The End of Philosophy

That’s the title of a new op-ed by David Brooks in today’s New York Times.  Basically, he’s surveying some of the empirical evidence on how people make judgments and combining it with evolutionary psychology theory to say that morality is simply emotion and has no true connection with reason.  I.e. we evolved moral sentiments because in-group cooperative behavior was naturally selected.

So, theory junkies, what about it?  I’m going to say nuh-uh.  For one, if we all managed to evolve to have similar physical structures, why don’t we see more similarity in ethical views?  Put another way, how can this theory account for moral disagreement?  Secondly, my experience is that snap judgments often tend not to be great decisions – I have to employ reason to achieve a superior outcome.  Relatedly, there is some work in the political psychology field which has shown that if you expose people to an argument, they will sometimes change their views.  How could this theory possibly account for persuasion?

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About Jake Wobig

I teach international relations and comparative politics at Wingate University in Wingate, North Carolina
This entry was posted in Framing/Discourse/Rhetoric, Political Psychology, Theory. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The End of Philosophy

  1. In terms of moral disagreement, it’s my understanding from reading the article that this is a broad look at evolutionary psychology—though we might tend to disagree on what is morally “right,” there are certain things that most humans agree on. So, we might agree that we need to bond together as a social/governmental unit for cooperation, but we can’t all agree on what the “right” form of cooperation is.

    Now whether snap judgments lead to a superior outcome, I think it all depends on your view of human nature. I don’t remember exactly, but I seem to remember there being two competing views in evolutionary psychology, one that stresses our species’ success via cooperation and another that doesn’t (someone please correct me on this if wrong).

    Especially with the question of what human nature actually is, I think Brooks is wrong. If we find out that humankind has in fact evolved to possess innate moral characteristics that predispose one toward altruism and cooperation, it seems that we could do away with a Hobbesian reading of human nature (and accept other theorists’ ideas). Political philosophy thus becomes empirically testable.

  2. What I meant to say at the end there is that the shift toward psychological/physiological understandings of human behavior should bring about a renewed emphasis on political philosophy.

  3. BJ says:

    Agreed with the latter; if you actually have an empirical conception of NoM then political philosophy becomes more grounded and less speculative.

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