Paper Titles and Abstracts

"Normative Disagreement as a Challenge to Moral Philosophy and Philosophical Theology", Robert Audi

This paper has three main aims: to distinguish different kinds and degrees of moral disagreement; to compare moral disagreement with non-moral normative disagreement; and to propose an account of disagreement between rational parties that bears on the problem of religious diversity as a challenge to philosophical theology. Disagreement in moral matters has long been considered a problem for any objectivist ethical theory, and the difficulty of resolving such disagreements appears to support skepticism about the possibility of knowledge, and even of justification, regarding moral claims. Similar skeptical problems arise from disagreements about other normative matters, such as those concerning justification for ordinary empirical beliefs and, on the behavioral side, about reasons for action. Justification for religious beliefs, religious faith, and religious conduct seems to many people to be even more difficult to attain given religious diversity and disagreements between and within religions. The paper explores rational disagreements of many kinds and concludes with an assessment of how, given what we learn from examining them, much objectivity can be plausibly claimed in normative matters.

"Primate precursors to moral behavior", Sarah F. Brosnan

Moral behavior and concern for others are sometimes argued to set humans apart from other species, yet other species share some of these behaviors. Studying them helps us to understand the evolution of our own moral behavior, including when these characteristics may have emerged and the social and environmental variables which may have been critical in selecting for them. This large topic entails (at least) three components. I first consider behaviors which contribute to social regularity, or the organized functioning of the social system, an important function of any system of moral behavior. This may include reciprocity, responses to inequality, prosocial behavior, respect for possession, and third party interventions. The vast majority of research to date relates to these behaviors. I second consider mechanisms which relate to moral behavior, including moral emotions and empathy. I end with a consideration of moral judgment, which likely comes closest to the common conception of moral behavior. Finally, I emphasize that such studies need not demonstrate systems of morality or moral judgment that are the same as those of humans; instead the focus is on precursor behavior that led to the evolution of our own system of morality, and thus help us to better understand human moral behavior.

"Conscience and the Moral Epistemology of Divine Command Theory", John Hare

This paper will examine the notion of conscience, defending an account of this notion to be found in various texts of Kant. An account of moral epistemology does well to start with a theory of the conscience, since this has roughly the same role as the senses in non-moral epistemology. Kant's account requires the distinction between a regulative principle and a constitutive principle, where a regulative principle is an idea required to make sense of some region of our thought, but it makes no existence claim. In this paper, I will look at a regulative use of the idea of God within the practical use of reason, where Kant says that when we think of duty, and in particular of failing to do our duty, we think of ourselves as violating the commands of a divine being and of being judged by such a being. Saying this does not yet commit Kant to saying that such a being exists. I will make use of some empirical data to suggest that there is indeed a pervasive human tendency to associate morality with religion in this sort of way and, space permitting, I will bring in some material about how the picture of a non-human being/ beings to whom we are accountable helps with the evolutionary stability of moral norms. Kant then ties this regulative use of the idea of God to a constitutive use, by appealing to the role of belief in providence as required for the rational stability of morality. Thinking of conscience this way means that where there is conflict between alleged divine commands and practical reason, practical reason prevails. This ranking does not, however, mean that conscience leaves the domain of revelation, and there are two reasons for this. First, Kant holds to an account of general revelation, which he calls 'the revelation to reason.' And second, conscience carries with it (if Kant is right) this picture of a non-human being/ beings to whom we are accountable, and this picture helps us understand the phenomenology of conscience, in terms of its clarity, familiarity, persistence, sense of conviction, sense of condemnation, but nonetheless sense of our being objects of love.

"Not by Reason Alone: The Priority of Sanctity over Dignity", Timothy P. Jackson

Often, perhaps usually, one worries about a conflict between religious and non-religious sources of moral belief because the religious sources are acting up or acting out. God commands Abraham to make a burnt offering of his innocent son Isaac. The Inquisition burns eccentrics and free thinkers as witches or heretics. Jihadist Muslims make an inferno of the World Trade Center so they can sleep with virgins in heaven. And so on. In cases like these, religion is not just a conversation-stopper, to use Richard Rorty's phrase, it is a conflagration-starter. Thus, it seems, cool-headed reason must rein in hot-headed faith to preserve public peace, even at the expense of privatizing or muzzling conscience. Rational appeals to human rights, personal dignity, general utility and the like must rule the day, and these will go hand-in-hand with secular definitions of value and scientific canons of evidence. Justice and respect for autonomy must govern politics in particular; otherwise, the argument runs, we lapse into paternalism and/or belligerence.

This familiar story has some credibility - religion has blood on its hands - but I want, nevertheless, to turn the tables in this paper and to problematize reason. I do this not as an enemy of science or an exponent of superstition, nor as a foe of democracy or a fan of theocracy. I write, rather, as a Kierkegaardian theologian concerned to point up the limits of objectivity alone and to highlight how key modern conceptions of ?reason? actually threaten science and democracy. I divide my remarks into three sections. In Part I, I remind us of some basic facts about modern history. In Part II, I note how developments in physics and biology have overturned common conceptions of scientific rationality as materialist and mechanistic. In Part III, I explain the need to attend to human sanctity as prior to personal dignity. Charity, I suggest, is the tie that binds here.

To the extent that religion helps us to (re-)discover the sacred, it is a crucial source of moral insight and an ally of science and democracy, properly understood. To the extent that science and democracy deny the sacred, they make morality impossible and thus are foes of religion, properly understood. Yes, there can be real conflict here, though this is not inevitable.

"Darwinian Normative Skepticism", Dustin Locke

Several authors have recently mounted distinctly Darwinian arguments for normative skepticism. Nevertheless, the basic Darwinian challenge to our normative judgments remains unclear. I suggest that the Darwinian challenge concerns the explanation of what I call our 'normative dispositions'?that is, our dispositions to judge things to be good, bad, right, wrong, etc. The Darwinian account of our normative dispositions seems to reveal that those dispositions are in no part explained by facts that support what we take to be the normative truth. This alone, I argue, provides us with a defeater for our normative judgments. Against this claim, some authors have suggested that we can be confident in our normative judgments because we can see that evolutionary forces have pushed us towards the normative truth. I argue that these responses implicitly rely on an unacceptable bootstrapping argument. I argue that the only way to respond to the Darwinian challenge is directly: we must either argue against the Darwinian account of our normative dispositions, or else argue that the Darwinian account reveals those dispositions to be explained by facts that support what we take to be the normative truth. This turns out to be possible, but it might come at the price of accepting an implausible metanormative theory.

"Theologies of Hell and Epistemological Conflict", Charles Mathewes

My paper addresses the second facet of our conference topic, namely, what should one do when the evidence of regular moral intuitions or human conscience conflicts with the evidence of one's religious sources? What is the reasonable thing to believe in such a circumstance? Does the religious evidence automatically get trumped by the non-religious evidence of moral intuition, or vice-versa, or does something else altogether happen? This has been an enormously rich area for theological inquiry for millennia, not only in Christianity though obviously quite clearly there.

One example of such a conflict, for Christians, is in the problem of Hell--namely, the coherence of a perfectly good God and the endlessly evil torments of Hell. How can a good God passively accept, or actively ordain, the endless suffering of the damned in Hell? Many people today, believers and non-believers alike, wonder how to hold these two convictions at the same time.

It's worth noting that this conflict seems historically local to the past few centuries. That is to say, in previous centuries many people seem to have gone through their lives under the intellectual canopy of a metaphysical schema that would seem relevantly to provoke the experience of felt tension between these two claims, but yet those people did not seem to experience that tension.

It's also worth noting that the conflict seems again to be going away, as increasing numbers of Christians today accept, in a crass kind of universalism, that a perfectly good God would not send anyone to endless torment in Hell. This common response rather straightforwardly recoils from the conflict into rejecting Hell as having any population.

More sophisticated forms of theological reasoning, however, have begun to wonder whether believers ought to accept the conflict's self-presentation at face value; they challenge, that is, the presumption that we need to construe the two propositions in such a way as to make a choice between them. Thus there is a profound and more theologically organic kind of universalism that roots its vision of the universal salvation of all not immediately in the unpalatableness of the doctrine of a populated Hell, but rather in the properly dogmatic-theological conviction of a God whose will (a) is exhaustively represented in the saving mission of Christ and (b) cannot ultimately be contravened. Not least through serious engagement with Scripture, theologians both Protestant (Karl Barth) and Roman Catholic (Hans Urs von Balthasar) have argued for views of roughly this sort. That would be one theologically respectable way to alleviate the tension between the claims.

Another would be to suggest, as this paper will, that at least sometimes the experience of felt conflict is due to contingent mistaken assumptions modern Christian believers have accepted unquestioningly, and that a better understanding of Christian eschatology can alleviate the problem. That is to say, the tension so many Christians feel about these propositions may be due, at least in part, to the particular moral and theological content we pour into the two propositions, content that is distinctively modern in shape and quality; further, I will suggest that, were we to replace that new content with older ones, we may find the tension to be rather significantly relieved.

"Toward God's Own Ethics", Mark C. Murphy

Humans have a variety of moral beliefs that they are inclined upon reflection to endorse. Interestingly, some of these beliefs are not about how they and their fellow humans ought to act, morally speaking, but about how non-human rational beings ought to act, morally speaking; and even more interestingly, some of these moral beliefs are about divine action. Indeed, these moral beliefs about divine action have been used to challenge religious belief: Because, it is argued, the actions of any being worthy of the title 'God' would act in accordance with certain standards of moral assessment, and we have good reason to believe that no being worthy of the title 'God's has acted in accordance with those standards, then we have good reason to believe that no being worthy of the title 'God' exists. This is of course the form of the problem of evil, but it is also the form of other arguments against God's existence, for example, the argument that there being no best world entails that God does not exist.

The primary aim of this paper is to bring out just how amazing are the claims that we have much of a grip on the ethics of divine action and that the grip that we have of that ethics is of the same sort that we have on the ethics of human action. I will then take some preliminary steps toward answering the question 'How can we think clearly about God's own ethics?' Here my emphasis will be on how much we will have to rely on paradigmatically religious belief, in particular beliefs about how God has acted on and in the world, to understand how to characterize God's perfect goodness.

"Disagreeing With Psychopaths", Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

Most studies of moral disagreement focus on disagreements due to culture and find that certain moral issues, such as rape and murder, engender very little disagreement worldwide. In contrast, psychopaths seem to see nothing wrong with these acts that almost everyone else judges very harshly, and their disagreement cannot be traced to any cultural source. Hence, psychopaths raise new issues for moral epistemology. What kinds of arguments could we give them to agree with us? Can we give them any good reason to believe in morality? If not, how can we be adequately justified in believing what we do about these "obvious" moral wrongs? This paper will address these questions by, first, surveying the empirical literature on moral beliefs by psychopaths (including some studies we have done ourselves), and then exploring the implications for moral epistemology. In particular, I will argue that the case of psychopathy supports the limited contrastivist moral skepticism that I have defended elsewhere.

"Religion is more than Belief: What Evolutionary Theories of Religion Tell Us about Religious Commitments", Richard Sosis and Jordan Kiper

Although various scholars contend that evolutionary accounts of religion challenge the warrant for religious commitments and the veracity of religious beliefs, we argue otherwise. Evolutionary science has revealed many of the proximate mechanisms involved in producing religious beliefs and behaviors, but these mechanisms alone do not speak to the truth or falsity of religion. What evolutionary science does inform us is that because selective pressures have shaped religious expressions by uniting behavioral, emotional, cognitive, and developmental capacities in the human lineage, religion is a cultural institution that constitutes more than a set of supernatural propositions. Here we examine theories and evidence for the evolution of religion which suggest that religion is a complex system that adaptively responds to socio-ecological conditions. Evolutionary theories show that religious commitments are not achieved through rational contemplation of explicit propositions, but rather emerge through ritual participation and the interaction of several systemic elements. These theories also show that while the presence of believers is necessary for religious systems to maintain stability, beliefs in supernatural propositions do not need to be, and in fact are not, universal within religious communities. Rather, the stabilization of religious systems requires the expression of religious commitments through ritual, regardless of actual belief in supernatural propositions.

"The Existence of God as a Normative Question", Sharon Street

Our normative beliefs, and our capacity for normative thought more generally, have their origins in causal processes, including the process of evolution by natural selection. I?ve argued elsewhere that this presents realists about normativity with a problem, namely that there is no reason to think that these causal processes would have shaped us to be reliable with respect to independent normative truths of the kind realists posit. If we make the realist assumption that there are robustly attitude-independent truths about how to live, then we are forced to conclude that in all likelihood we are hopeless at recognizing these truths?a skeptical conclusion so implausible, I argue, that it forces us to reject realism. One might, however, wonder about the possibility of appealing to the existence of God to answer naturalistically motivated worries about our reliability with respect to independent normative truths. In this paper, I consider this response and argue that it fails. I examine the deep parallels between secular normative realism, on the one hand, and theism, on the other?that is, between the thesis that there are robustly independent normative truths, and the thesis that there is a perfectly good, omniscient and omnipotent being. I then try to show why theism falls victim to a skeptical problem that is in many ways analogous to the skeptical problem that confronts normative realism. Both theses are best understood as normative claims, I argue, and both must be rejected by all of us on normative grounds.

"Moral Disagreement among Philosophers", Ralph Wedgwood

This essay focuses on a special case of moral disagreement - disagreement among philosophers. First, the distinctive character of this sort of disagreement is explored: (i) the parties to such disagreements are typically reasonably rational, and reasonably well informed about the non-moral facts; (ii) at least within each society, and within each time period in the history of philosophy, there is considerable overlap between the moral intuitions of these moral philosophers; (iii) nonetheless, there is still significant divergence both (a) within these philosophers' intuitions, and also (b) within their judgments of overall theoretical plausibility; and these differences seem to lie behind the moral disagreement that exists among philosophers - since this disagreement is largely confined (a) to the more peripheral moral questions (where the philosophers concerned have different intuitions) and (b) to the most abstractly general ultimate principles (where we lack direct intuitions and must rely on more abstract judgments of overall theoretical plausibility instead).

After analysing this sort of disagreement, this essay turns to inquire whether this sort of disagreement can be reconciled with a non-sceptical form of realism about moral truth. It is argued (against Brian Leiter and others) that such disagreement can be reconciled with realism in this way.

The final topic for investigation is whether the prevalence of this sort of disagreement casts doubt on the status of moral philosophy as a rationally organized academic discipline. Moral philosophy is compared and contrasted with a number of other academic disciplines where long-standing debates and disagreements persist for decades - such as economics, history, theology, and other parts of philosophy besides moral philosophy. It is argued that we should distinguish between the small questions and the larger questions of philosophy: moral philosophy can make progress on the small questions in spite of (and in part even because of) this disagreement; but progress on the larger questions of ethics seems much less likely. On the larger questions, it does indeed make sense for each individual philosopher to hold tentative beliefs of his or her own; but no philosopher should expect to persuade the whole philosophical profession of the correctness of those beliefs. It is explained why this gives philosophy - and perhaps especially moral philosophy - a special position among academic disciplines and forms of rational inquiry.