But the suspicion that something is amiss will not dissipate. It comes into focus when Pinker, at the end of his New York Times Magazine article, makes the inevitable pitch for “how all this can be useful to us going forward.” In a section called “Doing Better by Knowing Ourselves,” he breaks with the rigorous Hume and tries to rescue “moral reasoning” from the insignificance to which moral sense theory consigned it.12 He speaks of how salutary it would be if we all recognized that opponents in political debates share a moral foundation. But then, as he presses his point home, stressing that the moral sense is as subject to illusions as the other senses, cracks appear in the veneer of sprightly optimism. We get a glimpse of the modules he favors when he describes these illusions as “apt to confuse morality per se with purity, status and conformity.”13 What happened to Harm and Fairness? Could it be that he actually believes that “morality per se” is to be found in the vicinity of those modules? And what to make of the penultimate gesture: “our habit of moralizing problems, merging them with intuitions of purity and contamination, and resting content when we feel the right feelings, can get in the way of doing the right thing.”14 “Doing the right thing”? “Morality per se”? Moore would take much pleasure in these maneuvers. No matter how advanced the natural science—the naturalistic fallacy—the assumption that something is morally good because it is natural—is philosophically secure. This fallacy is exposed when any definition of good offered by an ethical naturalist is subjected to a particular linguistic test. For example, when hedonism tries to define good by claiming that “pleasure is good,” the sentence itself is obviously saying something other than “pleasure is pleasure.” The two sentences are not synonymous, therefore good and pleasure are not identical.
more from Thomas de Zengotita at The Hedgehog Review here.