One challenge to the new moral science

Hunter and Nedelisky on the any kind of “moral science” which takes “social consensus” or majority preferences as the limit of actual ethical reasoning.

One challenge to the new moral science is the effective absence of any working awareness of or engagement with history, culture, or political economy. Take as an example the centrality of social consensus” in the new utilitarian logic. Joshua Greene and others speak about the necessity of relying upon the shared values” of social consensus to build an ethics; that ethics begins with what the people” want. Surely we should be cautious about that idea. After all, social consensus in 1930s Germany gave us a democratically elected Nazi Party, the Third Reich and its war machine, and in turn, the horrors of the Holocaust. Social consensus gave us a democratically validated slavery, Jim Crow segregation, the terror of lynching, and every conceivable expression of social denigration and discrimination. Social consensus gave us apartheid in South Africa, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, and genocide in Armenia, Darfur, Burma, Rwanda, Cambodia, Somalia, and the Congo. At times in human history, social consensus has authorized the practices of foot-binding, genital mutilation, suttee, suicide-bombing, honor killing, and unrestrained consumerism. These are not ideas imposed on unwilling populations by fanatical autocrats. They have been embraced by the people,” woven into their cultures as well-established social practices, and reproduced generation after generation by the formal and informal socialization practices of, among other institutions, the family and school. The shared values of social consensus can yield abhorrent results.

 — Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality, James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky, pp. 200 – 201