From a review of James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky’s Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality,
Hunter and Nedelisky conclude that the overwhelming majority of the new science of morality contributes at level three—interesting, but nowhere close to providing a unifying foundation for morality, not to mention anything that approaches normative ethics. They conclude that the scientific quest ultimately ends up in moral nihilism, with morality being redefined essentially out of existence, replaced with subjective accounts of well-being or the admission that moral norms are arbitrary (191). They point out that the scientific quest continually overreaches, moving uncritically from the descriptive to the normative, then finally giving up the normative quest altogether.
The book is full of insightful commentary on the historical figures and the current evolutionary and neuroscientific bases for morality. The authors maintain that the neural or evolutionary basis for particular traits or virtues may be interesting but tell us nothing about whether they should be adopted or rejected (143). They’re insightful in their critique of contemporary “science of morality” advocates Michael Shermer and Sam Harris, in that they both make “assumptions about what is valuable, independent of science” (158). They also cite the shift of emphasis from morality being “a source of objective action-guidance” to “understanding morality socially (and psychologically) and prudentially” (183). They further point out that this quest for moral foundations has proceeded apart from any reflection on the dynamics of power and position (201–2). Scott B. Rae, “Morality Is Not Scientific” at The Gospel Coalition
One outcome of morality becoming an uninspiring talkshop is that massive breaches of ethics are more difficult to address except in terms of the commotion they create, as opposed to the truths they violate or the individuals they harm.
See also: Science-Based Morality: 400 Years Of Failure?
The Failed Search For An Evolutionary Morality
Yes, The New Science Of Morality Can Ground Moralities In Science— All Of Them, In Fact
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2 Replies to “Scientific quest for morality ends in moral nihilism”
We seem to be faced with only two alternatives: divine command morality or intersubjective consensus morality which the divine command theorists insist will inevitably degenerate into moral nihilism and anarchy. So, do we abdicate any responsibility for trying to work these things out for ourselves, even though we have the intelligence to do so, in favor of uncritical acceptance of the edicts of some deity who does not deign to explain or justify them?
Sev @ 1,
How do you know that this deity has not explained them to us as best we can handle those explanations? (And remember that if you answer “because we’re not satisfied with the answers” or even “what answers?”, please realize that if there really is a deity, we don’t get to be the ultimate judges of much.)