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Minorities of one

Skeptical naturalism in ethics

Virta Ari

Publications of the Faculty of Social Sciences 49 (2017) Social and Moral Philosophy This dissertation aims to provide an alternative way to look at morality. This means changing the traditional division of labour in metaethics between moral semantics and moral psychology. This gives grounds for disconnecting morality from moral judgments and strengthening the connection to human well-being. Finally, in at least one area of applied ethics, in business ethics, this means acknowledging the minorities of one, the unique individuals as the vital actors whose very individuality is the most valuable resource for promoting our wealth and well-being. It also means organising our society in a way that allows the widest possible individual liberty. Concentrating on moral psychology means following the thought expressed by Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that we study how actual human beings make moral judgments. This has been done in many areas outside philosophy. It appears that our moral judgments are mostly driven by their possible consequences to us, not any thoughts about judging in a coherent manner the deeds done. Our actual morality thus appears to mostly concern our own well-being. Also, the moral judgments appear to be consequences or post hoc rationalisations of the preceding choices, decisions, or judgments made subconsciously and under framing and priming effects. In other words, we are guided more by our instincts and situational factors than any theoretical deliberations. This accumulated knowledge conflicts with our philosophical tradition about normative human nature. Skeptical naturalism in ethics means acknowledging the obvious: a lot of people believe in objective moral facts and some construct elaborate arguments to defend this belief, but so far there is no empirical evidence to support either the belief or the arguments. A different approach is recommendable. As Smith puts it, we have a propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another, which means that we are ultra-social animals. We constantly observe our conspecifics and interpret their actions as intentional behaviour. We also instinctively care for their well-being, and these prosocial actions of ours are more dependent on our prosocial emotions than our prosocial judgments. Our social coherence thus depends more on our inhibitions than our prohibitions. It depends mostly on our generally decent behaviour which is most probably produced by the biological, not the cultural evolution. We can use the effects of the biological evolution on the level of cultural evolution by designing our commercial and social institutions accordingly. We can acknowledge that our wealth and well-being depend on our individuality, our different ways of seeing life and world and thus our different aspirations, desires, and evaluations that make possible our division of labour. This drives voluntary exchange and innovation which produce our wealth and well-being.


21 €

  • Julkaisija Valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta (Helsingin yliopisto)
    Julkaisuvuosi 2017
    Sivumäärä 170
    Kieli Englanti
    Sarjat Valtiotieteellisen tiedekunnan julkaisuja
    Ulkoasu B5,pehmeäkantinen
    ISBN 9789515126030
    ISSN 2343-273X