There has been a bit of discussion about morality lately on several New Zealand blogs (see moral things, What’s So Great About Objective Morality?, My take on morality, Thinking Matters and Where do our morals come from?. This has tended to be centred around a scientific or ‘naturalistic’ understanding human morality and its sources. Participants in this discussion and others interested in the subject might find the Beyond Belief: Candles in the Dark conference videos interesting. The conference included sessions on Human Flourishing/Eudaimonics and Your Brain on Morality.
I have only started watching these videos but have found the talk by Owen Flanagan interesting. A professor of Philosophy at Duke University, he also holds appointments in Psychology and Neurobiology and is a Faculty Fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience. Flanagan has written several books; the most recent is The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World.
Have a look at the video below of Flanagan’s presentation.
Some of the ideas discussed by Flanagan at this conference are also presented in his article One Enchanted Being: Neuro-existentialism & Meaning.
Respect for truth
“Meaning, existential meaning, must be conceived naturalistically, because supernaturalism despite whatever consolation it seems to afford, provides answers to questions of meaning that are epistemically irresponsible, that show disrespect for truth.”
“Why do I, as a naturalist, privilege truth over, for example, beauty or consolation or simple happiness, when these conflict? Answer: The evidence is that truth reliably contributes to the production of flourishing. Untruth, even in the form of consoling stories about afterlives, has the effect of encouraging disrespect for the truth and generally low epistemic standards that are considered normal – everybody is entitled to his own opinion – and which have large and deleterious personal and political consequences.”
“Truth respect is basic. Truth disrespect reliably leads to personal and political dysfunction and dis-ease.”
“Furthermore, encouraging non-natural reasons encourages low epistemic standards, which ramify in bad ways across personal and interpersonal space and lead to less eudaimonia.“
“I do not engage academic theology because in my experience when there is talk of theos, as opposed to talk about beliefs about theos, or texts about theos, all good sense and standards leave the room.”
“Regarding ontological commitment to theos, this look to members of my tribe suspiciously like commitment to phlogiston. A course on phlogiston, could be part of a university, or its curriculum, if there were enough interest in people’s beliefs about phlogiston, how that belief had influenced the research of scientists, how the belief affected scientific funding, the status and fate of ‘true’ believers versus non-believers, those heretics who believed in oxygen, and so on. All this is worth studying without being ontologically committed to phlogiston, which would be absurd since there is no such thing. Religion, as a historical, sociological, art historical discipline is intellectually respectable; theology insofar as it claims to study theos, as opposed to belief in theos, is not intellectually respectable.”