This paper explores the prospects of different forms of moral error theory. It is argued that only a suitably local error theory would make good sense of the fact that it is possible to give and receive genuinely good moral advice.
This paper explores the claim that someone can reasonably consider themselves to be under a duty to respect the autonomy of a person who does not have the capacities normally associated with substantial self-governance.
Intuitions are widely assumed to play an important evidential role in ethical inquiry. In this paper I critically discuss a recently influential claim that the epistemological credentials of ethical intuitions are undermined by their causal pedigree and functional role. I argue that this claim is exaggerated. In the course of doing so I argue that the challenge to ethical intuitions embodied in this claim should be understood not only as a narrowly epistemological challenge, but also as a substantially ethical one. (...) I argue that this fact illuminates the epistemology of ethical intuitions. (shrink)
This paper is about the relationship between two widely accepted and apparently conflicting claims about how we should understand the notion of ‘reason giving’ invoked in theorising about reasons for action. According to the first claim, reasons are given by facts about the situation of agents. According to the second claim, reasons are given by ends. I argue that the apparent conflict between these two claims is less deep than is generally recognised.
Darwin’s treatment of morality in The Descent of Man has generated a wide variety of responses among moral philosophers. Among these is the dismissal of evolution as irrelevant to ethics by Darwin’s contemporary Henry Sidgwick; the last, and arguably the greatest, of the Nineteenth Century British Utilitarians. This paper offers a re-examination of Sidgwick’s response to evolutionary considerations as irrelevant to ethics and the absence of any engagement with Darwin’s work in Sidgwick’s main ethical treatise, The Methods of Ethics . (...) This assessment of Sidgwick’s response to Darwin’s work is shown to have significance for a number of ongoing controversies in contemporary metaethics. (shrink)
Much work in contemporary bioethics defends a broadly liberal view of human reproduction. I shall take this view to comprise (but not to be exhausted by) the following four claims.1 First, it is permissible both to reproduce and not to reproduce, either by traditional means or by means of assisted reproductive techniques such as IVF and genetic screening. Second, it is permissible either to reproduce or to adopt or otherwise foster an existing child to which one is not biologically related. (...) Third, it is permissible either to bring into existence a child with the greatest chance of a life of maximum human flourishing or to bring into existence a child with a life worth living but with less than the greatest chance of a life of maximum human flourishing. Fourth, it is impermissible to bring into existence a child whose life is either certain or likely to fall below some baseline of a human life minimally worth living. (shrink)
Does the ethical value of a work of art ever contribute to its aesthetic value? I argue that when conventionally interpreted as a request for a conceptual analysis the answer to this question is indeterminate. I then propose a different interpretation of the question on which it is understood as a substantial and normative question internal to the practice of aesthetic criticism.
According to one version of objectivism about value, ethical and other evaluative claims have a fixed truth-value independently of who makes them or the society in which they happen to live (c.f. Davidson 2004, 42). Subjectivists about value deny this claim. According to subjectivism so understood, ethical and other evaluative claims have no fixed truth-value, either because their truth-value is dependent on who makes them, or because they have no truth-value at all.
The Cambridge philosopher Frank Ramsey died tragically in 1930 at the age of 26, but had already established himself as one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century. Besides groundbreaking work in philosophy, particularly in logic, language, and metaphysics, he created modern decision theory and made substantial contributions to mathematics and economics. In these original essays, written to commemorate the centenary of Ramsey's birth, a distinguished international team of contributors offer fresh perspectives on his work and show its (...) ongoing relevance to present-day concerns. (shrink)
Recent years have seen the emergence of a new brand of moral philosopher. Straddling the gap between academia on the one hand, and the world of law, medicine, and politics on the other, bioethicists have appeared, offering advice on ethical issues to a wider public than the philosophy classroom. Some bioethicists, like Peter Singer, have achieved wide notoriety in the public realm with provocative arguments that challenge widely held beliefs about the relative moral status of animals, human foetuses and newborn (...) babies. Other bioethicists practice their trade with greater protection from public scrutiny, confining their thoughts to committees in government circles, universities, charitable institutions, or hospitals. But what exactly is it that bioethicists have to offer in such contexts? What sort of expertise do bioethicists have that justifies their employment on these committees, or the time and space accorded to their views on television and the radio, or in newspapers and magazines? In spite of being an expanding group of professionals who attract large sums of private and public funding, bioethicists are sometimes met with suspicion or even hostility, both inside and outside academia. One common criticism is that the presence of bioethicists is unproductive in practical bioethical debate. In light of this criticism one might wonder why the relevant funding bodies have not spotted the hoax and withdrawn their funding. Certainly, if bioethicists.. (shrink)
The paper explores the consequences of adopting a moral error theory targeted at the notion of reasonable convergence. I examine the prospects of two ways of combining acceptance of such a theory with continued acceptance of moral judgements in some form. On the first model, moral judgements are accepted as a pragmatically intelligible fiction. On the second model, moral judgements are made relative to a framework of assumptions with no claim to reasonable convergence on their behalf. I argue that the (...) latter model shows greater promise for an error theorist whose commitment to moral thought is initially serious. (shrink)
The paper distinguishes three strategies by means of which empirical discoveries about the nature of morality can be used to undermine moral judgements. On the first strategy, moral judgements are shown to be unjustified in virtue of being shown to rest on ignorance or false belief. On the second strategy, moral judgements are shown to be false by being shown to entail claims inconsistent with the relevant empirical discoveries. On the third strategy, moral judgements are shown to be false in (...) virtue of being shown to be unjustified; truth having been defined epistemologically in terms of justification. By interpreting three recent error theoretical arguments in light of these strategies, the paper evaluates the epistemological and metaphysical relevance of empirical discoveries about morality as a naturally evolved phenomenon. (shrink)
Recent work in English speaking moral philosophy has seen the rise to prominence of the idea of a normative reason1. By ‘normative reasons’ I mean the reasons agents appeal to in making rational claims on each other. Normative reasons are good reasons on which agents ought to act, even if they are not actually motivated accordingly2. To this extent, normative reasons are distinguishable from the motivating reasons agents appeal to in reason explanations. Even agents who fail to act on their (...) normative reasons can be said to act on reasons insofar as their actions are rationally intelligible. Thus, when it is said that agents may never use violence in self-defence, this is naturally interpreted to mean that there are powerful normative reasons not to use violence even in selfdefence, even though some agents would use violence in selfdefence. Normative reasons are reasons to pursue ends, where by ends I mean a subset of objects of possible desire, such as taking a stroll or giving all your money to charity. The set of objects of possible desire might include items that are not straightforwardly ends of action. For example, you might want the world to be a better place, or want a secure basis in knowledge of relevant facts to be assigned the highest priority in the assessment of people’s preferences. Objects of possible desire are a subset of objects of possible response, where by ‘response’ I mean the whole range of prepositional attitudes, including desires, preferences, beliefs, commitments and so on. I use the term ‘option’ to refer to objects of possible response in this wider sense. Recent philosophical claims about the grounds of normative reasons can be divided into two strands. Each strand takes as its starting point what is perceived to be a fundamental constraint embodied in normative reason attributions.. (shrink)
This text brings together a collection of new essays by a number of philosophers to honor Hugh Mellor's contribution to philosophy. The collection stands as an original exploration of some of the most central issues in philosophy.
Abstract The paper explicates a set of criteria the joint satisfaction of which is taken to qualify moral judgements as cognitive. The paper examines evidence that some moral judgements meet these criteria, and relates the resulting conception of moral judgements to ongoing controversies about cognitivism in ethics.
This paper concerns a prima facie tension between the claims that (a) agents have normative reasons obtaining in virtue of the nature of the options that confront them, and (b) there is a non-trivial connection between the grounds of normative reasons and the upshots of sound practical reasoning. Joint commitment to these claims is shown to give rise to a dilemma. I argue that the dilemma is avoidable on a response dependent account of normative reasons accommodating both (a) and (b) (...) by yielding (a) as a substantial constraint on sound practical reasoning. This fact is shown to have significance for the contemporary dialectic between moral realists and their opponents. (shrink)
The paper examines the plausibility of analytical dispositionalism about practical reason, according to which the following claims are conceptual truths about common sense ethical discourse: i) Ethics: agents have reasons to act in some ways rather than others, and ii) Metaphysical Modesty: there is no such thing as a response independent normative reality. By elucidating two uncontroversial assumptions which are fundamental to the common sense commitment to ethics, I argue that common sense ethical discourse is most plausibly construed as committed (...) to the denial of metaphysical modesty, and thereby as committed to the existence of a response independent normative reality. (shrink)
In his book The Moral Problem and in a recent issue of this journal, Michael Smith claims to refute any theory which construes the relationship between moral judgements and motivation as contingent and rationally optional. Smith’s argument fails. In showing how it fails, I shall make three claims. First, a concern for what is right, where this is read de dicto, does not amount to moral fetishism. Second, it is not always morally preferable to care about what is right, where (...) this is read de re. Third, the externalist can account for why a good and strong-willed person is reliably motivated in accordance with her moral judgements without appealing to a basic moral motive to do what is right, where this is read de dicto. (shrink)