Naturalism is normally taken to be an ideology, censuring non-naturalistic alternatives. But as many critics have pointed out, this ideological stance looks internally incoherent, since it is not obviously endorsed by naturalistic methods. Naturalists who have addressed this problem universally forswear the normative component of naturalism by, in effect, giving up science’s exclusive claim to legitimacy. This option makes naturalism into an empty expression of personal preference that can carry no weight in the philosophical or political spheres. In response to this dilemma, I argue that on a popular (but largely unarticulated) construal of naturalism as a commitment to inference to the best explanation, methodological naturalism can be both normative and internally coherent. Philosophical naturalism faces a difficult, but often neglected dilemma: take it as a normative position, and it risks internal incoherence, since such an ideological stance itself does not look to be a deliverance of science. Forgo the evaluative aspect, on the other hand, and naturalism becomes a merely subjective assessment, a cry of “yay for science!” that carries no normative weight for those who are not inclined to agree. I first argue that both horns of this dilemma are sharp, and that current attempts to negotiate them have failed. I then give a plausible construal of methodological naturalism that is both normative and internally coherent, and so threads this dilemma. Finally, I respond to objections against this formulation of naturalism, and consider the dialectical position in which it leaves us. Though the resulting naturalism cannot (of course) convince dedicated non-naturalists who will insist on other belief-forming methods, it does at least provide a pragmatic advantage when debating the relative advantages of such methodologies. More.
The prof’s casuistries are beside the point. Naturalism means that our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth. It isn’t a question about who is right or wrong because we are just another animal and animals are not wrong about anything.
See also: Evolution bred a sense of reality out of us
A cognitive scientist’s “evolutionary argument against reality”
Our brains are shaped for fitness, not for truth
A scientist on the benefits of post-fact science
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