2014). A natural history of human thinking. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Umerez, J., & Mossio, M. (2013). Constraint. In W. Dubitzky et al. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of systems biology (pp. 490–493).Google Scholar
  83. Walden, K. (2012). Laws of nature, laws of freedom, and the social construction of normativity. Oxford Studies in Metaethics, 7, 37.Google Scholar
  84. Waldron, J. (2000). What is cosmopolitan? Journal of Political Philosophy, 8(2), 227–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Williams, B. (1985). Ethics and the limits of philosophy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  86. Winning, J., & Bechtel, W. (2018). Rethinking causality in biological and neural mechanisms: Constraints and control. Minds and Machines, 28(2), 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Wrangham, R. (2009). Catching fire: How cooking made us human. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyGeorgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations