The Story of Evolution, Reason and Morality

Evolution and Empirical Reasoning

Reason developed as a part of evolution to make sense of the sensory data from our environment. A dog is also getting sensory information about the world, and it can see, hear and smell danger approaching, and behave accordingly. But its ability to make sense of its environment is not as good as that of humans, who have evolved more in this ability. This sort of ability to reason, to makes sense of the physical world, definitely has a huge survival advantage. Making sense of the sensory data such that it corresponds with the environment as it actually is, appears to be the defining requirement of this survival advantage. And even though an absolute correspondence cannot be established, but one can say that to a particular degree and extent, our empirical reasoning does correspond with the way things are. And as far as this empirical reasoning goes, science has become the epitome of such a way of reasoning.

This making-sense-of-the-world happens at two levels: a Descriptive level and an Explanatory level. The descriptive level of empirical reasoning is concerned with the correct description and integration of what we perceive through our senses. The descriptive reasoning creates a picture of the world around us, so that we can interact with it in a better way (and hence the survival advantage). The Explanatory level is concerned with explaining the gaps in the Descriptive reasoning; things that we observe, but we have no way of accounting for them while remaining in that level of descriptive reasoning. For example, we see that all things fall to the ground. Descriptive reasoning tell us that when you drop a ball from a hand, it falls down, but there is really no explanation for that, as to why it happens that way. So, our empirical reasoning works at its explanatory level and posits that there is a mysterious force called Gravity by which Earth attracts the objects on its surface. An explanation has been put forth, and this explanation is further tweaked and refined as more observations are made (for instance, we can now say that it is not just the Earth that attracts the ball, but the ball also attracts the Earth).

However, there is a crucial difference between Descriptive level of Empirical Reasoning and the Explanatory level. Whereas the Descriptive reasoning is concerned with making sense of perceptions such that it forms a picture that corresponds to as things are, the Explanatory reasoning is merely concerned with providing the best possible explanation of what Descriptive reasoning cannot account; Explanatory reasoning is not concerned with as-things-are, but with providing a model with the most explanatory power. As such, they do not possess any 'truth'.

It does happen that the models provided by Explanatory reasoning can be confirmed or refuted by an extension of the Descriptive reasoning. For example, there was a time when "Earth is round" was just at an explanatory level, a theory proposed to explain certain observations that could not be accounted for by a flat Earth. However, when a sailer sailed around the world in a complete circle or when Astronomers traveled into space and saw that Earth is a sphere, the Round Earth Theory no longer remained an explanation; it become a descriptive fact. What was initially at an Explanatory level came up on Descriptive level. Similarly, the Holocentric model was once just a good explanation. With the advent of telescopes by which one could monitor the motion of planets and sun, it became a descriptive fact.

So, this is how science has progressed: by refining and tweaking its Explanations to fit the observations, and by turning Explanations into Descriptions using better and better scientific equipment. However, there is a limit to what can be brought to Descriptive level from Explanatory level. Our physical senses are limited and so are our scientific instruments. That means that there is a whole explanatory world-view that can be refined and tweaked, but can never be definitely confirmed or proved by bringing it to descriptive level. For example, consider gravity. In 19th century we had a Newtonian theory of gravity, and it worked well-enough till we discovered certain observations that it couldn't account for. So it was super-ceded by a better explanation, the Einstein's General Relativity. But this is what General Relativity remains: an explanatory model that has superior powers of explanation than Newtonian model, and that's all. It cannot claim any Truth in the descriptive sense. Even if science arrives at a Unified Theory of Everything that perfectly explains ALL our observations, it would still not be able to claim any Truth. It would remain what it is: an unproved perfect explanatory model.

And this is not something that I am proposing. Even the scientific community accepts such a view of science, which was most prominently presented by Karl Popper. The famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawkings explains this view in this manner:

“…a scientific theory is a mathematical model that describes and codifies the observations we make. A good theory will describe a large range of phenomena on the basis of a few simple postulates and will make definite predictions that can be tested. If the predictions agree with the observations, the theory survives that test, though it can never be proved to be correct. On the other hand, if the observations disagree with the predictions, one has to discard or modify the theory.” [The Universe in a Nutshell]

Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of the experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory.” [A Brief History of Time]

In the light of this understanding, let us now look at the theory of Evolution:
There are again two level at which we can see the matter. The Descriptive level and an Explanatory level. On the descriptive level, what we observe is a succession of fossils of various species, and biological, cytological, biochemical and genetic evidence of linkage of all life forms. Therefore, this much is certain: Evolution happened. Species emerged on Earth in succession in a determinable pattern, and we can see on the Descriptive level. However, there is an Explanatory level below this Descriptive level, which attempts to explain how this evolution happened. And the best scientific explanation currently is the theory of biological evolution by means of natural selection. Even if the theory of natural selection could explain everything that we observe regarding evolution (which it doesn't), it would still remain an explanatory model, the best available scientific model, but nevertheless a model; unprovable and without any rightful claim to Truth.

So while naturalism assumes the truth of biological evolution, it also, by the nature of its very reasoning, demonstrates that the truth of biological evolution is essentially unprovable. Perhaps it is not self-contradictory, but it is definitely self-deficient.

Conceptual Reasoning

This was the story of Empirical Reasoning, which is about making sense of sensory data, but there is another type of reasoning, a purely Conceptual reasoning, which is about making sense of concepts itself. And the distinctive difference is that conceptual reasoning provides its own truth. It provides us with 'knowledge' that we can immediately see as being 'true'. [Yes, this is my way of describing the a priori/a posteriori distinction] We don't have to resort to any empirical verfication or any experiment to determine its truth. We can just see for ourselves. Yes, it is true that this conceptual reasoning can be applied to the things in physical world, but this application is not what provides the truth of it. Its truth is independent of empirical reasoning. The field of symbolic deductive logic and mathematics comprise the conceptual reasoning.

'All Xs are Ys' is true if X = Y. We don't need to do any experiment to determine that. This symbolic truth is independent of all experience; it would even be true if there was no physical world. We can "see" that it is true, as if by means of some automatic rational intuition. Such is its distinct nature.

The big question in front of us is that how did this conceptual a priori reasoning develop? This sort of reasoning has no clear cut survival advantage, and any advantage it may have is so abstract that we cannot expect it to influence the survival of the fittest gene pool competition from which the Empirical reasoning developed. So where did it come from? Did Conceptual reasoning develop because Empirical reasoning is impossible without it? Is Conceptual reasoning a sort of by-product of Empirical reasoning? A sort of unintended effect that tagged along with the evolution of Empirical reasoning? If so, do we have any reason to accept the Truth of this mode of reasoning? Perhaps it is illusory, and the only thing we can determine for sure is what corresponds to our descriptive experience? Or perhaps it does exist objectively, with a metaphysical existence of its own, which we have come to perceive.

The philosophical nature of mathematics and symbolic logic is a whole debate in itself, and there are attempts at an empiricist explanation of mathematics, but none of them seem to explain the seemingly a priori nature of mathematics, its apparent infallibility in stark contrast to the fallible nature of empirical reasoning.

If conceptual reasoning is a priori, then how is this a priori nature justified? Either it exists independently and objectively, perhaps as platonic ideals, or it is a way of thinking that has been hardwired in our brains during evolution through some as yet unaccountable way. In either way, we are believing in a form of realism: conceptual reasoning has an objective grounding, whether it is Platonic or biological.

The Nature of Morality

Morality, as we humans perceive it, is very muddled up. We all have a moral sense, an inner voice of conscience telling us what is moral and what is not, but this moral sense is greatly influenced by upbringing, personality, intellect, experiences and religious beliefs. People growing up in different societies and cultures have different moral beliefs explainable in terms of their cultural and social practices. However, it appears that there is a central core of morality which depends upon intuitions that are independent of all these things, intuitions which are determinable not simply by virtue of their universality, but by their seemingly a priori nature. Amidst the moral disagreements and differences, we intuit certain things about morality, which can however still be suppressed by belief. As mathematics and logic need to be learned, and a clarity of reasoning is required, even though their truth is recognized by intuition, in the same way some moral truths have to be learnt and a certain clarity is required before we are able to see the moral intuitions distinct from the emotions and beliefs clinging to them, but once done so, their truth is recognized by intuition. Not all moral claims are intuitive; moral claims are often expressions of emotions, biases and acquired beliefs. However, there are at least some moral claims that I believe are intuitive, a priori, objective.

I quote from Stanford Encyclopedia:

"Another realist reply to the epistemic challenge is to argue that mathematics and logic, not science, are the right models of moral theory. Neither mathematics nor logic, some maintain, rely on experience for their confirmation. They are, instead, supportable a priori by appeal to the nature of the concepts they involve. On this view, a sound defense of the principles we need to ground moral arguments can be found in a suitably subtle and careful bit of conceptual analysis. In light of Moore’s Open Question Argument, those who advocate and epistemology of conceptual analysis acknowledge that the correct analysis, whatever it is, is likely not at all obvious. And, they point out, this means that people who are genuinely competent with the relevant concepts might themselves not recognize the correct analysis as correct. Nonetheless, the analysis might be correct. If there is some such analysis to be had, and if it is rich enough to provide the sort of substantive principles needed to underwrite our various particular judgments, realism will have met well its epistemic burden. Of course putting things this way assumes we have a good epistemology of conceptual analysis, which might well be called into question. But worries about conceptual analysis are not specific to morality. And if they prove decisive, then those worries leave mathematics and logic, no less than morals, in need of some grounding or other. Whatever might be advanced on behalf of mathematics and logic, many think, should work as well for morality."

Yes, the burden of proof is still on the realists to prove that such intuitive a priori moral truths exist, but there is no real objection against it to show that they cannot exist.

As a preliminary attempt, I had presented a two degree structure that at least some moral claims based upon moral intuitions have:

First Degree: It is wrong to do X/right to do X, unless there are good reasons to do otherwise.
Second Degree: The intuitions regarding what those good reasons are or are not.

For example,

1)
First Degree: It is wrong to inflict cruelty, unless there is a good reason to do so.
Second Degree: Inflicting cruelty as a punishment for crimes is a good reason.

2)
First Degree: It is wrong not to save the life of a person one can save, unless there is a good reason to do so.
Second Degree: Hatred of a person is not a good reason to let that person die.

The First Degree Intuitions are almost universal, while the Second Degree Intuitions are not quite universal (though they can be) and genuine disagreement can exist.

However, it must be noted that even if such intuitions exist, they are still vulnerable to suppression by non-moral emotions and ideas. For instance, in example 2, a person may allow his hatred of a person to dominate his moral intuition, and let that person die, and then he may even try to justify that he did nothing wrong. Similarly, a person who intuitively feels that every person has a right to life may still support the murder of an apostate because his faith dictates so. Such distortive effect of emotions and beliefs is perhaps what accounts for the wide disagreement on morality, and what makes discovering the objective a priori moral truths a tremendous difficulty. Nevertheless, just as in discovering rational a priori truths, the answer lies in rigorous analysis to free the mind of prejudice as much as possible. If such a priori moral truths are demonstrable, we would have a basis for moral realism, with an objective grounding for moral truths, whether it is Platonic or biological.

Comments

Komal said…
Interesting post. The rationalism vs. empiricism debate comes up here, and you seem to take a non-empiricist position. Good, because that's the right position ;).

However, there might be some problems with the kind of moral intuitionism you present. Although I'm very sympathetic to this view, I'll play Devil's advocate a bit.

A priori mathematical truths, and basic logical principles and rules of inference, are often self-evident. In fact, they're all ultimately based on tautologies (or at least, the logical bits are; as for mathematics, I guess that depends on whether or not you believe in logicism, an issue that I won't get into here because it's out of my area of expertise at the moment :P). Moral statements, however, if they are statements of fact, have external accusatives. So, if they're not self-evident, then how are they justified?

If you say they're justified because of the nature of the experience, then couldn't this be defeated by a consideration such as the following:

Sometimes we have intuitions that are wrong. In the case of moral intuitions, they could be over-extensions of instincts that developed to help us survive. Perhaps we have a sense of reciprocity because it helped us with our family or tribe, but this has become so instinctive that we end up applying to situations where it doesn't have the utility that led to its emergence in the first place (e.g. situations where we can get away with some wrong). In that sense, the intuitions may be considered 'wrong'.
Awais Aftab said…
@ Komal

I would say these moral truths are synthetic a priori. They are self-evident, but they are not logically self-evident (therefore synthetic) rather they are morally self-evident. The appeal is to moral intuition, not rational intuition.

they could be over-extensions of instincts that developed to help us survive.

It could have happened, yes, but in the same way conceptual reasoning could be an over-extension of empirical reasoning that developed to help us survive. If that is so, then we have reason to believe that "we end up applying [it] to situations where it doesn't have the utility that led to its emergence in the first place." If it is a danger to morality, then it is a danger to a priori reasoning as well. And even with that, it still is a form of realism, just that the 'objectivity' is not grounded in idealism, but rather 'hardwired' into us. Of course, I would rather prefer the Platonist solution, but logically, yeah, i have to accept that it is a possibility.
Abdullah Khalid said…
So I have problems with your descriptions (explanation? :D) of the scientific process. Scientific models (what you call explanations) are tested by their predictive power. You are correct that we use our observations (our senses and instruments) to describe the world. But then we move on from there and give explanations or scientific models.

But no new model is considered the part of scientific knowledge, just because it provides a good explanation. It only becomes so when it is tested on its predictions and is successful.

The more tests it passes, the better a scientific theory it is considered. As to whether it is true or not is a much deeper question and would really depend on how we define truth.

But consider this. We have an infinite space of candidates for, say the Theory of Everything. Every experiment we do, gives us reason to discard some of the candidates. So, perhaps it can be shown that one and only one model out of this model fits all our observed data (and predicts not-yet-done experiments accurately). If so, would you consider this proof of the truth of the model?
Awais Aftab said…
@ Abdullah

Yes, I agree, a scientific theory requires predictive power as well as explanatory power.

As to whether it is true or not is a much deeper question and would really depend on how we define truth.

I would define Truth as correspondence with an objective Fact.

So, perhaps it can be shown that one and only one model out of this model fits all our observed data (and predicts not-yet-done experiments accurately).

But how would you show that only one model fits the observed data? We are not only limited by the extent of our observations but also by the extent of our imagination. Perhaps there are a dozen other models who fit all the observed data as well. Just because we are unable to think of more than one model doesn't mean there is only one. Plus, as I said, we still won't be able to show that our best fitting model does indeed correspond with Objective Facts. We can only say that its the best fitting model. Nothing more.
Komal said…
But what does it mean for something to be morally self-evident? Is that a type of evidence, or is it the subject matter of that which you're proving/trying to prove? (I'm posing this as a question, but obviously I mean it as an assertion :P )

Yes, what you say about pure reason is true, from an empiricist pov. This is precisely what empiricists believe about mathematics, logic and metaphysics (except for the self-evident stuff, the tautologies n all).

The point is that what I presented could act as a defeater. So how do you deal with that? Pretend I'm an empiricist for now. The counterexamples with pure reason won't work on me, since I don't believe in pure reason (as an empiricist [pretending, of course]). So what now?
Abdullah Khalid said…
I would define Truth as correspondence with an objective Fact.

That doesn't do anything. What is an 'objective fact' then?
Awais Aftab said…
What is an 'objective fact' then?

Objective fact refers to the state of affairs in the external world.

Of course, I am assuming an ontological realist position here, that an external world exists independent of the human mind.
Abdullah Khalid said…
But is there a test that decides whether something is an objective fact?
Awais Aftab said…
@ Abdullah

No, there is no test. It is a philosophical position; not a scientific one. If you believe in the existence of external world, then I cannot see how you can avoid believing in ontological realism. And if you don't believe in external world, then I can't see how you can do science.

And what other notion of truth do you have, that you think can give provide a scientific model with its 'truth'?
Awais Aftab said…
@ Abdullah

If we had a test to determine the objective facts, why would need to make scientific explanatory models? :P Scientific models remains unprovable precisely because we have no means of determining the concerned objective facts.
Awais Aftab said…
@ Komal

From an empiricist position, there is no such thing as a synthetic a priori truth. So, it seems that if the empiricist position is correct, then moral axioms are not a priori.

Of course, it doesn't prove that the empiricist position is correct, nor that synthetic a priori truths cannot exist. I suppose it just reveals how the empiricist rationalist debate is still unsettled in philosophy. A disheartening thought, indeed.
Abdullah Khalid said…
Hmmmm.. I have no other clear notions of truth at the moment..
Abdullah Khalid said…
I forgot to mention yesterday..
General Relativity makes predictions systematically different from Newtonian gravity.. And those predictions have been validated by experiments every time..

So it is a much superior descriptive model than newtonian gravity..
Awais Aftab said…
@ Abdullah

Yes, General Relativity is a far superior descriptive and predictive model. I don't think I said or implied anything to the contrary.
Komal said…
Awais,

1. I'm not sure I agree. How would you establish that moral axioms are synthetic a priori? They're synthetic, sure. But merely labeling them 'a priori' isn't enough.

2. How would you deal with my proposed defeater? Merely using the counterexample of pure reason isn't enough, since I could concede that there's no such thing as pure reason and my point would still stand.

3. With mathematics and logic (and maybe metaphysics), you can think of it as an elegant game (which i don't, but that's another issue). As long as it is internally consistent, and is based on self-evident axioms, it should be fine. But you can't say the same about morality, since, even though you may have an internally consistent moral philosophy, the moral 'axioms' are not themselves self-evident.
ahish said…
@Komal
Mathematical and logical axioms need not be self-evident. For example, the last axiom of euclidean geometry (relating to parallel lines) is not self evident. The elimination of this axiom led to development of hyperbolic geometry. Group theorists work on mathematical structures whose axioms are not self evident. Their only motivation is to develop consistent mathematics.
Awais Aftab said…
@ Komal

1. I can't establish that moral axioms are synthetic a priori. It appears to me that they are near universal and that they appear to be intuitively true. So I am suggesting that they are a priori, but I don't think that I can prove it yet.

2. If there is no such things as pure reason, my case wouldn't stand.

3. 'the moral 'axioms' are not themselves self-evident.' They are not logically self-evident, but they are morally self-evident. Just as a logical axiom is perceived to be true by some sort of rational intuition, a moral axiom is perceived to be true by some sort of moral intuition. If you contest that there is no such thing as morally self-evident, then I would have little to say, because I cannot logically prove that. It just appears to me that there is such a thing as morally self-evident.
Komal said…
ahish,

Thanks. I stand corrected :).

Awais,

What you mean is merely that they feel right. That is a good enough reason for a person to follow them, but does that mean there is an objective reality? Your case might be stronger if you can place the intuitions within a model that accounts for them and for why they matter. For me, as a theist, these intuitions are expressions of the Divine nature within us. This is also confirmable experientially, where a person can experience the psychic being and know immediately that it is compassionate.

Awais, moral intuitions cannot be morally self-evident! There is no such thing as morally self-evident. They are either self-evident, justified through something else, or (and I include this only because of my own epistemological view... many would not include this) justified by the nature of the experience. Even then, that is not a type of self-evidence, but is a reason to believe or a justification of some sort (a phenomenological justification, I suppose).

The 'axioms' are about morality. Morality is their subject matter, not their manner of evidence. I think you might be confusing the two.
Komal said…
Self evident = evident in itself. Perhaps you mean to say: morally evident?
Komal said…
Sorry, I meant:

"... does that mean there is an objective morality?" (not 'reality' as I said originally).

I should add that self-evident things are circular. Tautologies are self-evident.

Not all axioms are self-evident as ahish has pointed out (and as I suspected myself at some point), but you need to have a systematic account of what counts as evidence if you're going to accept non-self-evident things. To me, as a person with an epistemological view that is somehow both phenomenalist and direct realist, the fact that moral intuitions feel compelling does matter, but it may be defeated by a defeater, and it helps a lot to have a model within which you can account for the intuitions.
Awais Aftab said…
@ Komal

There are two ways in which the word 'self-evident' is used. The first sense is that self-evident means tautological. The second sense is that self-evident means 'Requiring no proof or explanation'. I was using the term in the 2nd sense. [For example, the mathematical axiom which ahish pointed out, it isn't self-evident in the first sense, but it is self-evident in the second sense.]

If we accept that self-evident means tautological, then yes, I cannot say morally self-evident. 'Morally evident' would be a better term.

it helps a lot to have a model within which you can account for the intuitions.

Yes, I agree with that. At present I cannot argue that these intuitions have any platonic validity. If such intuitions do exist, then either they have some sort of platonic validity or they are 'hard-wired' into our brain. I cannot prove the first, nor refute the second at the moment. But in any either case we have a form of moral realism.
Awais Aftab said…
"We hold these Truths to be self-evident..." United States Declaration of Independence

An example of the usage of self-evident that I was employing. But i guess it is better for philosophical purposes to define self-evident as tautological.
Komal said…
Yes, in colloquial usage 'self-evident' sometimes just means 'obvious'. But in philosophical discussions it's understood that self-evidence means only one thing, and that is literally self-evident.

"But in any either case we have a form of moral realism."

How so? What you have is only that we have moral intuitions. That does not necessarily entail moral realism.
Komal said…
I meant: '... and that is literally self-evidence, as in necessarily true.'
Komal said…
Uff, I don't know what's gotten into me today. Sorry for the terrible English today, I have an upset stomach :P.
Komal said…
Here's a way of asking the 'why-be-moral' question:

If a moral person is intuitively moral, and an amoral person is not, then is it better to be a moral person or an amoral person?
Awais Aftab said…
Moral realism is the view that "moral claims do purport to report facts and are true if they get the facts right. Moreover, they hold, at least some moral claims actually are true." [Stanford]
This in itself doesn't hold any metaphysical commitment on the nature of those facts.

If we have moral intuitions, then we have at least some moral facts, which are either Platonic or grounded in human thinking by virtue of biology. And moral claims would be true if they correspond to these facts.

If a moral person is intuitively moral, and an amoral person is not, then is it better to be a moral person or an amoral person?

I'll answer this later.
Komal said…
I'm afraid on this point you are completely wrong, sir. "Moral claims do purport to report facts and are true if they get the facts right. Moreover, they hold, at least some moral claims actually are true."

Those facts do NOT include facts about our feeling intensely about certain moral things. Although the psychological state is a fact, it is understood that the facts mentioned in the definition of moral realism (and this applies to realism in general) do not refer to the beliefs, feelings or convictions themselves. If you're a moral realist, you MUST believe that there are objective moral facts. For example, the claim 'murder is wrong except in cases of self-defense,' if true, makes a factual claim. It means it is objectively true that murder is wrong except in cases of self-defense. It does not mean 'people think murder is wrong except in cases of self-defense.'

'If we have moral intuitions, then we have at least some moral facts...'

Not necessarily. All you can say is that we have moral intuitions, unless you have a general epistemological view that holds that if something is intuited, it must be true.

You seem to be confusing moral facts with moral beliefs.
ahish said…
@komal

How do you convince yourself of the utility of doing metaphysics? Metaphysics is also synthetic apriori.
Awais Aftab said…
I am not confusing the two.

If you're a moral realist, you MUST believe that there are objective moral facts.

You are assuming that this objectivity has to be 'metaphysical', but that is not so. I cannot see why this objectivity cannot be grounded in the biology. If humans evolved in such a way that certain moral claims appear evident to them, then these claims are "objective", just not metaphysically objective.

The position rests on an analogy between non-tautological mathematical axioms and moral axioms. If a non-tautological axiom like "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line" is 'true', then so can "An unjustified murder is wrong." Both are evident, one logically and one morally. A person may claim that we are 'hard-wired' to believe that 'the shortest distance between two points is a straight line'. Claiming so will not make this axiom any less objective, it's just that the nature of objectivity would no longer be metaphysical.
ahish said…
@Awais

The shortest distance between points being a straight line is not an axiom. The result can be demonstrated under the assumption that space is Euclidean. In fact the result is not valid on non-Euclidean surfaces like for example on the surface of a sphere. The shortest distance between two points on the surface of sphere is the arc of the circle whose center coincides with the diameter of the sphere.
Komal said…
Awais,

There aren't types of objectivity. When I said objective, I mean facts that refer to the external world. How do biological facts figure in this equation? How is: 'murder is wrong except in self-defense' a biological fact? Our feeling so may be a biological fact (though it isn't, since consciousness isn't biological, but that's another story), but the moral belief does not refer to a biological fact. Surely you can appreciate something so obvious!

Yes, various intuitions (including moral ones) are evident in some sense, in that they feel right. That's good enough up to a point, but may be subject to defeaters, and you still haven't dealt with my proposed defeater.

Btw, I don't know much about synthetic a priori, but what I do know is that it refers to things knowable through a kind of spatial imagination. The axioms of Euclidian geometry might fall into this category. This doesn't apply to moral intuitions.

There is no such as 'morally evident'. I'm sorry but you cannot just make up words like that. 'Morally' is not a term of evidence or justification, but of subject matter.
Komal said…
ahish,

Is all metaphysics synthetic a priori? I'm not sure, since I haven't studied or thought about the idea of synthetic a priori enough, but my first instinct is that it is not.

As for why I 'believe in' metaphysics: it is based on logic and on fundamental rational intuitions. Metaphysics concerns the question of being, and intuitions such as that being cannot come from non-being are obvious. They are also more fundamental than so-called moral 'axioms'.

My epistemological views are such that certain kinds of intuitions are a legitimate basis for knowledge. However, I'm not sure moral intuitions fall into this category because: a) they may be subject to a defeater (described earlier), b) they are not fundamental enough, and c) there is no model (for the atheist) wherein the intuitions can be properly accounted for; which, although not necessary, influences the plausability of the idea that the intuitions must point to something objective.
Awais Aftab said…
By morally evident I had meant not just to specify the content, but the fact that it is evident not to reason, but to a moral sense, its obviousness manifest by a moral intuition. While such a thing may not exist, but I can't see why there can be an objection against the concept itself.

Ok, it is 'evident' that there are severe problems with this form of moral intuitionism. I think I am going to abandon it for now. Lolz.

@ ahish

Thank you. I was under the impression that it was considered to be a Euclidean axiom. You have a good understanding of mathematics.
If moral intuitionism is untenable, then I think what V.S.Ramachandran said about morality makes sense.
Komal said…
No, there might still be a case to be made for it!

Now I feel bad, like I've made you abandon a friend, lol :P.
Awais Aftab said…
@ Komal

Aww, it's okay :) I am convinced that as far as descriptive ethics goes, the intuitive model of morality is essentially the correct one. But it seems really problematic to make a moral realist account of it.