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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Read more at Hedgehog Review

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

 

Palestinian Acceptance of Israel as the Jewish State Must Be a Prerequisite to Further Negotiations

Oct. 19 2018

In 1993, in the early days of the Oslo peace process, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under Yasir Arafat accepted the “right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security.” But neither it nor its heir, the Palestinians Authority, has ever accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, or the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. Robert Barnidge explains why this distinction matters:

A Jewish state for the Jewish people, after all, was exactly what the [UN] General Assembly intended in November 1947 when it called for the partition of the Palestine Mandate into “the Arab state, the Jewish state, and the city of Jerusalem.”

Although the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state does not stand or fall on this resolution—in declaring the independence of Israel on the eve of the Sabbath on May 14, 1948, the Jewish People’s Council, [the precursor to the Israeli government], also stressed the Jewish people’s natural and historic rights—it reaffirms the legitimacy of Jewish national rights in (what was to become) the state of Israel.

The Palestinians have steadfastly refused to recognize Jewish self-determination. [Instead], the PLO [has been] playing a double game. . . . It is not simply that the PLO supported the General Assembly’s determination in 1975, rescinded in 1991, that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” It is that that the PLO leadership continues to speak of Jews as a religious community rather than a people, and of Zionism as a colonial usurper rather than the national liberation movement that it is.

The U.S. government, Barnidge concludes, “should demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and security as a Jewish state” and refuse to “press Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians unless and until that happens.”

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Peace Process, PLO, US-Israel relations, Yasir Arafat