An op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, the unofficial newspaper of the nation’s literati, predicts the “end of philosophy.”
The piece, available here, suggests that changes in our psychological understanding of morality heralds the end of philosophy as we know it.
Notwithstanding the brash generalizations about psychological research (which reveal either the author’s lack of understanding of psychology as a discipline, or his indifference to it), as well as an obvious lack of historical knowledge about the field of ethics (as in: this was already suggested, once, by a man named A.J. Ayer), the most obvious flaw in this piece is the conflation of “philosophy” with “ethics.”
Psychology (and potentially other sciences, such as evolutionary biology) may very well validate something like emotivist metaethics. This is not a novel idea or strategy of argumentation. Even the suggestion that emotions play a larger role in moral decision making then rationality is not new (thanks, David Hume).
But it’s not really to the author’s credit that he seems unable to tell the difference between philosophy, as a whole, and ethics, as a sub-speciality. Maybe current psychology will bring an end to ethics, maybe it won’t. (Incidentally, that idea is historically first one of a group of philosophers, not scientists, and has been around … since the 1920s cf. logical positivism; A.J. Ayer). But that doesn’t mean that psychological research will bring an “end” to metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, aesthetics, etc. It’s not clear at all, for example, how psychological research would “end” the debate about what counts as justification for a belief, or or tell us what good art is? Can it even solve the is-ought problem?
Thoughts, opinions, angry table-pounding from others? I am interested to hear it.