Experimental moral philosophy began to emerge as a methodology in the last decade of the twentieth century, a branch of the larger experimental philosophy (X-Phi, XΦ) approach. From the beginning, it has been embroiled in controversy on a number of fronts. Some doubt that it is philosophy at all. Others acknowledge that it is philosophy but think that it has produced modest results at best and confusion at worst. Still others think it represents an important advance.
It is often said that our moral experience, broadly construed to include our ways of thinking and talking about morality, has a certain objective-seeming character to it, and that this supports a presumption in favor of objectivist theories and against anti-objectivist theories like Mackie’s error theory. In this paper, I argue that our experience of morality does not support objectivist moral theories in this way. I begin by arguing that our moral experience does not have the uniformly objective-seeming character it (...) is typically claimed to have. I go on to argue that even if moral experience were to presuppose or display morality as a realm of fact, we would still need a reason for taking that to support theories according to which it is such a realm. I consider what I take to be the four most promising ways of attempting to supply such a reason: inference to the best explanation, epistemic conservatism, the Principle of Credulity, and the method of wide reflective equilibrium. In each case, I argue, the strategy in question does not support a presumption in favor of objectivist moral theories. (shrink)
Gilbert Harman and Judith Thomson have argued that moral facts cannot explain our moral beliefs, claiming that such facts could not play a causal role in the formation of those beliefs. This paper shows these arguments to be misguided, for they would require that we abandon any number of intuitively plausible explanations in non-moral contexts as well. But abandoning the causal strand in the argument over moral explanations does not spell immediate victory for the moral realist, since it must still (...) be shown that moral facts do figure in our best global explanatory theory. (shrink)
Moral realism, the view that there are moral facts that are independent of our beliefs about them, has many defenders. But much less has been said about realism concerning other sorts of value. One of these, gastronomic realism is likely to seem implausible on its face. This paper argues, however, that much of the reasoning used to defend moral realism is about as well suited for defending gastronomic realism. Although these considerations do not directly undermine moral realism, they do suggest (...) that the two views should stand or fall together. And they rob moral realists of one ad hominem argument that often emerges in their debate with irrealists, that the irrealists cannot justify their widespread practice of taking their own moral values seriously. 2012 APA, all rights reserved). (shrink)
Demands for generality sometimes exert a powerful influence on our thinking, pressing us to treat more general moral positions, such as consequentialism, as superior to more specific ones, like those which incorporate agent-centered restrictions or prerogatives. I articulate both foundationalist and coherentist versions of the demands for generality and argue that we can best understand these demands in terms of a certain underlying metaphysical commitment. I consider and reject various arguments which might be offered in support of this commitment, and (...) argue that generality may not be the weapon in moral argument that it is sometimes thought to be. (shrink)
Demands of generality pervade contemporary moral philosophy. For example, both Samuel Scheffler and Shelly Kagan demand a general justification for certain agent-centered features of morality. I argue, however, that these demands are often unjustified. My aim is to level the playing field between our more specific and our more general moral convictions, allowing neither to win by default. ;I begin by distinguishing generality from universality and consistency, and go on to identify several common motivations for generality in ethics. For each (...) such motivation, I articulate and evaluate the demands to which it gives rise. First, I consider and reject arguments that the origins of our more specific moral convictions taint them beyond credibility and that insufficiently general moral beliefs may be biased in favor of those holding them. Second, I consider more prominent arguments for generality, connected with a concern about justification. I show that some foundationalists are committed to the view that moral justifications must terminate in very general principles, and that some coherentists are committed to a simplicity demand which is, in effect, a demand for generality as well. I argue that these approaches share a common motivation in the view that insufficiently general moral propositions are true, if at all, only for further reasons--a claim I vigorously dispute. Third, I consider various pragmatic justifications for generality. I argue that the pragmatic value of highly general principles is overrated, and that what pragmatic value they do have must often be weighed against our substantive moral concerns. I conclude that generality in ethics, although important, is not as important as it has seemed to be. (shrink)