About AJ DiCintio
A.J. DiCintio is a Featured Writer for The New Media Journal. He first exercised his polemical skills arguing with friends on
the street corners of the working class neighborhood where he grew up.
Retired from teaching, he now applies those skills, somewhat honed and
polished by experience, to social/political affairs.
Epistemology, Materialists & Morality September 24, 2009
Let’s begin by defining epistemology
simply as the branch of philosophy that asks this essential question about
knowledge: "How do you know that?”
That job taken care of, we can turn to the topic of materialists and
It’s apparently no big deal to materialists (many of whom proclaim
themselves intellectuals of one sort or another), but most of them
aren’t interested in asking and then answering the epistemological
question regarding their moral assertions.
To complicate matters, this problem doesn’t represent just an academic
exercise; for materialists disproportionately favor the liberal side of
the American political spectrum and therefore exhibit a ravenous
appetite for enacting their moral beliefs into law.
Moreover, like all other political elitists who have ever existed,
liberals attempt to satiate their appetite exclusively at the level of
government most remote from the Constitution’s "We the People.”
So, since materialists are loath to take on this important issue, let’s
ask some questions ourselves:
How do materialists explain the difference between the source and,
therefore, the validity, of their morality and that, say, of Moses, who
claimed he received the Ten Commandments from God?
Or of Jefferson, who argued it is "self-evident” that the "Creator” has
endowed humans with the good things called "unalienable Rights,” among
which are the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and
How, indeed, do materialists explain the difference, given that their
view of existence requires them to regard the tablet held up by the
ancient Israelite as the work of a wily political Moses; a pathological
prankster Moses; a drugged-out hallucinatory Moses; or a
voice-in-his-head schizophrenic Moses?
How do materialists avoid being denounced as hypocrites who have merely
eliminated the middleman to play God themselves?
How do they prove their moral system isn’t actually a metaphysical
construction in which politics becomes a religion and politicians its
(Regarding the appropriateness of the word "religion,” note, for
example, that ACLU materialists not only are devoted to making
metaphysical assertions about rights (divining new ones by the bushel
full every day) but also are governed by a hierarchy that, from high
priests at the top, works its way down to pastors of local congregations
that hold services replete with the passing of collection plates to
further the cause, including by funneling money to a missionary effort.)
However, not all materialists have remained conveniently quiet about
this epistemological problem.
Carefully leaving God out of it, a few claim to have shown that morality
exists in the physical world independent of human imagination.
Therefore, they argue, humans don’t invent or hallucinate morality but
But how scientific are such assertions?
Let’s examine the one made by scientist and humanist Jacob Bronowski,
who tried to reconcile the humanities with science by pointing out that
science at times accepts truths based upon "faith,” for example, when it
employs the Doppler Shift to establish the fact that other galaxies are
either moving away from or toward ours — even though scientists cannot
record the position of hydrogen’s wave length at its source in those
But the Doppler Shift is entirely consistent and predictable in every
instance in which scientists are able to observe and measure it.
Yet Bronowski has not a word to say about how that kind of
predictability applies to a humanistic assertion such as the following:
"A murderer serving a life sentence not only has a right to an organ
transplant but also enjoys the right equally with other citizens.”
Robert Wright, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, has also
taken on the problem (NY Times, "A Grand Bargain Over Evolution”) by
turning to Harvard’s evolutionary psychologist and "contented atheist”
He quotes Pinker as follows:
"There may be a sense in which some moral statements aren’t
just...artifacts of a particular brain wiring but are part of the
reality of the universe, even if you can’t touch them and weigh them.. .
[These realities are]...independent of our existence. I mean, they’re
out there and in some sense — it’s very difficult to grasp — but we
discover them, we don’t hallucinate them.”
Let’s think about this "science.”
Pinker surely will say that on an insignificant planet orbiting a quite
ordinary star on the edge of one among billions of galaxies, a
fortuitous meeting of some common chemical compounds gave rise to
proteins which eventually evolved into a sentient species that in
numerous instances displays not just Wright’s "reciprocal altruism” but
what Wright calls a "moral sense.”
And bingo! From that observation, he concludes (without a bit of
empirical evidence) that morality exists as part of the physical
Talk about the need for epistemology!
Moreover, that wildly speculative assertion evokes this question:
Would Professor Pinker argue that an amoral reality also exists as part
of the physical universe?
After all, the sentient species called Homo sapiens doesn’t always act
with admirable reason, positive emotions, and a moral sense. For
example, biology teaches that humans (along with chimps and ants) have
conducted wars of aggression for millions of years. And then there’s
murder and rape, even that which biologists find rampant in a lump of
If he admits to the amoral reality, Pinker would be admitting that God
(The Good) and the Devil (Evil) actually exist as a form of matter or
energy whose nature we can’t even imagine but which was and still is
part of the chemistry that gave rise to life on earth.
Well, unlike a semi-conscious reveler who, unable to rise from his
resting place amid the mud and cowpies of a Woodstock meadow, merely
gesticulates feebly and weakly intones, "That’s deep, man,” scientists
and common sense folks recognize Pinker’s notion for what it is: a lame
attempt to pass metaphysics off as science.
So, what are we to do in the face of materialists who refuse to explain
how their ideas about morality are based in physical reality as well as
those who, with the worst kind of doublespeak and gobbledygook, ascribe
them to matter, energy, and forces boomed by the Big Bang?
Here’s one suggestion:
In the first case, remain calmly persistent in asking the
In the second, never cease speaking the
entreaty that they put their science on the table, a table we will be
joyously happy to provide.