Bryan Caplan  

Some Empirics of Moral Philosophy

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From the noble Jason Brennan:
This reminds me further of a talk I saw at a recent free market conference. The presenter was talking about how most philosophers are nihilists who believe that morality is bogus nonsense. I said, "You'll be delighted to hear that we don't have to speculate about what philosophers believe. Here are the results of the PhilPapers survey, and it shows that most philosophers, including most moral theorists, actually think the opposite!" He said, at the time, "Oh, that's great to hear. I guess I should give them more credit." However, shortly thereafter, in another session, he went back to strawmanning the field.

COMMENTS (8 to date)
David R. Henderson writes:

Is it this quote that is supposed to make us think that Jason Brennan is noble, or is it something else that you’re not stating here?

Dan S writes:

The PhilPapers survey really surprised me when I first saw it. Among the most surprising, a plurality of those surveyed believe in:

1. Platonism wrt abstract objects,

2. Objective aesthetic value, and

3. Moral realism (but also physicalism and naturalism at the same time).

I honestly thought those were fringe views.

Ross Levatter writes:

I think Bryan is here referencing Jason's comments about philosopher Stephen Hicks, whom Jason referenced only as a "director of an ethics and entrepreneurship center at a small liberal arts university". [Jason himself is from Georgetown. He brings this fact up frequently in that noble way of his.]

Hicks responded to JB, saying:

"A smart and young (though often angry) philosopher, Jason Brennan, took a side-swipe at me in this post. Not sure where the animus came from, but here is my reply in the comments:
"Hi Jason:
At APEE, I made five points.
(1) Most moral philosophers since Hume and Kant have accepted some form of fact/value dichotomy. (2) That dichotomy, in strong form, can lead to subjectivist versions of nihilism. (3) In the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, when Mises, Hayek, and Friedman were writing, the fact/value dichotomy was widely held among the philosophically-informed. (4) One can find in Mises, Hayek, and Friedman, statements in support of a fact/value dichotomy. (5) That poses a problem for economic theories that want to use their factual findings to make normative policy recommendations.
I'm happy to argue about the merits of those points, but let's agree that as professionals we can start with stating each others' positions accurately as a basis for discussion.
You are quite right, by the way, to point out that the philosophy profession is much healthier on this point now compared to a generation ago. I've been pleased to see it move in a more naturalist/realist direction.
S (a.k.a. director of an ethics and entrepreneurship center at a small liberal arts university)"

Perhaps Bryan could elaborate on how he sees Jason's comments as noble? Hicks seems to see them as distortive.

Irfan Khawaja writes:

I don't know about nobility, but Brennan sure is empirical--about everything except who the presenter was, what the presenter actually said, and the fact that the presenter contested the empirical accuracy of the claims that Brennan managed to stuff into his mouth. But I guess the real "empirical" payoff is that we all now know that Brennan is up on the latest PhilPapers surveys. And that makes it all worthwhile.

TMC writes:

I took it as that Brennan didn't interact with others.

Jason Brennan writes:

I changed the post to make sure it didn't signify Hicks too closely--when I first posted it, I did a google search to ensure there were enough ethics centers, etc., that it wouldn't signal him. But then he made it clear who he was. Alas.

That said, if Hicks is disputing the accuracy of what went down, then I suppose he doesn't remember it all that well. I had a conversation with a few other people who were there about this, so it's not just my own memory here.

Irfan Khawaja writes:

[Comment removed for ad hominem remarks.--Econlib Ed.]

drycreekboy writes:

@ Dan S.

Haven't read the primary source, but I sympathize with your response to # 3 in particular. Given that most naturalists/physicalists are also reductionists, then morality has no more ultimate real-ness, from that point of view, than spirit photography or the interpretation of auras.

My strong impression has been that moral philosophers who are naturalists/physicalists simply accept that, and quickly move on to argue for what any of them sees as the most practical of human moral intuitions, allegedly bequeathed to us by Evolution, with which to reason about ethical and moral questions.

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