Daniel Dennett: The main thing we want to talk about is “What should we do? What is the moral course of action to take?” And if that is to be a reasonable discussion, we have to take a few cards off the table.
Bill Moyers: Such as?
Dennett: – The faith card. We have to take the faith card off the table.
Moyers: What do you mean “take the faith card off the table?” I mean, if one is a man of faith one can’t take the gene out.
Dennett: Well, you know, Lucille says you’re wrong. … You don’t know who Lucille is? – She’s a friend of mine. She’s always right. – I can’t play that card in an argument! It’s just rude of me to say “Well, Lucille says you’re wrong.” and you say “Who’s Lucille?” and I say “Friend of mine. Always right.”
– The Charlie Rose Show: A Conversation With Philosopher Daniel Dennett (April 4, 2006)
Did you mean “OFF” the table? “of” doesn’t make sense to me. Also, what was meant by “taking the “gene” out”? If you take “cards” off the table, doesn’t that mean you’re not playing with a full deck? Just being facetious.
Typo. And yes, Bill Moyers does seem to mix some metaphors.
Yeah, Dennett is always right :-).
The problem is that all moral choices are based on some sort of belief, usually originating in some “self-evident truth” which is not derived from any reason, material reality or scientific data. Take the famous trolley dilemma where one has to choose between changing the switch and killing one person and not changing the switch and letting 5 people die. Who says that one death is better than five? What if the one person on one branch is your child and the five people on the other branch are convicted child molesters? And, even then, who says that your child’s life is more valuable than the lives of 5 child molesters? All moral choices are irrational or based on irrational beliefs. They take the root in emotions, not reason.
Referring to some “Lucille” may be invalid for one person, but if Lucille is respected as an authority by another person, Lucille’s opinion would matter [to that person]. Dennett is making a strawman argument again. People refer to authorities in arguments all the time. Even William Clifford who famously said “ it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. makes an exception to this rule: “We may believe the statement of another person, when there is reasonable ground for supposing that he knows the matter of which he speaks, and that he is speaking the truth so far as he knows it.” Where “reasonable ground for supposing” is, simply, trust to that person and accepting that person as an authority (i.e. faith in that person).
“Referring to some “Lucille” may be invalid for one person, but if Lucille is respected as an authority by another person, Lucille’s opinion would matter [to that person].”
What does it matter if Lucille’s opinion matters to someone? Lucille – as far as we can reasonably ascertain, and despite her best efforts and intentions – might still be wrong. There are things we can say about morality; after all, it is concerned with the world in which we find ourselves; about which we can say things with a tolerable amount of certainty.
Dennett seems to state that he finds arguments which are based on dogma (i.e. mostly metaphysical arguments) unacceptable in – what he calls – a reasonable discussion. He seems to declare arguments which have no verifiable basis in reality as irrelevant until proven otherwise.
Well, if it matters — it matters, if it doesn’t — it doesn’t. That’s all. Dennett does not mention whether Lucille is right or wrong. He only infers that Lucille’s opinion is not a consideration in making a decision. And that’s incorrect. Because if Lucille is someone we respect as an authority, her opinion does matter for our decision making.
None of the moral statements has a verifiable basis in reality. They are all based on some sort of fundamental belief a.k.a. dogma. E.g. “homosexuality is sin” is based on dogma. “All people should have equal rights” is another faith-based dogma. Try to justify that with any kind of “facts” from whatever you call “reality”. The winner is determined not by facts, but by authority (who we believe) and the ability of one side to influence the emotions of the other side.