You say that European philosophers with their dark views of humanity devoid of a transcendent order to keep them in check display more courage than their contemporaries who don’t emphasize that view of things. Maybe, who knows? But a realistic, existentialist view of humanity need not fall into the nervous “fear and trembling” that is displayed by those who need the big “parent in the sky” to guide and reassure them. Many existentialists who were atheistic did not fall into that kind of cowardly despair.
In his latest book for the non-scientific layman, Leonard Mlodinow (See* below) recounts a joke in his discussion of the stereo-typing and categorization of people. As Mlodinow tells it, three gentlemen (a white Catholic, a white Jew, and a poor black man) die and head for the gate of heaven where the Lord will question them to determine their qualifications for entry.
So I will go out on the limb and declare that torturing people in attempts to extract crucial information is not a morally justifiable act. It might turn out to be a prudent or utilitarian act, one that yields some desirable result. But in the end, the torturer (if he/she is honest) might have to admit to gaining a desirable result through immoral means.
In a collection of papers titled Objectivity, Relativism & Truth , specifically in “Solidarity or Objectivity,” (p. 21) and ““Science as Solidarity,” (p.35) Richard Rorty claims (among other things) that his brand of pragmatism is not a relativistic philosophy and that a pragmatist has good reason for preferring the scientific approach to other philosophies.
Tolstoy’s short story — “How much land does a man need?” — is a religious-morality tale which can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but which seems primarily concerned with the destructive consequences of human ambition.
Simon Wiesenthal, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, dedicated his life to documenting the crimes of the Holocaust and to hunting down the perpetrators still at large. “When history looks back,” Wiesenthal explained, “I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it.” His work stands as a reminder and a warning for future generations.
But my philosophy correspondent, Pablo, was not impressed. “That immoral!” he declared.
When we try to apply such concepts as ‘perfection’ and “highest good’ to the human world, we find reason for concluding that they really do not apply.
To argue, as Michael Shermer does, that the naturalistic fallacy is merely a pious pronouncement of philosophers ignorant of scientific solutions betrays a fundamental ignorance of the issues and problems with which ethical philosophers have long dealt. And to say, as Shermer and Sam Harris do, that our inability to find a scientific solution to a tough moral problem leaves us without any possibility of resolving the issue seems to me a bit of sophistry. It betrays a fundamental ignorance of moral dilemmas and assumes falsely that the only possible solution to a moral problem is a scientific one.
Because it is not plausible that an alien society would discover Kant’s moral law, it is not tenable that such a culture would appeal to them. Should that marvelous thing really turn out to be the case, I would be stunned beyond anything words could express!
The notion that there’s a “correct point of view (regarding morality) independent of all critters” strikes me as a hangover from the idea that God is the ground for moral good and the idea of moral knowledge as that which would be manifested in God’s eye-view of the Truth. This is that age-old hunger for a transcendent basis for morality. There are many problems with this perspective.