Michael Ruse has written another post about morality. Sadly, he hasn’t really clarified much of anything. Throughout this discussion his position has been that there are moral facts that we come to know through non-scientific means. I have been trying to understand how he justifies either part of that, but I’m afraid I still have no idea.
First, the complaint that since I think morality is a product of evolution through natural selection, I must therefore be using science to justify my ethical claims. I too am committing the naturalistic fallacy. Not so. Distinguish between an explanation of the origin of something and its justification. Suppose David Barash starts writing columns claiming to be the Queen of the May. We discover that this is because a group of Christian fanatics captured him and, as in The Manchurian Candidate, brainwashed him. That is the explanation for why he now thinks the way he does. It is hardly a justification of the claim–delightful though it would be, were it true–that he is in fact the Queen of the May.
It is very confusing to say that “morality” is the product of evolution by natural selection. I can grant that our capacity for moral reasoning is the product of evolution, but that is a different claim. I can also grant that evolution might bequeath to us certain psychological dispositions which in turn lead to some of our common ideas about morality, but that too is different from the claim that morality itself is the product of evolution.
Ruse asks us to distinguish the origin of something from the justification of that something. But evolution only explains the origin of morality in the trivial sense that early in the evolutionary process there were no creatures that could comprehend the ideas of right and wrong and later in the process there were such creatures. The rightness or wrongness of particular actions certainly does not originate in the evolutionary process.
Moreover, the whole point of this discussion is the justification of moral claims. I am glad to hear that he is not justifying moral claims by reference to science, but then why is he bringing up evolution at all?
Skipping ahead we have this:
My position is that evolutionary biology lays on us certain absolutes. These are adaptations brought on by natural selection to make us functioning social beings. It is in this sense that I claim that morality is not subjective. (Although it is a societal thing, I am a hard-line individual selectionist, so don’t try to get me on that one. Selfish genes do not necessarily mean selfish people.)
I grow frustrated. I simply have no idea what role evolution is playing in Ruse’s argument. If the basis for moral reasoning is “things which help to make us functioning social beings,” then just say that and leave evolution out of it. The only things evolution “lays on us” that are relevant to moral reasoning are certain intellectual capacities and certain psychological tendencies. Those capacities and tendencies are not subjective, but that is no help at all in resolving anything about morality.
I would reply further, but I sense it would be futile. As with his previous posts, there is simply nothing here to explain why he believes there are moral facts or how we come to know them through non-scientific means. His writing is far too vague and murky even to determine what he is trying to argue.