When it comes to the meanings of normative expressions, descriptivist theories and expressivist theories have distinct explanatory virtues. Noting this, and with the hope of not compromising on explanatory resources, hybrid semantic theories refuse to choose. Here, I examine how well the strategy works for Moorean open questions and associated is-ought gaps. Though hybrid theorists typically rely on their expressivist resources for this explanandum, there is a type of open question that unadulterated expressivist theories can handle but hybrid theories cannot (...) – reverse open questions associated with an ought-is gap. Because of this, hybrid theories do not enjoy the best of both worlds, and Moorean considerations favour unadulterated expressivism over any partly descriptivist theory. (shrink)
The present essay offers a sketch of a philosophy of value, what I shall here refer to as ‘ethical instrumentalism.’ My primary aim is to say just what this view involves and what its commitments are. In the course of doing so, I find it necessary to distinguish this view from another with which it shares a common basis and which, in reference to its most influential proponent, I refer to as ‘Humeanism.’ A second, more general, aim is to make (...) plausible the idea that, given the common basis, ethical instrumentalism provides a more compelling picture of the philosophy of value than Humeanism does. (shrink)
Theoretical reasoning aims to expand our knowledge of how the world is. Practical reasoning aims to expand our knowledge of how to behave in the world as we know it to be. Although this distinction between theoretical and practical reasoning is notoriously central to normative ethical theorizing, its significance has, I think, been underappreciated and misconstrued in the metaethical debate about realism. I suspect that this is the result of two aspects of that debate: (a) the realism debate has been (...) pursued (mostly) by investigating the appropriate semantic account of ethical statements, (b) all of the prominent semantic accounts on offer, both realist and irrealist, take representation rather than inference as their master concept, which leaves the distinction between ways of reasoning as explanatorily posterior to the distinction between representational and nonrepresentational items. Aspect (a) is not obviously beyond reproach—perhaps the reality of moral properties should be investigated by strictly metaphysical rather than semantic methods. However, for the purposes of this paper, I shall not reproach the methodological mindset that semanticizes the realism debate in metaethics. This is because it is by working within this mindset that I think we have best hope of correcting the mistake I see embodied in aspect (b) and gaining a fuller appreciation of the significance of the distinction between theoretical and practical reasoning to the realism debate. Thus, my overarching aim in this paper is to begin to explore what happens to that debate when we take inference rather than representation as our master concept in philosophical semantics. More specifically, I want to consider the fortunes of the most prominent form of irrealism—expressivism—and urge that a new form of this position, which takes the distinction between theoretical and practical reasoning (rather than the distinction between representational and nonrepresentational mental states) as basic, has the resources to address one of the main objections threatening contemporary versions of the view. (shrink)
Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen’s (1996) influential account of “cultures of honor” speculates that honor norms are a socially-adaptive deterrence strategy. This theory has been appealed to by multiple empirically-minded philosophers, and plays an important role in John Doris and Alexandra Plakias’ (2008) antirealist argument from disagreement. In this essay, I raise four objections to the Nisbett-Cohen deterrence thesis, and offer another theory of honor in its place that sees honor as an agonistic normative system regulating prestige competitions. Since my (...) account portrays honor norms as radically different from liberal ones, it actually strengthens Doris and Plakias’ case in some respects: cultures of honor are not merely superficially different from Western liberal ones. Nonetheless, the persistent appeal of honor’s principles, and their moral plausibility in certain contexts, suggests not antirealism, but pluralism—a reply on behalf of realism that itself has considerable empirical support. (shrink)
We must admire the ambition of Prinz’s title question. But does he provide a convincing answer to it? Prinz’s own view of morality as “a byproduct – accidental or invented – of faculties that evolved for different purposes (1),” which appears to express a negative reply, does not receive much direct argument here. Rather, Prinz’s main aim is to try to show that the considerations he believes are typically presented by moral nativists are insufficient or inadequate to establish that morality (...) is innate. He discusses, individually, how much evidential weight the (alleged) existence of (1) universal moral norms, (2) universal moral domains, (3) fixed stages in moral development, and (4) precursors to morality among non-human animals lend to nativist claims, and, in addition, he argues that poverty-of-the-moral-stimulus arguments are as yet unconvincing. “[C]urrent evidence,” Prinz claims, “is consistent with the conclusion that children acquire moral competence through experience (22).” It is not my intention here to follow Prinz’s piecemeal criticisms of moral nativism. In their attacks on linguistic nativism (see, e.g., Cowie 1999) and now on moral nativism, empiricists typically deploy the.. (shrink)
This paper concerns the relation between two metaethical theses: moral naturalism and moral skepticism. It is important that we distinguish both from a couple of methodological principles with which they might be confused. Let us give the label “Cartesian skepticism” to the method of subjecting to doubt everything for which it is possible to do so—usually by introducing alternative hypotheses that are consistent with all available evidence (e.g., brains in vats). Let us give the label “global naturalism” to the principle (...) that requires of any item which we admit into our ontology that it “fits” (in some manner or cluster of manners to be specified) with our naturalistic scientific worldview. One might be both a Cartesian skeptic and a global naturalist, if the latter principle is something that has survived the former test procedure. Alternatively, one might have adopted global naturalism for some other reason, while having little patience for the Cartesian method of doubt. Moral naturalism is the metaethical view that moral entities (e.g., properties like goodness and evil) fit within the scientific image of the world. The moral naturalist will probably be a global naturalist, but need not be: It is consistent with allowing non-natural entities into one’s ontology that one happens to think that moral properties are of the natural variety. Moral skepticism denies that moral entities fit within our scientific worldview. One way of denying moral naturalism is to be a moral error theorist: to hold that our moral discourse attempts to make reference to moral properties, but these properties do not exist.1 Another way of denying moral naturalism is to be a noncognitivist: to hold that our moral discourse was never really in the business of referring to moral facts or properties in the first place, and ipso facto such facts or properties are not naturalistic. In this paper, the label “moral skepticism” denotes the disjunction of these two theses. Neither the error theorist nor the noncognitivist must be committed to global naturalism, but usually will be; indeed, this commitment will often be a motivating factor of their metaethical views.. (shrink)
“Nihilism” (from the Latin “nihil” meaning nothing) is not a well-defined term. One can be a nihilist about just about anything: A philosopher who does not believe in the existence of knowledge, for example, might be called an “epistemological nihilist”; an atheist might be called a “religious nihilist.” In the vicinity of ethics, one should take care to distinguish moral nihilism from political nihilism and from existential nihilism. These last two will be briefly discussed below, only with the aim of (...) clarifying our topic: moral nihilism. Even restricting attention to “moral nihilism,” matters remain indeterminate. Its most prominent usage in the field of metaethics treats it as a synonym for “error theory,” therefore an entry that said only “Nihilism: see ERROR THEORY” would not be badly misleading. This would identify moral nihilism as the metaethical view that moral discourse consists of assertions that systematically fail to secure the truth. (See Mackie 1977; Joyce 2001.) A broader definition of “nihilism” would be “the view that there are no moral facts.” This is broader because it covers not only the error theory but also noncognitivism (see NONCOGNITIVISM). Both these theories deny that there are moral facts—the difference being that the error theorist thinks that in making moral judgments we try to state facts (but fail to do so, because there are no facts of the type in question), whereas the noncognitivist thinks that in making moral judgments we do not even try to state facts (because, for example, these judgments are really veiled commands or expressions of desire). (In characterizing noncognitivism in this way, I am sidelining various linguistic permissions that may be earned via the quasi-realist program (see QUASI-REALISM).) While it is not uncommon to see “nihilism” defined in this broader way, few contemporary noncognitivists think of themselves as “nihilists,” so it is reasonable to suspect that the extra breadth of the definition is often unintentional. Both these characterizations see moral nihilism as a purely metaethical thesis...n. (shrink)
Jimmy expresses sympathy for Scanlon’s contractualism but wonders whether it might be better developed in the context of a Humean expressivism. Jimmy presses this point, in part, by observing that much of what Scanlon wants to say about moral and normative discourse, such as their logical discipline and apparent truth-aptitude, can be accommodated by the expressivist. If all that Scanlon wants to say about moral and normative discourse can be accommodated by the expressivist then what content can be given to (...) his denial of expressivism, to his commitment to a cognitive understanding of moral judgment and judgments of reasons? The appearance of a genuine dispute between Scanlon and the expressivist can seem to slip quietly out of view. In this reply I will focus in detail on one strand of Scanlon’s thought that raises difficulties for the expressivist model that Jimmy favors. The point is to emphasize that there is indeed a genuine dispute between Scanlon and the expressivist and to suggest, tentatively, that Scanlon’s contractualism might require its present cognitive development. (shrink)
The use of other animals for human purposes is as contentious an issue as one is likely to find in ethics. And this is so not only because there are both passionate defenders and opponents of such use, but also because even among the latter there are adamant and diametric differences about the bases of their opposition. In both disputes, the approach taken tends to be that of applied ethics, by which a position on the issue is derived from a (...) fundamental moral commitment. This commitment in turn depends on normative ethics, which investigates the various moral theories for the best fit to our moral intuitions. Thus it is that the use of animals in biomedical research is typically defended by appeal to a utilitarian theory, which legitimates harm to some for the greater good of others; while the opposition condemns that use either by appeal to the same theory, but disagreeing about the actual efficacy of animal experimentation, or by appeal to an alternative theory, such as the right of all sentient beings not to be exploited. Unfortunately, the normative issue seems likely never to be resolved, hence leaving the applied issue in limbo. The present essay seeks to circumvent this impasse by dispensing altogether with any moral claim or argument, thereby cutting the Gordian knot of animal ethics with a meta-ethical sword. The alternative schema defended is simply to advance relevant considerations, whereupon “there is nothing left but to feel.” In a word, motivation replaces justification. (shrink)
A defense of amorality as both philosophically justified and practicably livable. While in synch with their underlying aim of grounding human existence in a naturalistic metaphysics, this book takes both the new atheism and the mainstream of modern ethical philosophy to task for maintaining a complacent embrace of morality. It advocates instead replacing the language of morality with a language of desire. The book begins with an analysis of what morality is and then argues that the concept is not instantiated (...) in reality. Following this, the question of belief in morality is addressed: How would human life be affected if we accepted that morality does not exist? The book argues that at the very least, a moralist would have little to complain about in an amoral world, and at best we might hope for a world that was more to our liking overall. An extended look at the human encounter with nonhuman animals serves as an illustration of amorality’s potential to make both theoretical and practical headway in resolving heretofore intractable ethical problems. (shrink)
This chapter surveys work in meta-ethics in the past fifty years which explicitly deals with issues associated with evil. It discusses two examples from secular discussions: the argument developed by Gilbert Harman on the explanatory role of moral facts, and the argument developed by Gilbert Harman and John Doris on the empirical inadequacy of the virtues. The chapter then turns to two topics related to theistic meta-ethics: the problem of evil and moral realism, and theological voluntarism and evil.
In recent metaethics there has been a great deal of discussion regarding moral realism. Moral realism in the tradition of ethical naturalism has been revitalized in the form of a synthetic ethical naturalism. This brand of moral realism has interesting theoretical implications for individualistic and holistic models of environmental ethics. In this paper I argue that most theorists of environmental ethics presuppose an irrealist metaethic out of fear of violating Hume's law and Moore's naturalistic fallacy (e.g., Callicott, Taylor, Elliot, and (...) Sterba, while Rolston is a notable exception). But if we take moral realism (in the form of synthetic ethical naturalism) seriously, then environmental ethics has more options than the conventional metaethical maxims of Hume's law and Moore's naturalistic fallacy would allow. Accordingly, I lay out various prospects for a realist environmental metaethic. Environ-moral realism is an attempt to ground nonanthropocentrism in a realist metaethic. (shrink)
Can we give a uniform account of reasons in the three spheres of action, belief, and sentiment? Are reasons in these three spheres genuinely distinct, or are they in some way reducible to less than three? What kind of knowledge do we have of reasons – and what is it that we know? Some basic problems in philosophy depend on our answers to these questions.
The thesis that the concept of a reason is the fundamental normative concept is in the air. In this paper I examine what it amounts to, how to formulate it, and how ambitious it should be. I distinguish a semantic version, according to which any normative predicate is definitionally reducible to a reason predicate, and a conceptual version, according to which the sole normative ingredient in any normative concept is the concept of a reason. Although I reject the semantic version (...) I examine its potential in some detail. And I claim that the conceptual version is plausible. (shrink)
In these essays, John Skorupski develops a distinctive and systematic moral philosophy. He examines the central ethical concepts of reasons, the good, and morality, and applies the results to issues of culture and politics. Ethical Explorations firmly connects liberal politics to its ethical ideal, and links that ideal to modern morality and modern ideas of the good.
Most agree that when it comes to so-called 'first-order' normative ethics and political philosophy, constructivist views are a powerful family of positions. When it comes to metaethics, however, there is serious disagreement about what, if anything, constructivism has to contribute. In this paper I argue that constructivist views in ethics include not just a family of substantive normative positions, but also a distinct and highly attractive metaethical view. I argue that the widely accepted 'proceduralist characterization' of constructivism in ethics is (...) inadequate, and I propose what I call the 'practical standpoint characterization' in its place. I then offer a general taxonomy of constructivist positions in ethics. Since constructivism's standing as a family of substantive normative positions is relatively uncontested, I devote the remainder of the paper to addressing skeptics' worries about the distinctiveness of constructivism understood as a metaethical view. I compare and contrast constructivism with three other standard metaethical positions with which it is often confused or mistakenly thought to be compatible: realism; naturalist reductions in terms of an ideal response; and expressivism. In discussing the contrast with expressivism, I explain the sense in which, according to the constructivist, the distinction between substantive normative ethics and metaethics breaks down. I conclude by distinguishing between two importantly different debates about the mind-dependence of value. I argue that a failure to make this distinction is part of what explains why the possibility of constructivism as a metaethical view is often overlooked. (shrink)