Tag Archives: Owen Flanagan

Scientists and philosophers discuss morality and meaning

I am working my way through the videos of the discussions at the Moving Naturalism Forward Workshop (see At last – Moving Naturalism Forward videos). I really appreciate these philosophical and scientific discussions because they aren’t weighed down, or diverted, by  theistic and supernaturalist philosophy.

As Daniel Dennett said in the introductions, what he really like about the workshop was not only the people participating, but also that certain philosophers were not participating.

Here’s the discussion on morality. I don’t think they covered everything they could have but what they did cover was interesting. It’s also a pity that Patricia Churchland had to withdraw from the Workshop – her contribution to this discussion would have been very helpful. I would have also like contribution from a good evolutionary psychologist.


The next discussion on meaning was also very wide-ranging and often insightful. I liked Owen Flanagan‘s description of Aristotle’s approach. When asked how he could prepare a suitably complete obituary for someone who had just died he said that one could gather all the information available but it would still not be enough. To really pass judgement on a person’s life you have to wait to see how the grandchildren turn out.


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A naturalistic approach to human morality

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.

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