Friday, April 15, 2011

"Morality is simply a function"

I've recently discovered the ABC Religion and Ethics section (I'm a slow learner!).   In this article from the 5 April, Russell Blackford editor of the Journal of Evolution and Technology and a professor at University of Newcastle argues that morality can be measured.  Startling at first until you realise he's simply suggesting that morality, "good" and "bad" are functions.  So for example says Blackford the function of a *good* hammer is that it is;
"solidly constructed so that its head won't come off the handle. Furthermore, its head is of hard metal that won't dent, has enough weight to deliver adequate force, but is not so heavy as to be difficult to lift and use for the purpose."
His aim, he says, is to "demystify" moral judgments not to "debunk" them.  No doubt because moral judgements, in this world, are inescapable.  However as tidy as this all seems, his argument of morality as functionality is part reductionism and part avoidance of larger issues. He neglects (deliberately?) to explain the place of ultimate functions eg of humans or an individual's life and doesn't deal with the concept of 'evil'.  For example is killing simply the function of a serial, furthermore why does functionality seem to fail as such as useful guide at this point?  Somewhat unsurprisingly Blackwell has no answers.


Radagast said...

Utilitarianism is such a tired old philosophy.

If "good" simply means "good for", then ultimately there is no morality, merely degrees of compliance with totalitarian assessments of our role in society.

Andrew Bowles said...

Someone's been reading 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', it sounds like.

It's interesting how we uses the term 'metaphysics' perjoratively, when his whole argument is metaphysical from top to bottom. If you can identify abstract qualities of an object ('performance') from its concrete data, you are a metaphysician. Get over it.

Luke Isham said...

Astute comments Radagast and Andrew.