Cosmic Coincidence and Intuitive Non-Naturalism

By Hanna, Nathan | Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Cosmic Coincidence and Intuitive Non-Naturalism


Hanna, Nathan, Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy


RECENTLY, MATTHEW BEDKE (2009) offered an intriguing argument against Intuitive Non-Naturalism in ethics (INN). INN is the conjunction of Ethical Non-Naturalism and Ethical Intuitionism. Ethical Non-Naturalism is the view that ethical facts or properties are non-natural, i.e., non-physical. Ethical Intuitionism is the view that intuition can provide non-inferential, prima facie justification for ethical beliefs. Against INN, Bedke argues that intuitive justification for belief in non-natural ethical facts is subject to a defeater: the "defeater from cosmic coincidence."

Though not a proponent of INN myself, I think Bedke's argument faces an important difficulty. Bedke takes seemings or beliefs to be subject to defeat if they satisfy certain criteria. He proposes two in particular. satisfying these criteria is insufficient for defeat, however. Many inductively justified beliefs, for example, satisfy the criteria, yet this does not seem sufficient to generate a defeater against them. Two of Bedke's premises happen to be such beliefs. I begin by discussing Bedke's argument and his proposed criteria. I then show that inductively justified beliefs and related seemings satisfy the criteria. I conclude that satisfying the criteria is insufficient to generate a defeater and that the sufficiency of such criteria would, in any case, render Bedke's argument self-defeating.

Assuming Ethical Non-Naturalism for the sake of argument, Bedke argues that intuitive justification for belief in non-natural ethical facts is subject to defeat. Here is a slightly modified version of his argument (p. 190). (1)

1) Suppose Ethical Non-Naturalism is true, i.e., that ethical facts or properties are non-physical.

2) The physical world is causally closed, so physical events and states are fully physically caused.

3) Ethical intuitions are physical events or states. (2)

4) So, ethical intuitions are fully physically caused. (2,3)

5) So, ethical facts or properties do not causally affect ethical intuitions. (1,4)

6) If ethical facts or properties do not causally affect ethical intuitions, it would take a cosmic coincidence for ethical intuitions to accurately track ethical facts and properties.

7) So, it would take a cosmic coincidence for ethical intuitions to accurately track ethical facts and properties. (5,6)

8) If it would take a cosmic coincidence for ethical intuitions to accurately track ethical facts and properties, there is a defeater for these intuitions: the defeater from cosmic coincidence.

9) So, on the hypothesis that Ethical Non-Naturalism is true, there is a defeater for our ethical intuitions. (7,8) (3)

According to premise 4, ethical intuitions have fully physical causal histories. Because non-natural ethical facts do not figure in these histories, Bedke claims, it is conceptually possible to have the same history--and so the same intuitions--with different sets of non-natural ethical facts. (4) Given this, Bedke argues, it would be cosmically coincidental if the non-natural ethical facts just happened to fortuitously line up with these intuitions. once we realize this, he claims, any justification our intuitions might have given us for belief in non-natural ethical facts will be defeated.

To illustrate, Bedke discusses two non-ethical examples: the case of Andy and the case of Bea (pp. 197-98). On the basis on intuition, Andy believes that each person has a non-natural spirit animal whose species supervenes on the person's character. Bea believes, also on the basis of intuition, that a goblin war rages all around her, though the goblins and their weapons are made up entirely of non-natural stuff. Andy's intuition can be completely explained in terms of sociological and psychological facts. Likewise, Bea's intuition can be completely explained by the fact that she has a brain tumor, the likes of which have similarly affected others. …

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