A Functional Naturalism

Synthese 198 (1):295-313 (2021)
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Abstract

I provide two arguments against value-free naturalism. Both are based on considerations concerning biological teleology. Value-free naturalism is the thesis that both (1) everything is, at least in principle, under the purview of the sciences and (2) all scientific facts are purely non-evaluative. First, I advance a counterexample to any analysis on which natural selection is necessary to biological teleology. This should concern the value-free naturalist, since most value-free analyses of biological teleology appeal to natural selection. My counterexample is unique in that it is likely to actually occur. It concerns the creation of synthetic life. Recent developments in synthetic biology suggest scientists will eventually be able to develop synthetic life. Such life, however, would not have any of its traits naturally selected for. Second, I develop a simple argument that biological teleology is a scientific but value-laden notion. Consequently, value-free naturalism is false. I end with some concluding remarks on the implications for naturalism, the thesis that (1). Naturalism may be salvaged only if we reject (2). (2) is a dogma that unnecessarily constrains our conception of the sciences. Only a naturalism that recognizes value-laden notions as scientifically respectable can be true. Such a naturalism is a functional naturalism.

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Anthony Nguyen
University of Southern California

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