Intuitionism as used by reactionaries.

I’ve come across reactionaries who use moral intuitionism as their basis, and that has always puzzled me. As an intuitionist, I need to address this. I think I’ve figured out what the issue is: they interpret intuitionism as something like “instinctivism,” the belief that anything we do instinctively must be good. I have analyzed the “instinctivism” argument of Bryan Caplan regarding natalism in this entry. Basically, his argument was that natalism is true because most people don’t kill themselves.

The fact that people generally do or don’t do something, however, doesn’t imply anything about it being intuition-based or not. It is entirely possible, for example, that our brains have some forms of cognitive bias which make us think our lives are much better than they actually are (this is a claim put forward by many antinatalists). It is also possible that people are indoctrinated to believe that their lives are good and that they should be thankful for being alive. Then we would grasp at the life-system as a shining beacon of goodness, instinctively, not because we’d naturally do it based on human intuition but because we’ve been indirectly trained to do so.

I think the same is true about politics. For example, there was some media attention on some intuitionist philosopher stating that conservatives were inherently better because they orient their morality on all the categories of moral intuitions (care, fairness, loyalty, authority, and purity), while liberals only orient their morality on some of them (care and fairness). The unspoken implication is that, since the intuitions are shared by all humans, liberalism is somehow less than human, while conservatism appeals to the entire spectrum of human morality.

My opinion is that this is, as Chidi in The Good Place would say, “hot stinky cat dookie.” All humans who have a moral sense care about all these things, just in different ways. These specific conservatives believe that the way *they* care about loyalty, authority, and purity are the only way you can care about those things, and liberals just don’t care at all. Believe me, liberals have just as keen of a sense of loyalty, authority, and purity than everyone else. I say this in a good way but also in a bad way: liberals can get just as deranged and unbalanced about those things as conservatives do (been on tumblr lately? or followed the trans lobby? or really anything the regressive part of the “left” is up to these days?). They just value loyalty to other ideals or people, they value the authority of different people, and they attribute purity to different properties. But to the fanatic, anyone who disagrees with their values is a nihilist (fundamentalist Christians think atheists and determinists are nihilists, natalists think antinatalists are nihilists, and so on).

The fact that conservatives exist and that they think they’re better than everyone else does not prove that conservatism is the result of our moral intuitions and liberalism is not (and this is not a one-or-the-other issue: there is nothing inherently contradictory about believing both are, or that neither are!). It proves that people are indoctrinated into certain political beliefs, and people like to think they’re special and have some kind of special knowledge that others do not have. It’s not too hard to figure out. The fact that conservatives do not understand how liberals think (and vice-versa) does not mean that conservatism is intuitive and liberalism is not. That’s just bigoted, sloppy thinking.

The more general point here is that morality (from the intuitionist standpoint) is not only an issue of what the intuitions are, or how they are defined by society, but also an issue of how balanced they are. I think that the idea that valuing something at the expense of other things and having it become an obsession is pretty well understood and is the basis of many stories. The conservative commentators seem to believe that liberals have an unbalanced moral system, that they somehow don’t value loyalty, authority, or purity as much as they should. But how would you measure that, and how could you tell you’re the one who’s right?

There are cases where you can tell pretty easily. Cults, for example, exploit our sense of loyalty (you have to be loyal to the group!) and redefine our concept of care (we can save the world, and that’s the most caring thing you can do!) in order to make us harm people, reject social authorities, and want to generate unfairness in society in favor of the cult. Anti-abortion advocates play on our sense of purity and sanctity (rejecting abortions as disgusting and ungodly) in order to get us to treat women unfairly (not giving them contraception or medical operations which would be granted to men) and condemning some women to death. People who manipulate our intuitions for these purposes know very well what they are doing, at least at some level (that they are exploiting some part of us in order to crush another).

Our moral system did not evolve under our fast-changing social conditions. We know this because the moral system exists to some extent in all primate species, and therefore we know it evolved under conditions of small groups with clearly delineated and generally (but not always) unchanging social roles. They were not meant to operate under conditions where a large pool of individuals could stumble on ways to use complex languages and communication technologies to hijack certain parts of that system in favor of other parts.

The proper intuitionist argument is not “these people don’t follow this or that intuition” (which is absurd, as we all do to some extent, except for sociopaths), but whether our moral systems are in balance and are functional, or if they are imbalanced and dysfunctional.

One thought on “Intuitionism as used by reactionaries.

  1. […] What is Ethical Intuitionism? Why Atheists Should Be Intuitionists. Why intuitionism supports antinatalist conclusions. Ideological bias is the main ethical error. An intuitionist answers Matt Slick re: atheist morality. Some misunderstandings about intuitions. Equating intuitionism with “naive intuitionism.” Intuitionism as used by reactionaries. […]

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