Neurophilosophy

Neurophilosophy and the philosophy of neuroscience (II) – Buyer Brain

Sean Carrol spoke to philosopher Patricia Churchland last year on his Mindscape podcast, where the two of them discussed the relevance of Churchland’s work in neuroscience to morality. Churchland argues that if we want to understand morality (and, I think, pretty much everything relating to mind), we need to understand the brain. This approach has resulted in her being shunned by her philosophy contemporaries, even as she has been welcomed by her neuroscience ones. In this article, I will investigate neurophilosophy, a term Churchland herself coined, as she discusses it in this podcast (to be fair, I haven’t read any of her books on the subject, so my comments in this article are restricted to the podcast), and discuss whether Churchland has been wrongly (or justly) excluded from her philosophical peers.

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Utilitarianism’s Repugnant Conclusion

I recently watched the discussion Alex O’Connor (CosmicSkeptic) had with Peter Singer earlier this year on YouTube (check it out for yourself here) in which the pair discuss animal rights and ethics in general. Incidentally, I was really impressed with Singer here. I’d never seen him in this type of… well, it wasn’t a debate, but it was a ‘debate-ish’, discussion before, and I think his experience and knowledge really shone through (by the way, I say this as someone who disagrees with him on a couple of key issues). Anyway, during the discussion, the notorious utilitarian problem known as the repugnant conclusion came up, prompting me to offer my own two cents.

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CosmicSkeptic on Objective Morality (2): Pleasure and Morality

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This is the second of a two-part series in which I assess CosmicSkeptic’s (a.k.a. Alex O’Connor) claim that he can make morality objective. A crucial part of O’Connor’s argument is that human behaviour is completely determined, so my first article argued against O’Connor, that we are meaningfully free. This article will address O’Connor’s claim that ultimately the only thing we desire (and which we must desire) is pleasure, before critiquing the way he brings this all together into a theory of an objective morality.

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CosmicSkeptic on Objective Morality (1): Freewill

A friend recently brought to my attention a very interesting YouTube video of a talk called The Good Delusion given by Alex O’Connor, owner of the CosmicSkeptic blog and YouTube channel of the same name, in which he was making the case for an objective morality. O’Connor believes he has devised a way to make morality objective; that is, a morality based on ‘is’ rather than ‘ought’ propositions, thereby overcoming the insurmountable hurdle Sam Harris mysteriously continues to bang his head against of getting the latter (an ‘ought’) from the former (an ‘is’). Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons for thinking O’Connor hasn’t succeeded in his goal, hence the reason for this article. Because one of the premises in his argument concerns freewill (specifically, the claim we don’t have any), in order to disprove his claim in its entirety, I will also need to address this notoriously thorny topic. This first article then will argue, against O’Connor, that we do have freewill, while the second article will reject his broader claim that morality can be objective.

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Without God Everything is Permitted

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In Dostoyevsky’s classic, The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan Karamazov, the Russian author’s symbol for the scientific, rational, Western outlook, wrestles with the problem in the title of this article; without God, everything is permitted. Since then, this proposition has been used in countless discussions to justify belief in (typically the Christian) God. At least a part of its appeal for the religiously inclined lies in the near instant assent it tends to evoke. If there is no God, and therefore no higher Authority to dictate to us what our ethical rights and obligations are, how can we have any? We need God to ground morality. In this article, I will challenge this claim.

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Nietzsche – On the Genealogy of Morals

Morality is concerned with right and wrong, good and bad. While there are a number of different moral systems and they all justify their values in different ways, few of them disagree on exactly what those core values are. Whether kindness is good because it maximises happiness or because it’s what a virtuous person would do or because we can will that it should become a universal law, no moral system worthy of the name ‘morality’ goes so far as to question the value of kindness itself. This is where Nietzsche comes in. In his On the Genealogy of Morals he does just this, calling our values into question by attempting to uncover exactly where they come from and, in the process, showing us that, far from tenets carved in stone we are beholden to, they are contingent rules we have ourselves devised. In this essay, I will outline and critically discuss a few of the key concepts from the book.

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The Ethics of Vegetarianism

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Is killing animals for food morally indefensible? Many people think so, and not just vegetarians. Even many omnivores acknowledge their moral deficiency on this point. I recently listened to Sam Harris and a guest (on Harris’ Waking Up podcast) concede that anything other than vegetarianism is morally indefensible, while at the same time admitting they can’t, or won’t, stop eating meat. But is this the final word on this discussion?

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