As everyone knows, David Chalmers argues in The Conscious Mind against materialism and for dualism about phenomenal properties. On this view, conscious experiences are a sui generis feature of the world over and above its physical qualities. Yet, in order to defend his view, Chalmers also argues that his theory is a form of naturalism. What I want to show in this post is that, if Chalmers’s reasons for thinking that he is naturalist are sound, then ‘the dualists’ in metaethics – so far usually called ‘non-naturalists’ – count as naturalists for the very same reasons.
Firstly, it is true that Chalmers’ argument for property dualism do not seem to apply in metaethics. After all, he argues from the conceivability of zombies to the failure of logical supervenience of the phenomenal on the physical. This means that the physical does not entail the phenomenal which thus has to be an additional feature of the world. Yet, in metaethics, it would be awkward to propose that there are ‘zombie worlds’ or ‘inverted spectrum worlds’ which would be physical duplicates but would lack moral properties or have different ones. But, let us assume, for the sake of the argument, that logical supervenience of the moral on the physical is not sufficient for reductive explanations and that the metaethical dualist has some other means to argue that moral properties are likewise distinct features over and above the physical features of the world.
The first step in Chalmers’ argument for his dualism’s naturalism is the claim that ‘where we have new fundamental properties, we have also new fundamental laws’. I’ve substituted the mental terms with moral ones here in what Chalmers says about this:
“Here the fundamental laws will be [moral]physical laws, specifying how [the moral properties] depend on physical properties. These laws will not interfere with physical laws; physical laws already form a closed system. Instead, they will be supervenience laws, telling us how [moral properties] arise from physical processes(127)."
Here, it is interesting how close this is to what many non-naturalists have been saying all along. After all, most of them (with perhaps the exception of certain particularists) have endorsed moral bridge-principles which tell us what natural properties of actions make actions good, bad, right, wrong, and so on. This fits with the following passage too:
“There is good reason to believe that there is a lawful relationship between physical processes and [moral properties], and any lawful relationship must be supplemented by fundamental laws. The case of physics tells us that fundamental laws are simple and elegant; we should expect the same of the fundamental laws in a theory of ethics. Once we have fundamental laws of [consciousness and ethics] to accompany a fundamental theory in physics, we may truly have a theory of everything (127).”
So, that’s the first step: from additional properties we get to new fundamental bridge-principles. The final step is to claim that this is all that is needed to naturalise the new properties. Here it is in the words of Chalmers with the relevant substitutions:
“This view is entirely compatible with a contemporary scientific worldview, and is entirely naturalistic. On this view, the world still consists in a network of fundamental properties related by basic laws, and everything is to be ultimately explained in these terms. All that has happened is that the inventory of properties and laws has been expanded… Further, nothing about this view contradicts anything in physical theory: rather, it supplements that theory. A physical theory gives a theory of physical processes, and a [moral]physical theory tells us how those processes give rise to [right and wrong].
To capture the spirit of the view I advocate, I call it naturalistic dualism. It is naturalistic because it posits that everything is a consequence of a network of basic properties and laws, and because it is compatible with all the results of contemporary science. And as with naturalistic theories in other domains, this views allows that we can explain [moral properties] in terms of basic [moral principles]. There need be nothing especially transcendental about [morality], it is just another natural phenomenon. All that has happened is that our picture of the nature has expanded. Sometimes ‘naturalism’ is taken to be synonymous with ‘materialism’ but it seems to me that a commitment to a naturalistic understanding of the world can survive failure of materialism. (127-128)”
So, to summarise, two reasons why Chalmers thinks that he is a naturalist: (i) There are brute laws that connect the different ‘physical, conscious-making properties’ with different conscious experiences, and (ii) these laws and the experiences do not interfere with the basic laws of physics. Yet, the dualists in metaethics already accept both of these points: they too endorse brute laws that connect the different physical, good-making properties with goodness (and right-making properties with rightness, and so on), and they don’t think that these normative principles interfere with the scientific laws that describe the physical going-ons. There’s no reason why the dualist in ethics could not accept ‘that physical sciences (physics, chemistry, neuroscience, and the like) are entirely successful. They explain physical phenomena admirably: they simply fail to explain [what is right and wrong] (170).'
I guess many dualists in metaethics would welcome the idea that they are naturalists but just not physicalists. I think that this partners of guilt strategy might do something to alleviate the queerness worries. Others might complain that Chalmers has picked bad criteria for what counts as naturalism. But, a large part of me wants to think that he is right.
Finally, Chalmers has a brilliant way of warding off the worry that the bridge-principles themselves would be metaphysically suspicious (think of Mackie’s ‘what in the world does this because refer to?’ question). Here it is with the appropriate substitutions:
“It might be objected that this does not tell us what the connection is, or how a physical configuration gives rise to [moral qualities]. But the search for such a connection is misguided. Even with fundamental physical laws, we cannot find a ‘connection’ that does the work. Things simply happen in accordance with the law; beyond a certain point, there is no asking “how”. As Hume showed, the quest for such ultimate connections is fruitless. If there are indeed such connections, they are entirely mysterious in both physical and [ethical] cases, so the latter poses no special problem here (170)."
I think this is just brilliant!