A descriptive explanation of morality

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Author: Jose Maanmieli

Abstract: The phenomenon of morality is difficult to explain because it is itself at the root of language and explanations. Having to arrive at the ‘right’ knowledge that something is morally ‘right’ is a formal ambiguity that reflects an ancient, linguistic conflation of natural and social meanings. In this essay, I aim to illustrate and overcome these ambiguities through the kind of explanation that produces our most reliable theories, for example, in physics. This involves an analysis of human belief that is consistent with biology and makes a clear distinction between description and prescription. It involves making sense of our puzzling, pseudo-cognitive moral judgements by looking at ourselves as animals who self-deceive about the nature of reality. Epistemology is then seen in the light of a false dichotomy between holism and atomism, which are normative attitudes that pervade our everyday life, for example, when we reason about how resources should be allocated. I use this perspective to deal with classic philosophical problems, such as that of induction, realistically and comprehensively. The resulting theoretical framework situates the corresponding ontological, moral and political problems in the wider context of natural science, particularly in relation to experiments in moral psychology. Far from banishing value, this suggests a basis for transcending our long-standing social and academic disputes. Finally, I discuss how the theory integrates evidence from a variety of disciplines. All this makes it possible to hypothesise the evolutionary origins of morality as a well-defined cognitive phenomenon, which is distinct from the prosocial attitudes I have called ethical. Morality is a deceptive linguistic socialisation device that creates ‘social realities’ by conflating social concepts, such as the concept of a particular individual or group, with the natural concepts or categories that we use to explain the world. Morality exists because it maximises the reproductive success of individuals over the generations by exploiting our rational, cooperative nature. 


Keywords: good explanations, animal beliefs, science of philosophy, evolutionary ethics, pseudo-rationality, self-deception, children and families 

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