Science and ethics: normative ethics may not need a foundation - but it does need scienceReport as inadecuate

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(2009) Mark abstract The relation between ethics and science forms since long the subject of intense debate. Although it is generally agreed that science can describe morality and explain its evolutionary origins, there is less consensus about the ability of science to provide input to the normative domain of ethics. Whereas defenders of a ‘scientific ethics’ appeal to naturalism, its critics either see the naturalistic fallacy committed or argue that the relevance of science to normative ethics remains undemonstrated. In this paper, it is not only argued that these criticisms contradict each other, but also that a difference in conception of normative ethics underlies the disagreement between proponents and opponents of a ‘scientific ethics’. Based on a reconsideration of the notions ‘naturalistic fallacy’ and ‘foundational ethics’, it is analyzed how scientific insights are relevant to normative inquiries in the context of nonfoundational ethics. By way of example, it is shown that science is considerably relevant because it informs ethics about the options open to the ethical debate. Finally, whereas certain ‘scientific ethicists’ stress the philosophical project of naturalizing the normative, here we focus on the practical interaction between biological sciences and normative concepts, and on the problem-solving capacity of this interaction.

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Author: Katinka Quintelier



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