Judgment without Morality


Both Sartre and Anscombe say that they’re teasing out the logical consequences of atheism for ethics, and of course we saw this back in Nietzsche too. If you ask “are these figures moral realists or moral irrealists?”, I think they’re going to say you’re missing the point. No, a sentence like “X is right” no […]

Rawls’s Second Principle: Compromise or Clusterf*#$?

Rawls’s principle 2a, to remind you, is (quoting from wikipedia here): Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that (Rawls, 1971, p.302; revised edition, p. 47): (a) they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society, consistent with the just savings principle (the difference principle). This has appeal […]

Bergmann as Philosopher (Before All that “New Work” Stuff)

We’re barely more than a day away right now from our interview with Frithjof, which he says he’s “thrilled” about, and I’m certainly looking forward to as well, though I can picture any number of things going less than ideally as I introduce these two known elements (Frithjof on the one hand and Seth/Wes/Dylan on […]

Norm Schultz (Mile High Sanity Project) on Aristotle’s Ethics

In preparation for our Aristotle Politics episode, I checked out a new semi-philosophy podcast called the Mile High Sanity Project, as they had an episode on Aristotle’s ethics. I say “semi-philosophy,” because the podcast is made up of three guys in different disciplines. They trade off being the lead guy on episodes, so the philosophy […]

Episode 59: Alasdair MacIntyre on Moral Justifications

Alasdair MacIntyre

On Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (1981), mostly ch. 3-7 and 14-17. What justifies ethical claims? MacIntyre claims that no modern attempt to ground ethics has worked, and that’s because we’ve abandoned Aristotle. We see facts and values as fundamentally different: the things science discovers vs. these weird things that have nothing to do with science. In Aristotle’s teleological view, everything comes with built-in goals, so just as a plant will aim grow green and healthy, people have a definite kind of virtue towards which we do and should naturally strive.

End song: “Indefensible,” by Mark Lint, 1998.

Episode 58: What Grounds Ethical Claims? (Moore, Stevenson, MacIntyre)


On G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica, ch. 1 (1903); Charles Leslie Stevenson’s “The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms” (1937), and Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, ch. 1-2. Is there such a thing as moral intuition? Is “good” a simple property that we all recognize but can’t explain like yellow? Or are moral terms just tools we use to convince other people to like things that we like? Learn more.

End song: “When I Was Yours,” by Mark Lint, 1997.

Topic for #58/#59: Is vs. Ought (G.E. Moore, C.L. Stevenson, Alasdair MacIntyre)

These two episodes cover some related approaches in 20th century ethics: First, we read Chapter 1 of G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica(1903), which argues against utilitarianism and other ethical philosophies by exposing the “naturalistic fallacy,” which equates “good” with some natural property like pleasure or people’s actual desires. This error, says Moore, also extends to equating […]

Alan Watts on Buddhist and Christian Mythographies

Watch on YouTube. I liked the meta-discussion that kicked off the second PEL naturalized Buddhism episode, specifically on what knowledge we gain by assessing the supernatural “rules” contained within “religious” Buddhism. Even after rejecting a supernaturalist stance, there’s value in reviewing the form of life revealed within Buddhism’s supernatural tenets. In that spirit, I enjoyed Boddhisatva’s Brain most for its […]

Topic for #53/#54: Buddhism and Science with Guest Owen Flanagan

In episode 53, the full four-man PEL crew spoke with Duke University’s Owen Flanagan, mostly about his book The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized, which has a number of aims: -To argue that supernatural beliefs can be removed (or “tamed”) from Buddhism and still leave an elaborate enterprise relevant to modern life. -To put Buddhist conceptions […]

Kenan Malik (via The Browser) on Morality without God (and the Euthyphro)

In this interview with Kenan Malik (a “scientific author,” i.e. a psychology/biology guy who dabbles in philosophical issues) uses the Euthyphro to argue that presenting religion as the guardian of moral values “diminishing the importance of human agency in the creation of a moral framework.” His enemy is “false certainty” in ethics, whether because you […]

Episode 46: Plato on Ethics & Religion


Discussing Plato’s Euthyphro.

Does morality have to be based on religion? Are good things good just because God says so, or (if there is a God) does God choose to approve of the things He does because he recognizes those things to be already good? Plato thinks the latter: if morality is to be truly non-arbitrary, then, like the laws of logic, it can’t just be a contingent matter of what the gods happen to approve of (i.e. what some particular religious text happens to say).

Paul Boghossian (via Philosophy Bites) on Moral Relativism

We’ve discussed Paul Boghossian and his book against relativism a bit in our Nelson Goodman episode. See my blog post on this from last year. In this interview on the Philosophy Bites podcast, Boghossian talks about moral relativism, giving some shades of the view: e.g. you could be a relativist about manners but not really […]

Episode 45: Moral Sense Theory: Hume and Smith

David Hume

Discussing parts of David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature (1740) and Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759).

Where do we get our moral ideas? Hume and Smith both thought that we get them by reflecting on our own moral judgments and on how we and others (including imaginary, hypothesized others) in turn judge those judgments. Mark, Wes, Seth, and guest Getty Lustila, a phil grad student at Georgia State University, hash through the Scottish stoicism to lay out the differences between these two gents and whether their views constitute an actual moral theory or just a descriptive enterprise.

Topic for #46: Plato’s Euthyphro

Does morality depend on religion? In Plato’s early and fun (and short!) dialogue Euthyphro, Socrates questions Euthyphro (who’s on his way to go and file murder charges against his own father) about the meaning of “piety.” Is an action (like turning in your dad) pious because it’s the kind of thing that the gods love? […]

Topic for #45: Moral Sense Theory: Hume and Smith

Here’s the recorded episode. In Ep. 41, we discussed David Hume’s ethics both providing a challenge for any naturalist (meaning one compatible with a modern scientific world-view) ethics–you can’t deduce “ought” from “is”–and as providing an approach to moral psychology. In this discussion, we grappled with selections from Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature (1740) and […]

Magnetic Morality Modulation

This September, PBS will re-broadcast an interesting episode of NOVA ScienceNOW, which touches on some points raised in PEL’s interview with Patricia Churchland. The episode demonstrates a procedure called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), which can influence a person’s moral judgments as they are being made, simply by messing with the neural activity located within the brain’s Right TemporoParietal […]

Moral Psychology vs. Normativity

Given that Churchland focuses on the causal story (physiological, evolutionary, psychological, cultural) for where we get our moral sense, does that mean that the causal story is all there is to it, i.e. that by understanding the causal theory, you understand morality itself? Certainly Kant thought not: the causal story is only relevant for him […]

Episode 11: Nietzsche’s Immoralism: What Is Ethics, Anyway?

Transcription of Episode 61 on Nietzsche

Discussing The Genealogy of Morals (mostly the first two essays) and Beyond Good and Evil Ch. 1 (The Prejudices of Philosophers), 5 (Natural History of Morals), and 9 (What is Noble?).

End song: “The Greatest F’in Song in the World,” from 1998’s Mark Lint and the Fake Johnson Trio.

We go through Nietzsche’s convoluted and historically improbable stories about about the transition from master to slave morality and the origin of bad conscience. Why does he diss Christianity? Is he an anti-semite? Was he a lazy, arrogant bastard? What does he actually recommend that we do?