Thursday, February 19, 2015

Michael Shermer's Category Mistake About Moral Progress

First Steven Pinker, now Michael Shermer. Both have jumped on the slender bandwagon of moral progress. Shermer's answer to "Are We Becoming Morally Smarter" is a happy "Yes!"

I find Shermer's reasoning confusing. He commits a Ryleian category mistake. Philosopher Gilbert Ryle coined the term. In The Concept of Mind one commits a "category mistake" if they attempt to analyze the relation between "mind" and "body" as if they were of the same category. Idealism makes a category mistake in its attempt to reduce physical reality to mental reality, and materialism makes a category mistake in attempting to reduce mental reality to physical reality.

Shermer does the latter, and then wants to talk about "moral progress" out of his sheer empiricist worldview. When Shermer writes something like this it strikes me as sheer Ryleian nonsense: 

"Thinking like a scientist means employing all our faculties to overcome our emotional, subjective, and instinctual brains to better understand the true nature of not only the physical and biological worlds, but the social world (politics and economics) and the moral world (abstracting how other people should be treated) as well."

And just what does "thinking like a scientist" have to do with "the moral world?" The answer is (as Steven Jay Gould knew), nothing.