14 January 2008

Pinker's instinct correct, as usual

If Steven Pinker's excellent new article for the New York Times magazine on "the moral instinct" is any indication, Third Culture thinkers are starting to go beyond simplistic evolutionary ethics. It would sound like special pleading coming from me, but when Pinker leaves a role for "moral reasoning" alongside science, I have to agree:
Morality, then, is still something larger than our inherited moral sense, and the new science of the moral sense does not make moral reasoning and conviction obsolete.
There could be no strictly scientific account of morality, if only for the simple reason that in order to know what falls under the proper domain of the moral, we must make a moral judgment. The question is, What is a science of morality a science of? And there couldn't be a scientific answer to that question. Luckily, that does not mean there is no answer.

I devote a chapter of The Secular Conscience ("Darwin Made Me Do It") to these issues. Maybe I'll have a chance to discuss them with Steve during our trip into the Amazon this May.

03 January 2008

Publishers Weekly: "dazzling" and "timely"

This from Publishers Weekly yesterday:
In a dazzling display of erudition, this book presents a cogent argument for secular liberalism. Dacey . . . claims that values and ethics--defining what is right and wrong, good and bad--are not the sole domain of theologians. To contribute to our understanding of enlightened secularism, he cites like-minded thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Dewey, Adam Smith, John Rawls, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Plato, John Locke and Baruch Spinoza, among others. Dacey's presentation is especially timely in view of the emphasis by some current presidential candidates on their religious identity. Not since 1960 when John F. Kennedy, as a Roman Catholic, argued for church-state separation has the issue of secularism versus religion been so prominent in a national election. Dacey's analysis helps to put this question into the larger perspective of liberty and conscience. Dacey advocates for democracy over authoritarianism, not hesitating to challenge theocratic Islam, for example, as a "new totalitarianism." He calls on secular liberals to stand up for "reason and science, the separation of church and state, freedom of belief, personal autonomy, equality, toleration, and self-criticism." This is a thoughtful, well-reasoned argument for progressive secularism.
I'm not sure how Plato made it in there among the like-minded, but who will be the wiser.