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2012 (34) Heft 1

Symposium on Philip Kitcher, The Ethical Project


Abstracts | Inhalt

Philip Kitcher
Précis of The Ethical Project

Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust,
Die eine will sich von den andern trennen:
Die eine hält in derber Liebeslust
Sich an die Welt mit klammernden Organen;
Die andre hebt gewaltsam sich vom Dust
Zu den Gefilden hoher Ahnen. (Goethe, Faust I)

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C. Mantzavinos
The Ethical Project. A Dialogue

Abstract: In this dialogue the position of Pragmatic Naturalism as defended in Philip Kitcher’s The Ethical Project is presented and criticized. The approach is developed dialectically by the two interlocutors and a series of critical points are debated. The dialogical form is intended to honor the main objective in The Ethical Project: to establish an ongoing conversation on ways to improve moral conceptions and processes, which grow naturally out of the very conditions of human life.

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Michael Baurmann
The Golden Age of the Campfire: Should We Take Our Ancestors Seriously?

Abstract: In his book The Ethical Project Philip Kitcher presents an ‘analytical history’ of the development of human ethical practice. According to this history the first ethical norms were launched in the ancient world of the hunters and gatherers and their initial function was to remedy altruism failures. Kitcher wants to show that the emergence of ethical norms can in this case and in general be explained without referring to supernatural causes or philosophical revelation. Furthermore, he claims that the first manifestation of the ethical project still serves as an ideal. In my comment I will contest the plausibility of Kitcher’s analytical history and question whether the presumed characteristics of ethics in prehistoric times could still be binding for us today.

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Cailin O'Connor / Nathan Fulton / Elliott Wagner / P. Kyle Stanford
Deus Ex Machina: A Cautionary Tale for Naturalists

Abstract: In this paper we critically examine and seek to extend Philip Kitcher’s Ethical Project to weave together a distinctive naturalistic conception of how ethics came to occupy the place it does in our lives and how the existing ethical project should be revised and extended into the future. Although we endorse his insight that ethical progress is better conceived of as the improvement of an existing state than an incremental approach towards a fixed endpoint, we nonetheless go on to argue that the metaethical apparatus Kitcher constructs around this creative metaethical proposal simply cannot do the work that he demands of it. The prospect of fundamental conflict between different functions of the ethical project requires Kitcher to appeal to a particular normative stance in order to judge specific changes in the ethical project to be genuinely progressive, and we argue that the virtues of continuity and coherence to which he appeals can only specify rather than justify the normative stance he favors. We conclude by suggesting an alternative approach for ethical naturalists that seems to us ultimately more promising than Kitcher’s own.

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Matthew Braddock / Alex Rosenberg
Reconstruction in Moral Philosophy?

Abstract: We raise three issues for Kitcher’s Ethical Project: First, we argue that the genealogy of morals starts well before the advent of altruism-failures and the need to remedy them, which Kitcher dates at about 50K years ago. Second, we challenge the likelihood of long term moral progress of the sort Kitcher requires to establish objectivity while circumventing Hume’s challenge to avoid trying to derive normative conclusions from positive ones—‘ought’ from ‘is’. Third, we sketch ways in which Kitcher’s metaethical opponents could respond to his arguments against them.

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Allen Buchanan
The Open-ended Normativity of the Ethical

Abstract: In The Ethical Project, Kitcher has three main aim: (1) to provide a naturalistic explanation of the rise of morality and of its subsequent development, (2) to supply an account of moral progress that explains progressive developments that have occurred so far and shows how further progress is possible, and (3) to propose a further progressive development—the emergence of a cosmopolitan morality—and make the case that it is a natural extension of the ethical project. I argue that Kitcher does not succeed in achieving any of these aims and that he cannot do so given the meager resources of his explanatory model. The chief difficulty is that Kitcher equivocates in his characterization of the original (and still supposedly primary) function of ethics. Although he begins by characterizing it as (a) remedying altruism failures in order to avoid their social costs, he sometimes characterizes it instead as (b) remedying altruism failures simpliciter. Kitcher does not explain how a practice whose original function was (a) developed into one whose function is (b). Further, it appears that he cannot do so without significantly enriching his explanatory model to include a more robust account of how humans came to have the capacity to reflect on and revise norms.

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Kim Sterelny
Morality’s Dark Past

Abstract: Philip Kitcher’s The Ethical Project tries to vindicates ethics through an analysis of its evolutionary and cultural history, a history which in turn, he thinks, supports a particular conception of the role of moral thinking and normative practices in human social life. As Kitcher sees it, that role could hardly be more central: most of what makes human life human, and preferable to the fraught and impoverished societies of the great apes, depends on moral cognition. From this view of the role of the ethical project as a social technology, Kitcher derives an account of moral progress and even moral truth; a normative analogue of the idea that truth is the convergence of rational enquiry. To Kitcher’s history, I present an anti-history. Most of what is good about human social life depends on the expansion of our social emotions, not on our capacities to articulate and internalise explicit norms. Indeed, since the Holocene and the origins of complex society, normative thought and normative institutions have been more prominent as tools of exploitation and oppression than as mechanisms of a social peace that balances individual desire with collective co-operation. I argue that the vindication project fails in its own terms: even given Kitcher’s distinctive pragmatic concept of vindication, history debunks rather than vindicates moral cognition.

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Christine Clavien
Kitcher’s Revolutionary Reasoning Inversion in Ethics

Abstract: This paper examines three specific issues raised by The Ethical Project. First, I discuss the varieties of altruism and spell out the differences between the definitions proposed by Kitcher and the ways altruism is usually conceived in biology, philosophy, psychology, and economics literature. Second, with the example of Kitcher’s account, I take a critical look at evolutionary stories of the emergence of human ethical practices. Third, I point to the revolutionary implications of the Darwinian methodology when it is thoughtfully applied to ethics.

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Ken Binmore
Kitcher on Natural Morality

Abstract: This commentary on Philip Kitcher’s Ethical Project compares his theory of the evolution of morality with my less ambitious theory of the evolution of fairness norms that seeks to flesh out John Mackie’s insight that one should use game theory as a framework within which to assess anthropological data. It lays particular stress on the importance of the folk theorem of repeated game theory, which provides a template for the set of stable social contracts that were available to ancestral hunter-gatherer communities. It continues by drawing attention to the relevance of Harsanyi’s theory of empathetic preferences in structuring the fairness criteria that evolved as one response to the equilibrium selection problem that the folk theorem demonstrates is endemic in our species.

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William Rottschaefer
The Moral Realism of Pragmatic Naturalism

Abstract: In his The Ethical Project, Philip Kitcher offers a pragmatic naturalistic account of moral progress, rejecting a moral realist one. I suggest a moral realist account of moral progress that embraces Kitcher’s pragmatic naturalism and calls on moral realism to show how the pragmatic account is successful. To do so I invoke a hypothesis about moral affordances and make use of a cognitive account of emotions.

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Zed Adams
Genealogies of Ethics

Abstract: There have been many genealogies of ethics. Philip Kitcher’s The Ethical Project stands apart in its ability to incorporate the insights of earlier genealogies while avoiding their oversights and mistakes. In this essay, I compare and contrast Kitcher’s genealogy of ethics with two contemporary alternatives, those offered by Frans de Waal and Richard Joyce. Comparing Kitcher’s genealogy with these alternatives makes it easy to highlight his most useful contribution to our understanding of the origin of ethics: the idea of ethics as a social technology. I conclude by identifying an oversight of Kitcher’s own genealogy, a significant way in which the function of ethics-as-a-technology has been transformed from its origin to today.

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Philip Kitcher
Afterthoughts. Reply to Comments

Abstract: I attempt to respond to the many questions and objections raised by the commentaries. The responses are grouped by themes, rather than focusing on the essays in sequence. So there are sections on worries about my analytical history, concerns about my meta-ethical perspective, doubts about my normative stance—and complaints about my perpetration of a ‘naturalistic fallacy’.

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