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Animadversions - Blackburn - Naturalism and Ethics

  1. Blackburn had no hand-out. My notes are not very enlightening on many points.
  2. Religion and Ethics: we have a metaphysical debate about religion. Has it anything to do with ethics?
  3. Hotel Supernatural”: check in and out – no more baggage out than in. What do we get out? God speaks in different voices. Believers pick and mix, using their own judgement.
  4. "Durkheim (Emile), Cladis (Mark S.), Cosman (Carol) - The Elementary Forms of Religious Life": the function of religion is to unite society and to impress on individuals the normative structures of the society. Australian Aborigines as examples. This is a human need we find difficulty doing without; cf. the communal emotion of football crowds.
  5. This is a better approach than that of Dawkins, who supposes that religious people are merely taken in by dud arguments.
  6. Blackburn is an atheist – he thinks the metaphysical arguments go nowhere – but is not militant.
  7. Hume: see "Hume (David), Tweyman (Stanley), Ed. - Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion", and in particular the Natural History of Religion1. Philo – a moral atheist – has a purely verbal disagreement with Cleanthes. There is a vague analogy – a portrait versus reality – but we don’t have the reality.
  8. Don’t sell your soul to someone – with beard, sandals and a text – who tells you what to think.
  9. Can there be normativity in the natural order? “Is” versus “ought”. Are there moral particles – let’s call them morons – that impinge on our minds?
  10. Proto-naturalisation of ethics: dogs and the “canid bow” prior to play – promises no dirty tricks. Coyotes shun those that abuse the canid bow by pretending to play, but fight for real. This means death for a pack animal. See “Wild Justice2” – a kind of norm; maybe the canid bow is learnt as pups grow up?
  11. There is nothing unnatural in moral thought – values and desires are entirely natural; the deontological side – oughts etc. – comes down to conformity. Intentionality is not unnatural, and is easy to naturalise from the psychological process when in the grip of a norm. Durkheim tells us that the purpose getting a society together is to reinforce the norm.
  12. Adam Smith: a rare improver on Hume – good on resentment and punishment. Reproach is an inter-personal attitude that wants the appreciation that your anger is justified, so that the malefactor can be brought back into the community.
  13. It’s an empirical question whether we need religion to enforce morality.
  14. Voltaire reversed: Can believing absurdities make you stop perpetrating atrocities?

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: In "Hume (David) - Essays & Treatises on Several Subjects - Vol II (1772 - Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding & Principles of Morals, Dissertation on the Passions, The Natural History of Religion)", but see Link ( for the full text on-line.

Footnote 2: A book by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce – see Link ( for a summary by Bekoff. I don’t have this book, but have "Bekoff (Marc) - The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy and Why They Matter", wherein Chapter 4 treats of “Wild Justice”.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Text Colour Conventions

  1. Black: Printable Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019

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Timestamp: 01/12/2019 16:05:31. Comments to