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PHIL 202- Essay 2 v.2.3

PHIL 202- Essay 2 v.2.3 - Gilbert Harman Naturalism's...

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Gilbert Harman: Naturalism’s Support of Relativism On the question of a single morality Harman asserts that there are two distinct camps: the relativists and the absolutists. Harman claims there are two ways to approach these two moral philosophies: the naturalist (N) approach and the autonomous ethics (AE) approach and his essay “Is There a Single True Morality” explains his assertion that the autonomous ethics approach tends to lead to the absolutist philosophy with its agreement that there is one true morality while the naturalist approach tends to lead to a relativist philosophy denying a single morality. Although Harman concedes there may be examples of practitioners of the autonomous ethics approach who are not absolutists (p.81) and naturalists who are absolutists (p.80), this essay tends to support the N approach to relativism and the AE approach to absolutism with respectable but not always compelling success. Naturalism is the view that moral value is derived from and is consistent with nature or the realm of scientific fact. The rules of right or wrong and good or bad are determined within a reality that can be scientifically observed, reasoned and tested and exclude that which is beyond the natural or supernatural. Thus, a naturalist would argue that morality has no connection to a Supreme Being or God. God is outside the boundary of the naturalist. To a naturalist, morality is logical and follows the rational rules of scientific inquiry. However, Harman’s definition of a naturalist is broader than merely a scientific or fact-based approach to ethics but is “…dominated by a concern with the place of values in the natural world” (p.79). Naturalists see a distinction between factual beliefs and moral beliefs such that factual beliefs require interaction with the “world of objects” while moral beliefs can be explained by our “upbringing and psychology without any appeal to an independent realm of values…” (p.82). Harman contends that the
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naturalist’s distinction of moral beliefs is not proof of absolutism but it is also not antithetical to relativism (p.83). Harman holds that “A naturalist cannot understand how value, justice, right, and wrong might figure in explanations without having some sense of their ‘location’ in the world” (p.83)—a relativist principle. The naturalist does not merely accept that there is a natural location at the origin of morality but the naturalist wants to identify the location of morality. To do this, the naturalist requires an interaction with the natural world, including observation, interpretation and reaction in order to understand natural forces. Thus, the naturalist relies on science to determine the location of moral value while the autonomous ethicist ignores it.
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