I came across Jesse Bering’s The Lustful Human Animal: Cultural Differences in Sexual Harm and Consent, the original article can be found here, and wanted to make a few comments. Overall I don’t have any serious bones to pick with author but he does say some very philosophically confused things at the end of the article that are worth noting. Okay, well maybe that is a serious bone in and of itself.
I must admit that philosophically uneducated persons making substantial philosophical claims that are patently absurd is something that does bother.
Which is really why we need universal philosophy education. Everyone is a philosopher, it is just a matter of whether one is a good philosopher or a bad one. Everyone thinks about philosophical issues and has philosophical stances on a range of issues. Not everyone thinks about math or very technical sciences but everyone does philosophy. Anyhow.
What Malinowski fell prey to in his line of reasoning about homosexuality, and what many otherwise intelligent people still succumb to today, is the naturalistic fallacy—the philosophical error in which “natural” is mistakenly conflated with “good.” There are many things that are natural that are immensely harmful, and vice versa, many unnatural things that have made our lives far more pleasant and positive. Naturalness connotes no intrinsic moral value at all, and normal is only a number.
The many differences in sexuality found across human societies are impressive, as I think you’ll agree. Yet where does this leave us in our ability to discern an “objective morality” out there in the universe—in this case, sexual rights and wrongs that exist independent of our own enculturated biases? If you take God out of the picture (and there’s certainly no obvious reason to include Him, evolutionarily), does an objective morality even exist?
Quite simply, no. Through the rhetoric of righteousness, we’re bullied into subscribing to the delusion that it does—but it doesn’t. We’d also do well to abandon our strange preoccupation with the meaningless question of what is “natural” in human sexuality. Unless we wish to invoke a Creator God who preconceived our loins and prescribed our genitals for reproduction and nothing more, “natural” is a useless construct when it comes to sexual ethics. To gain any moral traction on such slippery issues, while also keeping a clear view of the sheer range of erotic diversity displayed over time and space, we’d do better to devote our efforts and intellects to defining harm in a way that applies not to us as onlookers, but to the subjective minds of those involved.
“Naturalistic Fallacy” does not refer to conflating natural with good as the author suggests. I guess he didn’t read the hyperlink. It refers to an argument made by G.E. Moore in which he claims that there is no natural property that moral goodness can be reduced to. It is an anti-naturalist argument. The argument is that one can ask of any natural property that one might be tempted to think of as morally good “Is it really good?”, which is supposed to show that goodness is a non-natural property.
Moving on, the author then goes on to claim that without God in the picture there can not be any objective morality. This is simply not true, it is actually opposite i.e. depending on God to justify claims of objective morality is philosophically problematic (think Euthyphro dilemma). Reason is all that is needed to generate claims of objective morality.
Tossed in there with his claims about objective morality and God is the insinuation that evolution somehow makes belief in God obsolete or disproves God’s existence. Evolution makes disbelief prima-facia plausible but certainly doesn’t disprove the existence of God.