[2:1] The following is a list of five historically significant issues that need to be addressed when attempting to use the scientific method for an empirical and rational determination of the metaphysical nature of morality. 

[2:2] In summary the issues are: 1) Hume’s is-ought problem, 2) Kant’s noumenal and phenomenal realm, 3) Mill’s proof of means to ends vs ends, 4) Moore’s naturalistic fallacy, and 5) Dawkins memetic natural selection. 

[2:3] This section briefly presents the issues, then the next section will present the primary and secondary qualities distinction, then there will be the section on determinism and free will. After both of these sections are completed, establishing holistic dualism, it will then be shown how holistic dualism is able to successfully address each of the five historic issues.

A. David Hume (1711 – 1776) “is-ought problem”

[2:4] David Hume, in his Treatise of Human Nature, 1739, brought attention to the issue of what can and cannot be determined by empirical evidence. Hume’s argument states that from descriptive statements of fact, it is impossible to prove or derive any prescriptive statements of “ought.”

[2:5] This was then labeled the “is-ought problem” and sometimes also referred to as “Hume’s Guillotine.” 

B. Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) “noumenal and phenomenal realms”

[2:6] Immanuel Kant, in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 1785, also argued that there were limits to the types of knowledge that can be provided by empirical evidence. If knowledge of moral principles can only be based on a pure a priori metaphysics, i.e., pure rationality independent of empirical observations, then it follows that empirical knowledge is of no help in the determination of moral principles.

[2:7] Kant made the distinction between the intelligible—the noumenal world of freedom, and the sensory—the phenomenal world that is wholly determined. Kant argued that although the creation of moral principles is an exercise of rational freedom—the noumenal, it was still useful and permissible to consider those moral principles as empirical determined laws of nature—the phenomenal.,

C. John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) “means to ends vs ends”

[2:8] John Stuart Mill, in Utilitarianism, 1861, pointed out that “means to ends” can be proven empirically but that “ultimate ends,” are ends in and of themselves, and therefore cannot be proven empirically, as they are not means.

D. G. E. Moore (1873 – 1958) “naturalistic fallacy”

[2:9] G. E. Moore, in his book Principia Ethica, 1903, on a related but distinct point, argued that morality, with regard to the teleological, the end or “good,” could not be determined or defined by appealing to one or more natural properties. Moore held that the “good” was in fact indefinable, like the experience of the color yellow, and therefore, if someone were to make a claim about ethics by appealing to one or more natural properties, such as pleasure or preference, and if they were then to claim that the natural properties were entirely the same as goodness, then it would follow that they would be committing the naturalistic fallacy.,

E. Richard Dawkins (1941 – Present) “memes”

[2:10] Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” (sounds like “gene”) to refer to the cognitive or nonphysical process of natural selection. Biological evolution through the process of natural selection results in the transference of physical traits, such as the “color” of a person’s hair, eyes, or skin, and is controlled by genes. Mental evolution through the process of natural selection results in the social transference of mental traits such as moral principles and traditions and is controlled by memes.

[2:11] Since the entire cosmos, and biological universe has no purpose or end “in mind,” then it follows that moral principles also have no purposes or ends independent of minds. 

[2:12] However, moral principles do in fact have purposes, or ends, and they are therefore mind dependent. From this point of view, the existence of moral principles is solely because morality has been naturally selected in a similar manner as the physical process of the passing on of genetic traits by reproduction. However, in the case of morality, instead of physical genes being used to transfer physical traits, cognitive experiences and worldviews are transferred from one generation to the next in the form of cognitive cultural transmission of memes. 

[2:13] Since, from this perspective, the origin of moral principles is the result of cognitive beings learning or being imprinted with cognitive memes, with their accompanying purposes and ends, and since it follows that those experiences are in fact real experiences and therefore do exist cognitively, and since all that descriptively exists is the result of evolution, then it follows that the origin of moral principles has come about through the process of evolution or more specifically natural selection. 

SUMMARY: Historical Moral Issues

[2:14] Five considerations that must be addressed when dealing with the issue of subjective moral purposes and ends are: Hume’s is-ought fallacy, Kant’s recognition that moral purposes must be based on a pure a priori metaphysics, Mill’s analysis that ultimate ends cannot be empirically proven, Moore’s naturalistic fallacy, and Dawkins’ explanation of memetic natural selection.


[3:1] A scientific approach as to how principles of morality can have purposes and ends can be at least partially explained by making the distinction between primary qualities and secondary qualities, a dualistic reductive framework.

[3:2] Primary qualities are defined as those qualities that exist independently of minds, and secondary qualities are defined as those qualities that exist only because there is a mind that experiences them. In other words, primary qualities are mind independent and exist whether or not minds exist, and secondary qualities are mind dependent and exist only in the experiencing of the mind.

[3:3] The question with regard to the nature of moral principles is whether or not moral principles are primary qualities—independent of the mind, or secondary qualities—an experience dependent on the mind.

[3:4] Historically scientists and philosophers have differed as to the conclusion of whether or not moral principles are primary or secondary qualities. Plato, for example believed that morality, or the “Good” was a form that existed independently of minds and therefore as a primary quality. Most modern and contemporary scientists and philosophers hold to the position that morality is a cognitive activity that does not exist independently of cognition and therefore is a secondary quality. 

[3:5] A closer look as to what can be known about these dualistic qualities and the nature of their reality follows.

A. Color

1. Naïve realist

[3:6] With regard to materialism, a “naïve realist” is a person who believes that the mental experience of color or the “experiential quality of green” (secondary qualities) is actually part of the object being perceived, (primary qualities), i.e. committing a form of the naturalistic fallacy as presented by G. E. Moore.

[3:7] Grass, for example, is not physically green as the mind experiences greenness, rather grass is “colorless” in that the grass only absorbs and reflects particular wavelengths of light that ultimately stimulates the brain that causes trichromatic beings, for example, to have the mental experience of “green.” The physical causation of “green” is radically different from the cognitive experience of “green.” 

[3:8] Grass may be reflecting 5,300 angstroms of light that the perceiver’s eye then translates into electrical impulses, that stimulate certain parts of the brain, which then causes the perceiver to experience the quality of green, but clearly that subjective cognitive experience is not part of the object. In fact the experience of green has very little physical resemblance, if any at all to 5,300 angstroms of light. There is no quality of green in the world, rather green is a subjective experience in the mind and is therefore indefinable by facts or even by language. The green experience is a real experience, but it would be an error to assume that green exists in the physical world independent of experience. In other words, without experiencers the experience of green does not exist.

[3:9] Likewise moral principles are real experiences but it would also be an error to assume that morality exists in the physical world independent of experience. If morality is a pure cognitive experience, and if there were no experiencers to experience morality, then morality would not exist. In other words, morality is mind dependent.

[3:10] The color green is an indefinable experience just as moral feelings are also indefinable experiences. Green is indefinable in that a person can point to grass and say: “this is what I mean by green,” realizing that language is distinct from the experience. Language is not a “snapshot” or “picture” of a subjective experience, rather language is more like a pointing towards something to be subjectively observed or a reference to such a subjective experience and therefore the experience of green or the experience of the feelings of morality is also indefinable.

2. Sophisticated realists

[3:11] The “sophisticated realist” are those individuals who recognize that there is an external reality—realists, yet are also able to understand the mental distinction between sense experience caused by sense data—secondary qualities, and the causation of sense data—primary qualities. 

[3:12] As mentioned above, the naïve realist is a person who holds to the belief that cognitive experiences—(secondary qualities that are mind dependent), are in fact part of the nature of the object—(primary qualities that are independent of minds). Such naivety is exemplified by beliefs such as that the grass is literally “green” just as the person subjectively experiences it. 

[3:13] Primary qualities are the causation of the sense data itself. Since primary qualities are independent of minds, it follows that primary qualities would continue to exist, even if there were no minds. These are the qualities that would be perfectly consistent with noncognitive evolution and noncognitive natural selection. 

[3:14] Secondary qualities are sense-data perceptions or subjective cognitive experiences. It follows that if secondary qualities are defined as subjective cognitive experiences, and if these subjective cognitive experiences are dependent on minds that experience them, then without minds there would be no secondary qualities. Secondary qualities are of course real, but their reality is a subjective reality, and whatever the experiences may be, they only exist when they are being experienced by an experiencer, i.e., they are mind dependent. The nature of morality appears to be of this latter category, i.e., secondary qualities.

[3:15] However, as will be shown later, just because an experience is subjective, it does not follow that the experience is necessarily relative. Rather, experiential beings seem to have more intersubjective agreements than disagreements with regard to their subjective cognitive experiences. 

[3:16] It will also be shown, that with regard to moral principles—Principlism, that there are more intersubjective agreements on the broad and general principles of autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice, than disagreements. 


[3:18] Please take: E&M Quiz 3



© 2015 Jeffrey W. Bulger. All rights reserved.

built by Jeffrey W. Bulger