I need to take stock of where I stand in my struggle against nihilism. I have made a case that traditional sexual morality rules out sexual nihilism and elimination of sexual nihilism is an antidote to nihilism. However, my defense of traditional sexual morality requires assumptions. To justify these assumptions, I must make a case that there is a certain moral order. In these posts, I have characterized this moral order as authoritarian morality or divine command morality.
A moral order which can be characterized as giving a divine command morality is a supernatural order. Defense of a supernatural order requires confronting views which deny the existence or even the possibility of anything supernatural.
What are these anti-supernatural or naturalist views?
There is naïve scientism. Naïve scientism holds that we can know nothing but that which can be known by the methods of natural sciences and believe nothing beyond what could be justified by natural science
Naïve scientism is easily set aside as self-referentially inconsistent. We cannot know by the methods of the natural sciences that only those methods give knowledge.
In my previous post, I pointed out that the inconsistency of naïve scientism can be removed by reformulating it as normative scientism.
Normative scientism proposes that we ought to hold that we can know nothing but that which can be known by the methods of natural science and believe nothing beyond what could be justified by natural science
Normative scientism needs to be supported by a case that on the whole human beings would be better satisfied if they accepted scientism.
A look at the references in the Wikipedia entry for “scientism” reveals that the case for what I call normative scientism is not strong. Secular writers point out that valuable knowledge about human beings is gained through non-scientific conversation, literature, music, etc.,. And belief beyond what could be established by natural science is permissible if consistent with natural science. As William James pointed out in his famous essay “The Will To Believe” we risk missing great truths by such a restriction. Human life would be impoverished if we always strived to be “scientific.”
But there is a way of being anti-supernatural or a naturalist without holding any form of scientism. I call this secular naturalism. Secular naturalism presupposes an ontology. An ontology is a philosophical theory on what there is.
Secular naturalism can be presented as follows.
There is nothing but the objects, processes and events investigated by the natural sciences. However, there are ways of knowing about these objects, processes and events different from the methods of the natural sciences. Belief beyond what could be established by natural science is permissible if consistent with natural science and not about any objects, processes different from those investigated by the natural sciences.
Secular naturalism is not inconsistent as naïve scientism is. Secular naturalists have long ago dismissed logical positivism which claimed metaphysical thought was meaningless. The diverse ways of knowing accepted may well include a way of knowing the ontology is correct. Furthermore, a belief in a naturalist ontology is not about any objects, etc., beyond those accessible to natural science. I spent many of my professional philosophy hours with the efforts of W. V. Quine to establish a naturalist ontology. The objects we investigated were words or terms in formal languages.
A utilitarian moral case for secular naturalism might be hard to establish because many people would be distressed by its nihilistic entailments. Indeed, a secular naturalist might make a case that secular naturalism ought not be taught to those who are distressed if it is true.
Secular naturalism is far from well established. It is not perfectly clear what makes an object etc., beyond the scope of natural science. Quine regard even the meaning of words as supernatural objects. And there certainly is no recipe for reducing all objects, etc., to those investigated by physics. Such a reduction is the “Holy Grail” of secular naturalism.
However, the truth of secular naturalism is an open philosophical -metaphysical -question which I do not think will ever be conclusively decided by even the best philosophical thought. But the truth of some supernatural position, consistent with natural science, also remains a perennial open metaphysical question.
So ultimately nihilism can be set aside by development, or adoption of, a metaphysical scheme with a place for the supernatural plus faith, perhaps as a gift from God, that the scheme truthfully represents reality.
Nihilism must be confronted on the “battlefield” of metaphysics.