Where the New Science of Morality Went Wrong

Nov. 18 2016

As the fields of neurobiology, evolutionary biology, and social science have yielded better understandings of moral reasoning and its origins, some have claimed that their findings can be used to establish moral truths. James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky, reviewing three recent books on the subject, argue that the authors engage in a bait-and-switch: advertising a new science-based morality that can sweep away the confusion generated by philosophers and religious thinkers, while offering nothing of the sort:

[This new] scholarship presents itself as addressing questions of prescriptive morality, but through a sleight of hand it puts descriptive and instrumental definitions of morality into play in ways that conflate the meanings of the terms. This is confusing, to say the least.

Yet there is another fundamental problem. . . . Invariably, the science of morality is directed toward unearthing and understanding universally shared moral principles. These are ethical generalities that take shape as moral-philosophical abstractions. The evidence used to address this stratum of moral reality is presumed to be species-wide, whether it is drawn from data from neurochemistry, the evolutionary record, or public-opinion surveys.

This presumption is fine as far as it goes, but it barely scratches the surface of morality as it exists empirically in the lives of individuals, groups, communities, and nations. . . . In this empirical complexity, the new moral science shows little interest or curiosity. It is as if the best way to address empirical difference is to ignore it altogether. But any intellectual inquiry that disregards empirical specificity, especially in its messiness, fails to meet the most rudimentary requirements of a science. . . .

[Furthermore, for] a theory of morality to be scientific, it must tie its claims about the nature of morality to observable reality strongly enough to demonstrate that it is getting the nature of morality right. Put more sharply: a science of morality must be able to demonstrate empirically that its claims about morality are true.

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More about: History & Ideas, Morality, Neuroscience, Science

The Democrats’ Anti-Semitism Problem Involves More Than Appearances

Jan. 22 2019

Last week, the Democratic National Committee formally broke with the national Women’s March over its organizers’ anti-Semitism and close associations with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Also last week, however, the Democratic leadership gave a coveted seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to the freshman congresswoman Ilhan Omar—a supporter of boycotts of Israel who recently defended her 2012 pronouncement that “Israel has hypnotized the world” to ignore its “evil doings.” Abe Greenwald comments:

The House Foreign Affairs Committee oversees House bills and investigations pertaining to U.S. foreign policy, and it has the power to cut American arms and technology shipments to allies. So, while the Democrats are distancing themselves from anti-Semitic activists who organize a march every now and then, they’re raising up anti-Semites to positions of power in the federal government. . . .

There is no cosmetic fix for the anti-Semitism that’s infusing the activist left and creeping into the Democratic party. It runs to the ideological core of intersectionality—the left’s latest religion. By the lights of intersectionality, Jews are too powerful and too white to be the targets of bigotry. So an anti-Semite is perfectly suitable as an ally against some other form of prejudice—against, say, blacks or women. And when anti-Semitism appears on the left, progressives are ready to explain it away with an assortment of convenient nuances and contextual considerations: it’s not anti-Semitism, it’s anti-Zionism; consider the good work the person has done fighting for other groups; we don’t have to embrace everything someone says to appreciate the good in him, etc.

These new congressional Democrats [including Omar and her fellow anti-Israel congresswoman Rashida Tlaib] were celebrated far and wide when they were elected. They’re young, outspoken, and many are female. But that just makes them extraordinarily effective ambassadors for a poisonous ideology.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, BDS, Congress, Democrats, Nation of Islam, Politics & Current Affairs