Jerry Coyne believes in “science-based determinism” and denies the existence of libertarian free will. Over at his blog he assures us that he is nevertheless in favor of altering the behavior of other beings (whether dogs or people) through “environmental factors” such as kicks or arguments.
you can alter the behavior of a dog by kicking it when it does something you don’t like. (I am NOT recommending this!). After a while the dog, whose onboard computer gets reprogrammed to anticipate pain, will no longer engage in the unwanted behavior.
Later in a comment he writes:
Reason is no different from a kick: it’s words that people can take on board to see if doing what the words say gives a result that’s adaptive–that they like. For some reason you think that a kick (which tells a dog what to expect if you do X) is somehow different from a “reason” (which tells people what you think will happen if they do X).
Coyne is absolutely correct given materialist premises. If objective transcendent morality does not exist (and materialism necessarily entails that it does not), reason really is no different, morally speaking, from a kick. They are both morally meaningless.
Therefore, if reasoning with a person does not work, why not kick him? Or put him in the Gulag. Or stand him up against a wall. After all, if getting what one “likes” is all that matters,” as Coyne implies, you have to crack a few eggs to get the omelet you like.
Notice also Coyne’s hypocrisy. In all caps and with an exclamation point he says he is not recommending kicking your dog. Then he says reasoning is no different from a kick. And he even reproduces with approval a cartoon from a fascist who goes by “Pliny the in between” of someone conditioning another person to stop arguing for free will by kicking them in the groin. Well, Jerry, which is it? If one form of environmental conditioning (kicking) is morally equivalent to another form of environmental conditioning (reasoning), why not use the form that is most effective, meaning most likely to produce the results Coyne subjectively prefers?
One suspects that Coyne would answer that question by professing that I’ve misunderstood him; that he is making a point through hyperbole; that he would never endorse the kicking method of environmental conditioning, because that would be immoral (as if the word “moral” has an objective meaning). Yet we all know that when it comes to ethics Coyne is a consequentialist. And nothing is off limits for a consequentialist so long as he can convince himself that he is advancing the “greater good.” For Coyne, if kicking a few humans would bring about utopia, then kicking them — far from being wrong — is an affirmatively good thing. On such reasoning Gulags are built.
And that, dear readers, is the ethical underpinning of the “brutality for the greater good” that characterizes all fascist regimes.