The strength of the motivation it is rational to have in the light of an evaluative judgement covaries independently with both certitude and importance in ways which, Smith argues, his own cognitivist theory of evaluative judgement is well placed to explain. Not so for noncognitivism which identifies evaluations with desires (very broadly construed). Desires can vary in strength both relative to each other and over time: this does not seem like enough structure to accommodate all three structural features that evaluative (...) judgements have. Suppose more structure is imported by saying that valuing something is a matter of desiring to desire it. We might then identify certitude with the strength of the second order desire and importance with the strength of the desired first-order desire. But this assignment seems arbitrary. Why is it superior to the converse assignment? There seems to be no reason. Moreover this picture contradicts commonsense. For strong second-order desires are apt always to defeat weak second-order desires whatever the relative strength of the desired desires (desired desires as such are just intentional objects and pull no motivational weight). Whereas commonsense informs us that, where our motivation is concerned, sometimes great confidence of minor importance trumps faint confidence of great importance and sometimes faint confidence of great importance trumps great confidence of minor importance. Noncognitivism is thus, Smith concludes, ill-suited to capture both the structure evaluative judgements enjoy and the motivational significance of this structure. (shrink)
I argue against the claim that we should adopt a moral error theory. The intelligibility of our moral practice need offer no questionable metaphysical hostages to fortune. The two most credible policy recommendations that might follow from moral error theory, abolitionism and prescriptive fictionalism, are not very credible.
This paper examines the idea that ethics might be understood as a domain of straightforwardly empirical inquiry with reference to two of its defenders. Sam Harris has recently urged that ethics is simply the scientific study of welfare and how best to maximize it. That is of course to presuppose the truth of utilitarianism, something Harris considers too obvious to be sensibly contested. Richard Boyd's more nuanced and thoughtful position takes the truth of the ethical theory he favours to be (...) determined by what best explains the success of moral practice over its history. But what is to count here as success is too theory dependent for this to be helpful. From consideration of both Harris and Boyd, the conclusion emerges that once we have satisfied ourselves by ethical reflection about what we ought to do, it may then be a straightforwardly empirical question how to do it, but that arriving at that point, the core concern of the moral philosopher, is far less clearly a straightforwardly empirical affair. (shrink)
Modern philosophical literature distinguishes between explanatory reasons and justifying reasons. The former are reasons we appeal to in attempting to explain actions and attitudes. The latter are reasons we appeal to in attempting to justify them.
Smith has defended the rationalist's conceptual claim that moral requirements are categorical requirements of reason, arguing that no status short of this would make sense of our taking these requirements as seriously as we do. Against this I argue that Smith has failed to show either that our moral commitments would be undermined by possessing only an internal, contextual justification or that they need presuppose any expectation that rational agents must converge on their acceptance. His claim that this rationalistic understanding (...) of metaethics is required for the intelligibility of moral disagreement is also found to be inadequately supported. It is further proposed that the rationalist's substantive claims - that there are such categorical requirements of reason and that our actual moral commitments are a case in point - are liable to disappointment; and that the conceptual claim is fatally undermined by reflection on how we might best respond to such disappointment. (shrink)
Parfit argues that naturalistic theories that seek to understand normative concepts either as simply descriptive of certain natural facts about our desires or as expressive of our desires commit us to a bleak normative nihilism whereby nothing matters. I here defend such naturalism, in particular its expressivist variety, against this charge. It is true that such views commit us to there being no reasons as Parfit understands them. But for Parfit to suppose that equivalent to there being no reasons leaves (...) him begging the question where the relative credibility of these rival understandings is just what is at issue. 1. (shrink)
In this book Alfred Mele [Motivation and Agency, 2003 OUP] seeks to elaborate and defend a neo-Davidsonian understanding of human agency which is fundamentally causalist: intentional actions are, he thinks, caused and caused in such a way that a causal explanation of them is available in terms of the desires and intentions of the agent.
The article investigates the resources of contractualist moral theory to make sense of the ethics of risk imposition. In some ways, contractualism seems well placed to explain how it can be reasonable to accept exposure to risk of harms whose direct imposition would not be acceptable. However, there are difficulties getting clear about what directness comes to here, especially given the difficulty of adequately motivating traditional views that assign ethical significance to what the agent intends as opposed to merely foreseeing. (...) The article considers two principles which might help the contractualist: the Redistribution Principle , which, while attractive, is perhaps somewhat too restrictive, and the Aim Consistency Principle , which grants ethical significance to the aims with which our actions are in principle consistent whatever our actual intentions may be. The article also considers the relative significance of ex ante and ex post perspectives from which to evaluate actions and principles. Key Words: contractualism • Doctrine of Double Effect • ethics • intention • justice • risk • T.M. <span class='Hi'>Scanlon</span> • utilitarianism. (shrink)
Let me say something, to begin with, about wanting weird stuff. Stuff like saucers of mud. The example, famously, is from Anscombe’s Intention (Anscombe Anscombe 957)) where she is, in effect, defending a version of the old scholastic maxim, Omne appetitum appetitur sub specie boni. If your Latin is rusty like mine, what that says is just that every appetite – for better congruence with modern discussions, let’s say every desire – desires under the aspect of the good, or in (...) the wording made current by Velleman, under the guise of the good (Velleman 992). To desire something is to regard it as good in some way, as having some desirability characteristic. And not just any old thing can be regarded as good in some way, as having some desirability characteristic. Obviously if this is correct, it rules against our giving desires any sort of ground-floor role in our understand-. (shrink)
Moral Expressivists typically concede that, in some minimal sense, moral sentences are truth-apt but claim that in some more robust sense they are not. The Immodest Disciplined Syntacticist, a species of minimalist about truth, raises a doubt as to whether this contrast can be made out. I here address this challenge by motivating and describing a distinction between reducibly and irreducibly truth-apt sentences. In the light of this distinction the Disciplined Syntacticist must either adopt a more modest version of his (...) theory, friendlier to Expressivism, or substantially modify it, abandoning one of its central conditions on truth-aptness. One natural and promising such modification, the Pure Discipline View, is described and its implications for an understanding of Expressivism briefly discussed. (shrink)
It has recently been argued by Cian Dorr that if noncognitivism is true, inferences to factual conclusions from premises at least one of which is moral must be condemned as irrational. For, given a noncognitivist understanding of what it is to accept such premises, such reasoning would be wishful thinking: irrationally revising our views about the world to make them cohere with our desires and feelings. This he takes to be a reductio of noncognitivism. I argue that no compelling case (...) to this effect has been made out. I show how, in many cases, non-cognitivists can make excellent sense of the rational legitimacy of such arguments. In cases where they plausibly cannot do so, moreover, this legitimacy is highly doubtful for independently plausible reasons and should be doubted even by cognitivists. (shrink)
The millionaire’s idle, talentless and self-centered daughter inherits a large sum of money that she does not really deserve. The victim of kidnapping rots in a cell in 1980s Beirut in a captivity that springs not from any wrong he has done but from his ill-fortune in being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The hard-working, brilliant and self-denying Nobel Prize-winning scientist receives a large cheque for his extraordinarily productive labours. The murderer spends decades in jail for the (...) terrible crimes he has freely committed. The first two cases are cases where justice seems ill-served, where someone’s good or ill-fortune reflects not what they deserve but mere luck. The second two are cases where justice seems to be honoured: what befalls Scientist and Murderer reflects not their good or bad luck but their merits and deserts. (shrink)
In at least some of their forms, Cost-Benefit techniques for the evaluation of environmental projects and policies treat the preferences of citizens as the sole determinants of the value of outcomes. There are two salient ways in which this supposition might be defended. The first is metaethical and appeals to considerations about how we must understand talk of environmental and other values. The second is political and appeals to considerations about democratic legitimacy and the proper aims of public policy. Metaethical (...) considerations, I argue, are something of a red herring here. Roughly subjectivist understandings of our talk of values may be appealingly metaphysically unassuming, but in their most plausible formulations they do not support a view of preferences as the sole determinants of value. Political considerations, on the other hand, are to be taken very seriously. They offer, however, no straightforward rationale for any crudely preferentialist measure of social value. Findings obtained from the use of cost-benefit techniques might sometimes have a legitimate role as an input into, but not as a substitute for, political deliberation. Questions about the scope and limits of such legitimacy are properly addressed in political and not in metaethical terms. (shrink)
My concern here is with the Humean claim that no purely cognitive state could, in combination with appropriate other beliefs, but with nothing else, originate a process of rational motivation. The starting point of such motivation must always include some other element: a desire. Let's call this claim, following David McNaughton the belief-desire theory, or BDT for short. The theory is widely believed but intensely controversial. I argue here that it is true.