Sunday, October 19, 2008

Applying Science to Politics: Avoiding The Moralistic Fallacy

Really neat article on the Psychology today blogs:


The naturalistic fallacy, which was coined by the English philosopher George Edward Moore in the early 20th century though first identified much earlier by the Scottish philosopher David Hume, is the leap from is to ought – that is, the tendency to believe that what is natural is good; that what is, ought to be. For example, one might commit the error of the naturalist fallacy and say, “Because people are genetically different and endowed with different innate abilities and talents, they ought to be treated differently.”


Of course, what he doesn't mention is pure naturalism -- "we have no need to deal with ought because what is, is, and that design is better than what we have" -- which is a hair away from the so-called naturalistic fallacy. We can understand the naturalistic impulse as a disagreement with ought as a motivation entirely, which the author reaches toward the end of his article:


The moralistic fallacy, coined by the Harvard microbiologist Bernard Davis in the 1970s, is the opposite of the naturalistic fallacy. It refers to the leap from ought to is, the claim that the way things should be is the way they are. This is the tendency to believe that what is good is natural; that what ought to be, is. For example, one might commit the error of the moralistic fallacy and say, “Because everybody ought to be treated equally, there are no innate genetic differences between people.”
...
Since academics, and social scientists in particular, are overwhelmingly left-wing liberals, the moralistic fallacy has been a much greater problem in academic discussions of evolutionary psychology than the naturalistic fallacy.
...
It is actually very easy to avoid both fallacies – both leaps of logic – by simply never talking about what ought to be at all and only talking about what is.
...
If what I say is wrong (because it is illogical or lacks credible scientific evidence), then it is my problem. If what I say offends you, it is your problem.

Truth is the only guiding principle in science, and it is the most important thing for all scientists. In fact, it is the only important thing; nothing else matters in science besides the truth. However, I also believe that any solution to a social problem must start with the correct assessment of the problem itself and its possible causes. We can never devise a correct solution to a problem if we don’t know what its ultimate causes are.

Psychology Today


As he points out, we do quite well when we approach politics in a clinical way: find the root of the problem, analyze what is true, and only then consider what we should or ought to do. (The science of analyzing our motivations and goals is philosophy, and it has its own rigor regarding truth.)

Of course, he has come around to the naturalistic viewpoint because by sidestepping the question of motivation/intent regarding whether ought ought to be considered in the first place, he is affirming the basics of naturalistic theory: what is works better, so deal with it as an underlying law to all interactions.

Interesting to see such a daring and provocative article coming from the headshrinkers.

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Subvert the dominant paradigm, don't be a solipsist.

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