However, naturalism is not always narrowly scientistic. There are versions of naturalism that repudiate supernaturalism and various types of a priori theorizing without exclusively championing the natural sciences. The debate about naturalism ranges across many areas of philosophy, including metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and philosophy of mind, just to mention areas where it is especially prominent.
There are two basic dimensions in which the debate takes place. One of them concerns to put it simply what there is, and the other concerns methods of acquiring belief and knowledge. With respect to the first, the naturalist maintains that all of what there is belongs to the natural world.
Obviously, a great deal turns on how nature is understood. But the key point is that an accurate, adequate conception of the world does not according to the naturalist include reference to supernatural entities or agencies. According to the naturalist, there are no Platonic forms, Cartesian mental substances, Kantian noumena , or any other agents, powers, or entities that do not in some broad sense belong to nature. As a very loose characterization, it may suffice to say that nature is the order of things accessible to us through observation and the methods of the empirical sciences.
If some other method, such as a priori theorizing, is needed to have access to the alleged entity or to the truth in question, then it is not a real entity or a genuine truth. According to the naturalist, there is only the natural order.
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If something is postulated or claimed to exist, but is not described in the vocabulary that describes natural phenomena, and not studied by the inquiries that study natural phenomena, it is not something we should recognize as real. Unsurprisingly, the success of the sciences has been one of the main motivations for thinkers to embrace naturalism. The sciences have proved to be powerful tools for making the world intelligible. They seem to have such a strong claim to yield genuine knowledge that it is widely thought that whatever there is, is a proper object of science.
That does not require that in embracing naturalism one also embrace determinism, physicalism, and reductionism. However, it is true that many advocates of some or all of those are also very often naturalists. While those specific theses about the structure or character of the world are not essential features of naturalism, many who endorse naturalism believe that over time scientific progress will make the case for physicalism, in particular.
Even if, for example, attempts to provide fully reductive accounts of mental phenomena, certain biological phenomena, and values do not succeed, that would not be an insurmountable impediment to physicalism; or, at least that is the view of some defenders of naturalism. There is only the physical natural order, even if there are various constituents and aspects of it that are to be described in their own non-reducible vocabularies.
Naturalism could be said to involve a denial that there is any distinctively metaphysical area of inquiry. Thus, even if one's preferred interpretation of naturalism is not reductionist or even physicalist in a non-reductionist form , naturalism is a conception of reality as homogeneous in the sense that there is one natural order that comprises all of reality. There are no objects or properties that can only be identified or comprehended by metaphysical theorizing or non-empirical understanding. What exactly is the true theory of that single natural order may remain open to dispute.
The key points are that our conception of reality need include nothing that is exclusively accessible to a priori theorizing, or to "first philosophy," and there is only one natural order. For naturalistic epistemology , the main claim is roughly the following: the acquisition of belief and knowledge is a broadly causal process within the natural order, and a priori norms, principles, and methods are not essential to the acquisition or justification of beliefs and knowledge.
Compare David Hume and Descartes, for example. Hume explains our acceptance of beliefs on the basis of habits of association—causal tendencies that we can reflectively articulate into rules of epistemic practice. There are processes of belief acquisition and acceptance, but they are not underwritten by principles formulated a priori, nor are they structured by such principles. Epistemology is part of the overall science of human nature. It is not a project that is prior to or independent of the empirical sciences.
There are norms of belief acceptance and of inquiry, but they are derived from consideration of experience and practice. Here too, there is also an important point of contrast with Kant and also with the Platonic theory of knowledge as recollection of innate ideas, as well as with Descartes. Descartes held that the norms and method of belief acceptance must be independent of experience, and must have their grounds in reason alone. Otherwise, they would be vulnerable to exactly the sorts of skeptical objections that led to the search for epistemic principles in the first place.
Even if one does not defend rationalism or a conception of the synthetic a priori, one might still think as most philosophers have that there are certain distinctively philosophical epistemological issues that can be dealt with only by distinctively philosophical that is, a priori methods. Hume and Descartes' positions are rather like bookends, and there are many other, less "pure" or radical positions, in between theirs.
But they are excellent examples of a causal-empirical approach on the one hand and a rationalist-a priori normative approach on the other. There is a vast contemporary literature on the extent to which epistemology can be naturalized and what a naturalized epistemology would or should look like. At the core of the controversy is whether we need a philosophical theory in order to understand knowledge or epistemic justification, or is the so-called "problem of knowledge" really just another broadly empirical problem. If it is, then perhaps it can be addressed by the methods of the sciences psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, cognitive science, etc.
This is not just the same as the debate between rationalists and empiricists, though it is related to it. It is open to an empiricist to argue that there are analytic truths that are known just by consideration of their meanings, and that this knowledge is not explicable in exclusively naturalistic terms. Similarly, if there are conceptual truths or logical truths that are not explicated in naturalistic terms, then that could be an important part of an empiricism that is not also a variant of naturalism.
Still, there are some affinities between empiricism and naturalism that make them plausible candidates for having close relations. Most epistemological theories are not as purely rationalistic as Descartes'. Also, though Kant's influence has been enormous, there are few contemporary theorists who accept the conception of synthetic a priori knowledge on the basis of Kant's transcendental idealism. Nonetheless, many epistemologists argue that fundamental issues concerning skepticism and the nature of epistemic justification cannot be successfully handled by the resources of naturalism.
Or, they argue that they can only be handled in a question begging way by those resources. On the other hand, naturalists insist that there is nothing for a priori epistemology to be. Unless epistemology remains fully grounded in and tethered to the practices of scientific inquiry and the results they yield, it is cut off from the only sorts of evidence and strategies of explanation that can be conclusively vindicated or confirmed.
Recent decades have seen the development of not only different versions of naturalized epistemology, but also different overall approaches to it. One of the key distinctions is between what are sometimes called "replacement" theories and theories that develop naturalistic accounts of epistemic justification instead of repudiating the traditional epistemological project. The former are attempts to abandon the normative issue of epistemic justification. They substitute for it a more fully descriptive and causal account of our beliefs.
For example, at some points in his career, Quine openly rejected the traditional project of justification at least as he construed it. He sought to fully assimilate epistemology to psychology broadly construed , making it a part of empirical science, rather than a special inquiry that might underwrite scientific knowledge claims. He held that we should abandon as hopeless the project of identifying epistemically privileged foundational beliefs and inferring other beliefs from them, via a priori rules. Moreover, there is no clean break between supposed analytic truths on the one hand and synthetic truths on the other, and there is no realm of meanings distinct from linguistic behavior and the rest of behavior that it is embedded in.
The philosophical distinction between truths of meaning and truths of fact does not reflect a genuine, explanatorily significant distinction. Like the entire project of a priori epistemology, it is a misrepresentation of what the actual problems of knowledge are. Also, while Hume had shown that there is no a priori justification of inductive inference , Quine maintained that that does not leave us with a profound skeptical difficulty.
Rather, we are to examine and adjust our inductive practices in light of what we find to be empirically effective and supported without first or ever requiring that they be justified on non-empirical grounds. There is no "first philosophy" that underwrites science. Other defenders of naturalistic epistemology, such as Alvin Goldman ; , have developed causal accounts of justified beliefs or of knowledge, but still regard the philosophical project of epistemology as a genuine project, though it is to be carried out with naturalistic resources.
We still are to speak in terms of beliefs being justified. In that respect there are versions of naturalism that continue to regard epistemology as involving normative considerations about belief and knowledge. Also, if we ascertain what is involved in beliefs being caused by reliable processes, we can deflect or defeat various general skeptical challenges.
Those can be taken seriously, but naturalism can meet them. In meeting them, we will have attained substantive conditions of justification, but without requiring that they be accessible to a cognitive agent in order to be fulfilled. The causality of justified beliefs is one thing; whether an agent can articulate grounds for his beliefs is another.twatski.com/5476-what-is-the.php
Naturalism (philosophy) - Wikipedia
Justification can be explicated in non-epistemic terms, in terms of processes that are reliably truth-conducive. The problems of epistemology admit of naturalistic solutions, but need not repudiate the problems as unwelcome and less than genuine philosophical artifice. Both the more and the less radical approaches share the central claim that the correct account of knowledge is in terms of reliable processes of belief-acquisition that are themselves explicated in empirical, and mainly causal, terms.
The true beliefs of cognitive subjects, we might say, are one type of phenomenon that occurs in the natural world. We need not leave the latter in order to explain the former. There is no stand-alone problem of epistemic justification, requiring its own distinctive vocabulary and evidential considerations. Epistemic value, we might say, can be interpreted in terms of naturalistic facts and properties. On the basis of the discussion so far, it might appear that naturalism is more or less a type of scientism, the view that only the methods of the sciences are legitimate in seeking knowledge, and that only the things recognized by the sciences as real are real.
There are indeed naturalists who hold that view, but it is not a necessary feature of naturalism. As noted at the outset, there is considerable debate over what sorts of views should be recognized as naturalistic. There are theorists who wish to identify their views and approaches as naturalistic without embracing reductionist physicalism. There are also some approaches that can plausibly be described as naturalistic that are quite self-consciously anti-scientistic. In particular, there are philosophers who have been influenced by the later work of Ludwig Wittgenstein who regard their general approach as naturalistic, though it is just as critical of scientism as it is of traditional metaphysics.
This is not to say that Wittgenstein was deliberately making a case for naturalism. Rather, because of his emphasis on the importance of looking at actual practice, the significance of the wider social context of practices, and the avoidance of a priori theorizing, his work can be seen as having features of naturalism. Like G. Moore before him, Wittgenstein argued that the refutation of skeptical hypotheses is not required in order to succeed in making knowledge claims, and that we have knowledge of the external world without first proving that such knowledge is possible.
Moreover, Wittgenstein rejected the view that there is some single, global method including the scientific method for arriving at a true account of the world, and his approach is explicitly oriented to honoring the differences between contexts. This is evident in his discussion of language games, for example. His philosophical explorations are anti-reductionist. They disavow any attempt to capture and explain everything in the terms of some overall theory within one or another special science.
He vigorously opposed the attempt to force phenomena to "fit" some preferred theory or vocabulary. Indeed, in some important ways, his work is anti-theoretical without being anti-philosophical. The same might be said of Thomas Reid  in the eighteenth century. It is also plausible to regard his views as naturalistic in important respects.
One can see this especially in contrast to Kant, for example. If it is appropriate to describe this approach as naturalistic it is because of the ways in which Wittgenstein insisted that philosophical examination should look closely at the facts and should avoid theorizing about them in ways that lead to a large scale reconceiving of them or to postulation of entities, agencies, and processes. Very often the truth is disclosed by looking carefully, rather than by discovering something "behind" or distinct from what we encounter in experience.
There is not some order of the "really real" or a transcendent order beyond what we meet with in the natural world. Yet, this does not mean that only a narrowly scientific understanding of it is a correct understanding. That sort of view itself would be an example of an overly restrictive approach that misrepresents the world and our understanding of it. In addition, Wittgenstein was especially concerned to understand normative issues such as the normativity involved in the use of concepts and in engaging in various practices without explaining them away or reducing them to something non-normative.
There are important normative issues even in contexts where we are not directly investigating questions concerning values. All sorts of practices, including various kinds of thinking and the use of language, have normative dimensions. Their normativity cannot be reduced to the occurrence of this or that event, or state, or causal process. For example, there may be no specific physical or psychological state or process that underlies or causally explains how a person is able to go on applying a concept to new cases, and to use a term in indefinitely many new situations, and to do so correctly in ways that are understood by others.
That might mean that there is an irreducible normativity involved in the use of concepts and terms. There is nothing metaphysically exotic about that. It does not indicate that there are special normative entities or properties in addition to the practices and activities in question. There just is the normative, but natural activity of speaking, understanding, and making judgments. These are altogether familiar to all of us. If we want to understand what makes for the correct use of a term, for example, we should look at the way that it is used rather than look for some other fact or entity underlying its use.
There is no special realm of meanings, or a thinking substance that grasps them, or a world of universals outside of space and time that is grasped by thought. It is noteworthy that Plato understood the forms to be not only real, but normative realities. Many approaches to meaning, to the explication of inference and thought in general, and to the acquisition of concepts that have been influenced by Wittgenstein see Wittgenstein on meaning , are naturalistic in an anti-metaphysical regard and in their close descriptive attention to the actual facts and natural and social contexts of the phenomena at issue.
Traditional, central, philosophical debates, such as those between realism and nominalism in regard to universals, are purportedly deflated by Wittgensteinian approaches. That makes it plausible to regard them as naturalistic in at least a broad sense, though there is a very wide spectrum of Wittgenstein-influenced views and of Wittgenstein interpretation. Many different "-isms" can be interpretively connected to Wittgenstein's work. Some Wittgensteinians and interpreters of Wittgenstein seem to support antirealism and nominalism.
Others present views plausibly described as realist, but in a distinctively Wittgensteinian way. The range of Wittgenstein-influenced views is so wide, in large part, because he refused to be drawn into the use of many of the prevailing formulations of issues. Wittgensteinian approaches have been very influential in the philosophy of social explanation, an area in which there has long been a debate about whether the methods of the natural sciences are appropriate to the kinds of phenomena it is claimed are uniquely encountered in social explanation.
This is a place where we can see the breadth of the field of interpretation of naturalism. In one sense, Wittgensteinian approaches are naturalistic, in the ways described. At the same time, they are decidedly not naturalistic, if by "naturalism" we mean that the categories, concepts, and methods of the natural sciences are the only ones that are needed to explain whatever there is.
There are some affinities between Wittgenstein and some currents in American pragmatism with respect to the emphasis on the importance of the shared, public world for understanding language and the significance of practices. In particular, recent work by Richard Rorty ; has been important in drawing attention to that tradition and reinvigorating pragmatism in a post-Wittgensteinian context. His views and others like them have also attracted a great deal of criticism, reinvigorating debates about the interpretation and plausibility of naturalism.
At the center of the debate is the issue of whether there are enduring philosophical problems about the nature of reality, and truth, and about value, for example, or just the more concrete, contingent, but still significant problems that individuals and societies encounter in the business of living. As might be expected, many naturalistic thinkers feel discomfort at being grouped with Wittgenstein under the same heading. They regard his approach as unscientific and as much more permissive in regard to interpretation than more empirically fastidious approaches can accept.
Still, it is plausible to regard at least some of Wittgenstein's views as naturalistic even though they constitute a version of naturalism that differs from others in important respects. Ethics is a context in which there are important non-scientistic versions of naturalism. For example, there are respects in which neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics can be regarded as naturalistic. It does not involve a non-natural source or realm of moral value, as does Kant's ethical theory, or Plato's or Moore's. For Aristotle, judgments of what are goods for a human being are based upon considerations about human capacities, propensities, and the conditions for successful human activity of various kinds.
Thus, while it is not a scientistic conception of human agency or moral value, it also contrasts clearly with many clearly non-naturalistic conceptions of agency and moral value. Central to the view are the notions that there are goods proper to human nature and that the virtues are excellent states of character enabling an agent to act well and realize those goods. This can be construed as naturalism in that many defenders of the view, especially recent ones, have argued that familiar versions of the so-called "fact-value distinction" are seriously mistaken. Correlatively, they have argued that the distinction between descriptive meaning and evaluative meaning is mistaken.
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Their view is that various types of factual considerations have ethical significance—not as a non-natural supervening property, and not merely expressively or projectively. The agent with virtues is able to acknowledge and appreciate the ethical significance of factual considerations, and act upon them accordingly. While it is apt to call this "naturalism," it is quite different from some paradigmatic examples of moral naturalism, such as the hedonistic utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill.
Mill attempted to explain moral value in non-moral naturalistic terms—in terms of what people desire for its own sake and what they find pleasing. He sought to do this without any non-empirical assumptions or commitments about what people should desire, or what are proper goods for human beings.
He tried to make distinctions between inferior and superior pleasures on an empirical basis independent of antecedent normative commitments. This is an attempt to demystify moral value by showing that it can be explained even if not outright defined in terms of facts and properties that are themselves non-moral and accessible to observation and the methods of the sciences. Other theorists, whether or not they accept Mill's conception of what in fact has moral value, have pursued the project of theorizing in the same general direction in so far as they wish to show that moral values can be understood in terms of natural including social facts and properties.
In some respects, this is analogous to showing how, say, biological phenomena are explicable in physico-chemical terms. There are theories of moral value according to which it is constituted by, supervenes upon, or is defined in terms of non-moral, natural facts and properties. Each is a different account of the relation between the moral and the non-moral.
They are not simply different ways of saying the same thing. This does not turn moral thought into a department of natural science, but it does mean that the explanation of what moral thought is about may very well depend extensively upon scientific methods. There may be regular and even law-like relations between non-moral facts and properties on the one hand, and moral facts and properties on the other.
It may be that moral concepts are not entailed by or reducible to non-moral ones, but moral values have no independent ontological standing and are not essentially different in kind from natural phenomena in the way that Moore, for example, understood them to be. At the same time, moral values are real, and there are moral facts. The evaluative meaning of moral judgments is not merely expressive see non-cognitivism in ethics. Moral judgments report moral facts, and moral claims are literally true or false.
There are numerous versions of naturalistic moral realism. There are other versions of ethical naturalism that owe much more to Hume and make the case for antirealism rather than realism. It was central to Hume's moral theory that there are no value-entities or special faculties for perceiving or knowing them. According to Hume, moral value and moral motivation are to be explained in terms of facts about human sensibility. In this type of view, moral judgments are to be interpreted projectively, but they are also to be regarded as having all the form and force of cognitive discourse.
On the one hand, commitment to objective values with all of their alleged metaphysical and epistemological difficulties is avoided. On the other hand, there is ample scope for moral argument, for critical assessment of moral views, and for regarding moral language as having much richer meaning than just being emotive in a person-relative way. The learning of moral concepts, the practice of reason-giving, and the adjustment of moral beliefs that we take to be part of moral experience and practice really are parts of it, though their genuineness does not depend upon there being moral facts or objective values.
All that is needed is a common human sensibility and our propensity to make action-guiding judgments. To defenders of this approach, naturalism is not a way of explaining away moral values, or translating moral language into non-moral language. Instead it is the project of explaining all that moral values can be, in terms of sensibility, and showing how that is sufficient for full-fledged morality. It may be instructive to interpret this account of moral thought and discourse as analogous to Hume's treatment of causal thought and discourse.
There too, he severely criticized realist interpretations, but he also sought to show that his account could preserve the significance and the form of causal claims and causal reasoning. In that regard, the Humean approach can be said to explain moral judgments and causal judgments, rather than explaining them away. Some Humean-influenced views of morality put weight on the role of evolutionary explanations. They can be important to the story of how there came to be creatures with morally relevant sentiments and moral concern, and also why certain kinds of cooperative and coordinated behavior—certain types of moral behavior—well-serve us as a species, and are regarded by us as valuable.
That does not mean that we are "naturally" moral, but that naturalistic explanations are central to the account of the possibility and character of morality. The Humean-influenced approach of which there are many variants to meta-ethics is not reductive naturalism, but it certainly seems to count as a type of naturalism. And, as we have noted, special argumentation is needed to show why naturalism would have to be reductive. There are also versions of evolutionary ethics that are not much influenced by Hume. Ethical theories strongly influenced by evolutionary thinking but without ties to Hume's philosophy were developed in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth.
Some were crude variants of Social Darwinism, but others were sophisticated attempts to show the naturalistic origin and ground of ethical value and practice. Thomas Henry Huxley  is a good example of a subtle, sophisticated nineteenth century exponent of the role of evolution in ethics. In recent decades there have been important developments in this tradition, incorporating knowledge of genetics and animal behavior and its physiological bases.
In general terms, evolutionary ethics attempts to show that the attitudes, motives, and practices that are part and parcel of ethical life are to be accounted for in terms of how they are adaptive. Virtues, vices, moral rules and principles, and so forth do not have an independent standing, or a basis in a priori reasoning.
Moral values are not detected by a quasi-perceptual moral sense or by a faculty of intuition. This does not mean that morally significant behavior is robotic or uninfluenced by judgment and reasoning. Rather, the point is that needs are met by certain dispositions, susceptibilities, and behaviors, and the presence of those things themselves is explicable in terms of selective advantage in the struggle for existence. Altruism and various patterns of coordinated behaviors are explained in terms of the biological benefits they confer. They enhance fitness. That there is morality and concern for moral issues at all are facts that can be accounted for in terms of an account of how we came to be, and came to be the sorts of animals we are in a process of natural selection.
Defenders of this view argue that only if one thinks morality must have its source in God or reason would one find this threatening to morality. It does not subvert virtue, or render moral motivation something base or no more than an animal function, like digestion or excretion. Morality is a no less real or significant part of our lives, but it is in our lives at all, in the ways that it is, because of our evolutionary history.
We need not look elsewhere. The philosophy of mind is another area in which naturalistic views have been prominent and highly controversial in recent times. Many theorists hold that the categories, concepts, and vocabulary needed to explain consciousness, experience, thought, and language are those of the natural sciences and perhaps some of the social sciences, understood naturalistically. The impetus for this view comes from a number of directions, including developments in biological sciences, linguistics, artificial intelligence, and cognitive science. To many theorists it seems increasingly clear, or at least plausible, that the mind is as fully a part of nature as anything else.
They hold that while the properties and processes of mental life may have distinctive features, which, admittedly, may be especially difficult to study and to understand they are not ultimately inexplicable by the methods of the sciences. The study of them is especially complicated because of the ways in which biochemical, physiological, social, developmental, and many other processes and events interact. But according to the naturalist, the mind is not "outside of nature. Here again, the naturalist need not be a reductionist physicalist.
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Why join? How to join Forgot your password? Renew your membership Member directory. Austin A. Bradley C. John Green H. Hare Georg W. Hegel Martin Heidegger Heraclitus R. Jonathan Lowe John R. Jay Wallace W. Kastner Stuart Kauffman Martin J. Wilson H. Naturalism in philosophy, as it is in science, is the search for explanations that involve only Nature, ones that in particular do not involve supernatural ideas, or, more particularly, explanations that involve only material objects and their motions.
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote over 60 years ago that " Existentialism is a Humanism ," basically the idea that we exist thrown into the world, as Martin Heidegger put it before we make our own essence, since Friedrich Nietzsche has declared that " God is dead. Metaphysical or ontological naturalism is the idea that there is nothing in the world but Nature.
This leads to difficulties as to the existential status of ideas, abstract concepts like justice, and abstract entities like numbers or a geometric circle. Methodological naturalism accepts as explanations only arguments based on natural phenomena. If and when abstract ideas are properly understood, it will be because they have natural explanations, as abstract information, embodied in information structures. Ethical naturalism moves the question of values and their origin outward from early humanist views, first to biological explanations the evolution of ethics in higher organisms , but ultimately to the universe as a whole.
Moral skeptics from Thomas Hobbes to Friedrich Nietzsche see ethics as invented for reasons of self-interest in a social contract. Natural religion is an attempt to explain religious beliefs about the creation of the universe in wholly natural terms. Though some see this as a conflicted and futile attempt to naturalize supernaturalism, the philosophy of religion began in earnest with David Hume 's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and The Natural History of Religion.
Naturalism has a long history in the free will debates, beginning with David Hume 's arguments in the Treatise on Human Nature and the Enquiries concerning Human Understanding. He argued that humans have "natural beliefs" that are prior to experience and shape our perceptions. Today we see these as our evolutionary inheritance and partly the conditioning by our environment and culture during our biological and social development.
Anticipating Immanuel Kant 's synthetic a priori , Hume argued that a skeptical view of empiricism prevented us from knowing basic things like causality and the external world, but that a "natural belief" in causality and the external world could not be negated by any skeptical arguments. Hume hoped to build a science of Human Nature modeled on Isaac Newton 's Principia , which had become the canonical model for all science. But his reintroduction of mitigated academic skepticism made any science at all problematic. Epistemological theories - that all knowledge is based on reasoning about sense data perceived by a mind that begins as a blank slate - run into the criticism that we can only know those sense data secondary qualities , and not the "things themselves" the primary qualities in the external world that are producing the perceptions.
For the Scottish School of philosophy, which strongly influenced Hume, transcendental beliefs could trump reason. They were prior to reason. Hume argued that we could not act without beliefs, desires, and passions. Indeed, he argued that an act of will was driven by beliefs and desires, never by reason, which was merely an instrument to evaluate various means to our ends.
This is similar to the position of Scholastic philosophers like Thomas Aquinas. Natural beliefs that Hume felt could not be denied by reasoned arguments, such as the principle of uniformity and the existence of the external world, were incorporated by Kant into his transcendental theory that the mind imposes categories of understanding on the world.
Kant's "synthetic a priori " claimed to establish certain truths about the world that could be known without empirical, a posteriori , studies of the world. Among Kant's attempts at synthetic a priori truths were Euclidean geometry and determinism , both now shown by modern physics to be not the necessary truths Kant believed them to be.
Einstein 's general relativity showed actual space to be curved and Einstein's discovery of indeterminacy in quantum events, confirmed ten years later by the quantum theories of Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg showed determinism to be not true. Kant's arguments that we must limit reason to make room for beliefs seem similar to Hume's view that some beliefs necessarily precede any reason.
Both the Humean and Kantian projects are best seen as trying to establish morality in an age of empirical and deterministic science. Today these beliefs are regarded as assumptions or axioms that are tested by their explanatory power in empirical science. But science and pure reason seem unable to deal with questions of free will and moral responsibility, which for Hume and Kant and later Wittgenstein were all-important.
Hume and Hobbes were the two leading compatibilists of their times, believing that free will is compatible with strict determinism. Both denied the reality of absolute chance. For them, chance was the result of human ignorance. Chance, they thought, is an epistemic question, not the ontological , even metaphysical , problem that quantum mechanics now presents. But in contrast to Hobbes' moral skepticism and the supremacy of self-interest, Hume hoped to establish the foundations of a morality based on natural moral sentiment in An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals , Part II Self-love is a principle in human nature of such extensive energy, and the interest of each individual is, in general, so closely connected with that of the community, that those philosophers were excusable, who fancied, that all our concern for the public might be resolved into a concern for our own happiness and preservation.
They saw every moment, instances of approbation or blame, satisfaction or displeasure towards characters and actions; they denominated the objects of these sentiments, virtues, or vices; they observed, that the former had a tendency to encrease the happiness, and the latter the misery of mankind; they asked, whether it were possible that we could have any general concern for society, or any disinterested resentment of the welfare or injury of others; they found it simpler to consider all these sentiments as modifications of self-love; and they discovered a pretence, at least, for this unity of principle, in that close union of interest, which is so observable between the public and each individual.
But notwithstanding this frequent confusion of interests, it is easy to attain what natural philosophers, after Lord Bacon, have affected to call the experimentum crucis , or that experiment, which points out the right way in any doubt or ambiguity. We have found instances, in which private interest was separate from public; in which it was even contrary; And yet we observed the moral sentiment to continue, notwithstanding this disjunction of interests. And wherever these distinct interests sensibly concurred, we always found a sensible encrease of the sentiment, and a more warm affection to virtue, and detestation of vice, or what we properly call, gratitude and revenge.
Compelled by these instances, we must renounce the theory, which accounts for every moral sentiment by the principle of self-love. We must adopt a more public affection, and allow, that the interests of society are not, even on their own account, entirely indifferent to us. Usefulness is only a tendency to a certain end; and it is a contradiction in terms, that any thing pleases as means to an end, where the end itself no wise affects us. If usefulness, therefore, be a source of moral sentiment, and if this usefulness be not always considered with a reference to self; it follows, that every thing, which contributes to the happiness of society recommends itself directly to our approbation and good-will.
Here is a principle, which accounts, in great part, for the origin of morality: And what need we seek for abstruse and remote systems, when there occurs one so obvious and natural? Hume gives the argument for moral sentiment as superior to reason or judgment in Appendix I, Concerning Moral Sentiment , though reason helps with calculations of utility.
If the foregoing hypothesis be received, it will now be easy for us to determine the question first started, concerning the general principles of morals; and though we postponed the decision of that question, lest it should then involve us in intricate speculations, which are unfit for moral discourses, we may resume it at present, and examine how far either reason or sentiment enters into all decisions of praise or censure. One principal foundation of moral praise being supposed to lie in the usefulness of any quality or action; it is evident, that reason must enter for a considerable share in all decisions of this kind; since nothing but that faculty can instruct us in the tendency of qualities and actions, and point out their beneficial consequences to society and to their possessors And a very accurate reason or judgment is often requisite, to give the true determination, amidst such intricate doubts arising from obscure or opposite utilities.
But though reason, when fully assisted and improved, be sufficient to instruct us in the pernicious or useful tendency of qualities and actions; it is not alone sufficient to produce any moral blame or approbation. Utility is only a tendency to a certain end; and were the end totally indifferent to us, we should feel the same indifference towards the means.