Philosophy! Moving Naturalism Forward

In October, a group of philosophers including two of my favorites, Owen Flanagan, and Alex Rosenberg, as well as Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and other, convened to discuss the present and future of Philosophical Naturalism at the Moving Naturalism Forward Workshop. The workshop was recorded and now the roughly 15 hours (!) of discussion are online. I haven’t had the chance to make it though much of the videos yet, but but Sean Carroll’s recap is promising: http://www.preposterousuniverse.com

Full list of videos from http://preposterousuniverse.com

http://preposterousuniverse.com/naturalism2012/video.html 

Topics appear to include: What is Real?/What is Naturalism? (About which the consensus (thankfully) appears to be that “The world is made of “things” (very broadly construed), obeying the laws of nature.”) Emergence and Reduction, Morality, Free Will/Consciousness, Philosophy and Science, and Meaning.


These are some of today’s most interesting philosophers workshopping a distinct way of doing philosophy—some of these views are borderline orthodox Aristotelianism, some are more reductionist than others, but they all share an approach to thinking that avoids explanations to non-observable or non-historical premises. The discussions here are interesting and important for the future of thinking.

Naturalism is roughly the idea that, as Carroll notes, “The world is made of “things” (very broadly construed), obeying the laws of nature.” (As opposed to what!? the critic might insert.) Such a vague description does little for us philosophically, but because only a few of us are likely to contest it’s basic spirit it opens up a really interesting set of questions about how to do naturalistic philosophy. Once we’ve shelved the long-standing and tedious debates about whether the world can be explained in naturalistic terms or whether it requires reference to something else—Spirit, Being, Forms, God, etc.— we can get down to doing philosophy.

This means that we are in a position to try and explain things like morality, description (emergence/reduction), consciousness, etc. in terms of the observable world, what we know from science, and the ways experience and the world fit together. The important debates here are not between philosophical naturalism and its detractors, but between the naturalists themselves. Luckily, these are the really interesting discussions anyway.

For example, suppose we accept one possible naturalist claim about morality—that moral concepts are observable natural properties, properties which are conducive to group functioning or human flourishing. Are these moral concepts then properties of persons, or of acts? Or of intentions? Does it matter which? (Flanagan would likely say not.) And further, does such a claim rest on scientific confirmation—does science need to confirm it, or is it enough that it is plausibly confirmed by a future science, or is it’s confirmational plausibility irrelevant? In either case, what kind of science is appropriate for the task: genealogical inquiry, evolutionary history, cognitive mapping, social anthropology? Even more, what role does the plausibility of our explanations of the evolutionary development of moral concepts have in determining which properties are good (conducive) and bad (destructive), if any?

I don’t know whether the conference takes on these question, but you see there is much room for interesting discussion within naturalistic parameters.

I will update and post as I make it though these discussions. 

Full list of videos from http://preposterousuniverse.com

http://preposterousuniverse.com/naturalism2012/video.html 

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