The purpose of this thesis is to make an intervention into the world socialist movement. I aim to speak to the socialist movement as a whole, not just to the centre of imperialism, but also to the oppressed nations in the periphery of the global imperialist system. This thesis aims to start a discussion in the left as it begins its effort to rebuild and orient itself to the masses of working people in the twenty-first century. I argue that:
A) Humans can have correct beliefs about moral propositions, and that they can and do act in morally correct ways. In other words, moral realism is correct.
In this thesis I will be completely agnostic about what kinds of systems of morality, or what particular moral propositions are correct. In this thesis I am merely attempting to construct an ontology that proves moral realism is true in general. The intended purpose of the ontology developed in this thesis is to then go on to further prove in some later project that moral absolutism and moral universalism are correct. The former is the philosophical position that all actions may be evaluated as right or wrong, and the latter is the ethical view that the morality of actions is independent of any culture or custom.
I further argue that:
B) All that metaphysically exists is the world pictured by modern science. This includes the contemporary ‘hard sciences’, like physics, biology, chemistry, neuro-cognitive science, etc. It also includes the ‘soft’ sciences, such as social sciences like political science, history, anthropology, and sociology. That is to say, the correct picture of the world for which I argue is a naturalist one. I assert strictly that only ‘nature’ exists.
The ontology which I construct in this thesis I call ‘dialectical naturalism’. Another way of expressing the position I take in this thesis is ‘naturalistic moral realism’. My theory is a metaphysical one, as well as a political one. I want to contribute to the physical awakening of the twenty-first century socialist movement by trying to stimulate (or provoke, or invite…) its philosophical awakening. Murray Bookchin too called the philosophical component of his theory of Communalism “Dialectical Naturalism”. This thesis presents a philosophy that is broadly congruent with Bookchin, except that it takes off from a completely different starting point. I discovered Bookchin’s dialectical naturalism too late in order to incorporate his discoveries and conclusions. Nevertheless I feel the objective conditions of the socialist struggle are proving his philosophy of dialectical naturalism correct—and this is why I developed a very similar system using completely different tools, and without any knowledge of Bookchin at all at the time. My theory is metaphysical because I do not wish to simply argue that the human world takes itself to be a certain way merely discursively, but that the universe is a certain way whether particular individual humans believe it or not.
Let me explain why I believe it is necessary to adopt a strongly metaphysical theory about the nature of human morality.
The late 1970s saw the beginning of the political assault from the capitalist ruling class, which is called ‘neoliberalism’. Then, in the early 1990s, the Soviet bloc, and the Soviet Union, collapsed. These two historical events brought about a massive restructuring of the balance of global class forces. The economic and political power of capital massively increased, at the expense of the power the global working class had established since the end of the second world war. This produced a massive degeneration in the political progressiveness of the philosophical and political work that was produced in universities. I believe there is a direct chain of causation between the onset of neoliberalism, and the emergence of philosophical movements such as post-modernism, post- structuralism, post-Marxism, and post- and anti-humanism.
I believe that post-modernist philosophy has a dominant position in the moral and political philosophy curriculum for political activists going through university. All of these theories are strongly relativistic, at best non-naturalist, and strongly anti-metaphysical. These philosophies argue that the concepts of Truth and Objectivity in the practical world of politics are strongly associated with totalitarianism, authoritarianism, and mass genocide. Post-modernism argues that there is no such thing as objective political economic conditions. It further holds that broad concepts such as Truth are to be treated in strongly relativistic ways. In other words, there are no such things which are ‘universally good’ for humans. Post-modernism rejects the idea that the meaning of history can be one way or another, or that history ‘progresses’ anywhere.
Post-modernism also only treats of meaning in human social intercourse as a ‘discourse’—mere verbalisms. By ‘verbalism’ I mean the same thing as Alasdair Macintyre when he talks about emotivistic assertions. Post-modernism easily agrees with emotivism when it claims that human moral propositions might appear to be entities that establish objective moral facts, but in fact have the same ontological status as cheering on or booing at a football team: “Yay! To the privatisation of public services!”, “Boo! To government corruption!” The name for this position in moral philosophy is ‘moral anti-realism’. The political argument that post-modernism makes for ‘discourse’ is that moral anti-realism is more democratic. Post-modernism argues that attempting to establish the existence of objectively true moral facts leads to totalitarian political systems. If we do away with all talk of good things which are objectively correct, then we are able to have a kinder, more pluralistic, and open society. But I argue that moral anti-realism collapses into moral nihilism. I suppose post-modernism is attempting to argue for what Richard Rorty called ‘ironism’. Ironism is the idea that no-one really truly knows if their political convictions are correct, and that one is constantly going through a process of criticising and replacing their political convictions with ones that they think might be better. This is a commonplace in Western society. Supposedly everyone is ‘always learning how to be a better activist’, and ‘is never really finished learning how to be a good activist’. I argue that this attitude to political activity is incredibly dangerous.
It leads to the conclusion that nothing is actually really morally correct, and that we’re always bumbling along in political discussions, and that our political beliefs and arguments are like the way we might tolerate someone’s distaste for capsicum, or delight for certain kinds of weather.