But then what do ethics depend on? How can there be objective right and wrong without an object (e.g. the crude conception of God) dictating what is right and what is wrong? Well, what do we mean by 'objective,' 'right,' and 'wrong'? Those are hard questions that few people want to think about.
Jean Kazez says that:
If there's one thing that makes people think religion is indispensable, and atheists untrustworthy, it's the idea that morality depends on religion. You can't just reject that--you need to say what morality does depend on, if not on religion.But I don't think morality does depend on anything. At least not in any kind of foundational sense. Here she discusses the idea that "It's a fact that torturing babies for fun is wrong." But if we're going to discuss this idea seriously, we need to say what we mean by a fact (especially if we're going to talk about moral facts and whether they are or are not the same kind of thing as scientific facts), and by the word wrong. But this is early analytic philosophy territory, and that's difficult stuff. Also, historically, rather unproductive. So I'm less excited about Sam Harris's new book (which apparently argues that moral facts can be "determined" by science) than Kazez seems to be.
(Note: Kazez is talking charitably about Harris here, explaining why his strategy makes sense, etc. The only thing I really disagree with her about on all this is how much to look forward to reading Harris's book. I'm certainly not suggesting that she is failing to do any philosophical work that needs doing.)
Karl Marx is often quoted as saying that history repeats itself first as tragedy and second as farce. I wonder whether the history of thinking about ethics repeats itself first as farce, second as tragedy. If serious-but-unsuccessful philosophy is repeated as missing-the-point popular "science" (Dawkins, Hawking, Harris, and co.), then I suspect the next step is likely to be a tragic loss, whether of a certain sense of religion, or of ethics, or carnivorous species, or whatever. Maybe that's melodramatic, but I don't see how this trend can be good.