In The Myth of Morality, Richard Joyce argues that moral discourse is hopelessly flawed. At the heart of ordinary moral judgments is a notion of moral inescapability, or practical authority, which, upon investigation, cannot be reasonably defended. Joyce argues that natural selection is to blame, in that it has provided us with a tendency to invest the world with values that it does not contain, and demands that it does not make. Should we therefore do away with morality, (...) as we did away with other faulty notions such as witches? Possibly not. We may be able to carry on with morality as a 'useful fiction' - allowing it to have a regulative influence on our lives and decisions, perhaps even playing a central role - while not committing ourselves to believing or asserting falsehoods, and thus not being subject to accusations of 'error'. (shrink)
To hold an error theory about morality is to endorse a kind of radical moral skepticism—a skepticism analogous to atheism in the religious domain. The atheist thinks that religious utterances, such as “God loves you,” really are truth-evaluable assertions (as opposed to being veiled commands or expressions of hope, etc.), but that the world just doesn’t contain the items (e.g., God) necessary to render such assertions true. Similarly, the moral error theorist maintains that moral judgments are truth-evaluable assertions (thus contrasting (...) with the noncognitivist), but that the world doesn’t contain the properties (e.g., moral goodness, evil, moral obligation) needed to render moral judgments true. In other words, moral discourse aims at the truth but systematically fails to secure it. If there is no such property as moral wrongness, for example, then no judgment of the form “X is morally wrong” will be true (where “X” denotes an actual action or state of affairs). Advocates of this position include Hinckfuss 1987; Joyce 2001; Mackie 1977 (see MACKIE, J. L.). Various forms of moral skepticism—some of which are arguably instances of the error theoretic stance—have been familiar to philosophers since ancient times. (See SKEPTICISM, MORAL.) Error theoretic views can be controversial—as in the case of religion and morality—or widely agreed upon—as in the case of ghosts and phlogiston. It is important to note that error theorists maintain that the judgments in question are erroneous not merely because of the absence of any objective moral facts sufficient to render them true, but also because of the absence of any non-objective moral facts sufficient to render them true. There is, for example, a kind of moral realist who maintains that moral properties are objective features of the universe (see REALISM, MORAL). There is also a family of metaethical views according to which moral properties are in some manner constituted by us—by our beliefs, attitudes, practices, etc.. (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)
Moral thinking pervades our practical lives, but where did this way of thinking come from, and what purpose does it serve? Is it to be explained by environmental pressures on our ancestors a million years ago, or is it a cultural invention of more recent origin? In The Evolution of Morality, Richard Joyce takes up these controversial questions, finding that the evidence supports an innate basis to human morality. As a moral philosopher, Joyce is interested in whether any (...) implications follow from this hypothesis. Might the fact that the human brain has been biologically prepared by natural selection to engage in moral judgment serve in some sense to vindicate this way of thinking—staving off the threat of moral skepticism, or even undergirding some version of moral realism? Or if morality has an adaptive explanation in genetic terms—if it is, as Joyce writes, "just something that helped our ancestors make more babies"—might such an explanation actually undermine morality's central role in our lives? He carefully examines both the evolutionary "vindication of morality" and the evolutionary "debunking of morality," considering the skeptical view more seriously than have others who have treated the subject. (shrink)
Through most of the 20th Century, the influence of Darwin on the philosophical field of ethics was negligible. Things changed noticeably in the last couple of decades or so of that century, and now “evolutionary ethics”—which had lain dormant since Darwin’s contemporary Herbert Spencer—is a lively and hotly debated topic. There are several Darwinian theses that might have bearing on moral philosophy.
It is widely believed that the Divine Command Theory is untenable due to the Euthyphro Dilemma. This article first examines the Platonic dialogue of that name, and shows that Socrates’s reasoning is faulty. Second, the dilemma in the form in which many contemporary philosophers accept it is examined in detail, and this reasoning is also shown to be deficient. This is not to say, however, that the Divine Command Theory is true—merely that one popular argument for rejecting it is unsound. (...) Finally, some brief thoughts are presented concerning where the real problems lie for the theory. (shrink)
The Evolution of Morality attempts to accomplish two tasks. The first is to clarify and provisionally advocate the thesis that human morality is a distinct adaptation wrought by biological natural selection. The second is to inquire whether this empirical thesis would, if true, have any metaethical implications.
In his paper ?The Error in the Error Theory?[this journal, 2008], Stephen Finlay attempts to show that the moral error theorist has not only failed to prove his case, but that the error theory is in fact false. This paper rebuts Finlay's arguments, criticizes his positive theory, and clarifies the error-theoretic position.
The pragmatic character of the Dutch book argument makes it unsuitable as an "epistemic" justification for the fundamental probabilist dogma that rational partial beliefs must conform to the axioms of probability. To secure an appropriately epistemic justification for this conclusion, one must explain what it means for a system of partial beliefs to accurately represent the state of the world, and then show that partial beliefs that violate the laws of probability are invariably less accurate than they could be otherwise. (...) The first task can be accomplished once we realize that the accuracy of systems of partial beliefs can be measured on a gradational scale that satisfies a small set of formal constraints, each of which has a sound epistemic motivation. When accuracy is measured in this way it can be shown that any system of degrees of belief that violates the axioms of probability can be replaced by an alternative system that obeys the axioms and yet is more accurate in every possible world. Since epistemically rational agents must strive to hold accurate beliefs, this establishes conformity with the axioms of probability as a norm of epistemic rationality whatever its prudential merits or defects might be. (shrink)
Were I not afraid of appearing too philosophical, I should remind my reader of that famous doctrine, supposed to be fully proved in modern times, “That tastes and colours, and all other sensible qualities, lie not in the bodies, but merely in the senses.” The case is the same with beauty and deformity, virtue and vice. This doctrine, however, takes off no more from the reality of the latter qualities, than from that of the former; nor need it give any (...) umbrage either to critics or moralists. Though colours were allowed to lie only in the eye, would dyers or painters ever be less regarded or esteemed? There is a sufficient uniformity in the senses and feelings of mankind, to make all these qualities the objects of art and reasoning, and to have the greatest influence on life and manners. And as it is certain, that the discovery above-mentioned in natural philosophy, makes no alteration on action and conduct; why should a like discovery in moral philosophy make any alteration? (shrink)
Different versions of moral projectivism are delineated: minimal, metaphysical, nihilistic, and noncognitivist. Minimal projectivism (the focus of this paper) is the conjunction of two subtheses: (1) that we experience morality as an objective aspect of the world and (2) that this experience has its origin in an affective attitude (e.g., an emotion) rather than in perceptual faculties. Both are empirical claims and must be tested as such. This paper does not offer ideas on any specific test procedures, but rather undertakes (...) the important preliminary task of clarifying the content of these subtheses (e.g., what is meant by "objective"? what is meant by "experience"?). Finally, attention is given to the relation between (a) acknowledging that the projectivist account might be true of a token moral judgment and (b) maintaining moral projectivism to be true as a general thesis. (shrink)
It might be expected that it would suffice for the entry for “moral anti-realism” to contain only some links to other entries in this encyclopedia. It could contain a link to “moral realism” and stipulate the negation of the view there described. Alternatively, it could have links to the entries “anti-realism” and “morality” and could stipulate the conjunction of the materials contained therein. The fact that neither of these approaches would be adequate—and, more strikingly, that following the two procedures would (...) yield substantively non-equivalent results—reveals the contentious and unsettled nature of the topic. (shrink)
I.1. Introduction Confirmation theory is intended to codify the evidential bearing of observations on hypotheses, characterizing relations of inductive “support” and “countersupport” in full generality. The central task is to understand what it means to say that datum E confirms or supports a hypothesis H when E does not logically entail H.
I argue that one central aspect of the epistemology of causation, the use of causes as evidence for their effects, is largely independent of the metaphysics of causation. In particular, I use the formalism of Bayesian causal graphs to factor the incremental evidential impact of a cause for its effect into a direct cause-to-effect component and a backtracking component. While the “backtracking” evidence that causes provide about earlier events often obscures things, once we our restrict attention to the cause-to-effect component (...) it is true to say promoting (inhibiting) causes raise (lower) the probabilities of their effects. This factoring assumes the same form whether causation is given an interventionist, counterfactual or probabilistic interpretation. Whether we think about causation in terms of interventions and causal graphs, counterfactuals and imaging functions, or probability raising against the background of causally homogenous partitions, if we describe the essential features of a situation correctly then the incremental evidence that a cause provides for its effect in virtue of being its cause will be the same. (shrink)
The task of this paper is to argue that expressivism [the thesis that moral judgements function to express desires, emotions, or pro/con attitudes] neither implies, nor is implied by, [motivational internalism].
Any metaethicist tempted to dismiss a defense of moral intuitionism as too flaky to merit serious attention should think twice. Ethical Intuitionism is a forceful, clear, original, and intelligent piece of philosophy, and Michael Huemer can be proud of his efforts. He proceeds by identifying an exhaustive list of five possible metaethical positions, then knocks down four until only his favored intuitionism remains. One of the advantages of any such “last man standing” strategy is that even the most hardened opponent (...) is likely to be cheering on the author at least a lot of the time: The noncognitivist will support the demolition of subjectivism, the naturalist will applaud the humbling of the noncognitivist, and so on. Speaking as a moral error theorist, I was myself nodding along as Huemer undermined first the noncognitivist, then the subjectivist, and then the reductive naturalist. Yet even here, where my sympathies lay firmly with Huemer’s negative conclusions, I could perceive avenues for reply against his charges. But I don’t at present have the luxury of space to speak in defense of those whom I would, on other occasions and on other grounds, myself attack. Let them tell their own tales. I remain more-or-less on Huemer’s side through the first four chapters, and it is not until he gets to the case against moral nihilism that my own favorite view comes under attack. Thus, for the remainder, I shall don my moral nihilist’s hat and speak against Huemer’s dismissal of that viewpoint. (shrink)
Richard Jeffrey long held that decision theory should be formulated without recourse to explicitly causal notions. Newcomb problems stand out as putative counterexamples to this ‘evidential’ decision theory. Jeffrey initially sought to defuse Newcomb problems via recourse to the doctrine of ratificationism, but later came to see this as problematic. We will see that Jeffrey’s worries about ratificationism were not compelling, but that valid ratificationist arguments implicitly presuppose causal decision theory. In later work, Jeffrey argued that Newcomb problems are not (...) decisions at all because agents who face them possess so much evidence about correlations between their actions and states of the world that they are unable to regard their deliberate choices as causes of outcomes, and so cannot see themselves as making free choices. Jeffrey’s reasoning goes wrong because it fails to recognize that an agent’s beliefs about her immediately available acts are so closely tied to the immediate causes of these actions that she can create evidence that outweighs any antecedent correlations between acts and states. Once we recognize that deliberating agents are free to believe what they want about their own actions, it will be clear that Newcomb problems are indeed counterexamples to evidential decision theory. (shrink)
What contribution can the empirical sciences make to metaethics? This paper outlines an argument to a particular metaethical conclusion - that moral judgments are epistemically unjustified - that depends in large part on a posteriori premises.
In The Logic of Decision Richard Jeffrey defends a version of expected utility theory that advises agents to choose acts with an eye to securing evidence for thinking that desirable results will ensue. Proponents of "causal" decision theory have argued that Jeffrey's account is inadequate because it fails to properly discriminate the causal features of acts from their merely evidential properties. Jeffrey's approach has also been criticized on the grounds that it makes it impossible to extract a unique probability/utility representation (...) from a sufficiently rich system of preferences (given a zero and unit for measuring utility). The existence of these problems should not blind us to the fact that Jeffrey's system has advantages that no other decision theory can match: it can be underwritten by a particularly compelling representation theorem proved by Ethan Bolker; and it has a property called partition invariance that every reasonable theory of rational choice must possess. I shall argue that the non-uniqueness problem can be finessed, and that it is impossible to adequately formulate causal decision theory, or any other, without using Jeffrey's theory as one's basic analysis of rational desire. (shrink)
The first objective of this chapter is to clarify what might be meant by the claim that human morality is innate. The second is to argue that if human morality is indeed innate an explanation may be provided that does not resort to an appeal to group selection, but invokes only individual selection and so-called “reciprocal altruism” in particular. This second task is not motivated by any theoretical or methodological prejudice against group selection; I willingly concede that group selection is (...) a legitimate evolutionary process, and that it may well have had the dominant hand in the evolution of human morality. There is a fact of the matter about which process, or which combination of processes, produced any given adaptation, and it is to be hoped that in time enough evidence might be brought into the light to settle such issues. At present, though, the evidence is insufficient regarding human morality. By preferring to focus on reciprocity rather than group selection I take myself simply to be outlining and advocating a coherent and uncomplicated hypothesis, which may then take its place alongside other hypotheses to face the tribunal of our best evidence. (shrink)
In a recent article, William F. Harms (2000) argues in a novel way for a form of moral realism. He does not actually argue that moral realism is true, but rather that if morality is the product of natural selection.
Suppose there are two people having a moral disagreement about, say, abortion. They argue in a familiar way about whether fetuses have rights, whether a woman’s right to autonomy over her body overrides the fetus’s welfare, and so on. But then suppose one of the people says “Oh, it’s all just a matter of opinion; there’s no objective fact about whether fetuses have rights. When we say that something is morally forbidden, all we’re really doing is expressing our disapproval of (...) it.” The other person protests: “No!—that’s totally wrong. Of course there are objective moral truths.” And suppose their dispute now settles on this new matter of whether there are objective moral facts, and the debate continues. They’ve now stopped discussing abortion, and are discussing the nature of any moral debate about abortion; they’ve stopped doing ethics, and started doing metaethics. If wondering about what one morally ought to do is to engage in ethical thought, then wondering about what one is doing when one wonders about what one morally ought to do is to engage in metaethical thought. When we make public moral judgments are we stating facts, or are we just expressing our opinions? And if there are moral facts, then what kind of fact are they? Can moral judgments be true or false? Can moral judgments be justified, and if so how? These kinds of questions are the domain of metaethics. (I’m not saying that there is a crisp and principled line to be drawn between meta-ethics and regular ethical discourse; but it is, if nothing else, a pedagogically useful division of labor.). (shrink)
Colin Radford must weary of defending his thesis that the emotional reactions we have towards fictional characters, events, and states of affairs are irrational.1 Yet, for all the discussion, the issue has not, to my mind, been properly settled—or at least not settled in the manner I should prefer—and so this paper attempts once more to debunk Radford’s defiance of common sense. For some, the question of whether our emotional responses to fiction are rational does not arise, for they are (...) inclined to doubt that we have them at all.2 Emotions, on this view, are fundamentally linked to belief states, as in the following thesis concerning the emotion of fear: 1) We fear for ourselves only if we believe ourselves to be in danger; we fear for others only if we believe they actually exist and are in danger. When we typically engage with fiction we do not ‘suspend our disbelief’, in the sense of coming to believe that the fiction is non-fiction. No matter how engrossed I become in a Dracula movie, I do not begin to believe that I am seeing actual vampires. 2) When we watch a horror movie, we do not believe ourselves, or anyone actual, to be in danger. And so these theorists, endorsing (1) and (2), are obliged to deny the intuitive (3): 3) We are sometimes frightened when watching a horror movie. These three propositions are a version of what is sometimes called ‘The Paradox of Fiction’. For my money, since the denial of (2) is foolish, and the denial of (3) deeply counterintuitive, it is (1)—being a substantive philosophical thesis—that is most likely the culprit. Radford agrees, yet maintains that there is some intimate connection between belief and emotion. For him, the dependence is not the existential one stated in (1), but a normative one: we do not rationally feel fear unless we believe ourselves (or someone actual) to be in danger.3 This revision of the connection allows the construction of a quite different inconsistent triad: 4) We are not rationally frightened unless we believe someone actual to be in danger.. (shrink)
As a metaethicist, I am interested in whether expressivism is true, and thus interested in whether the argument that people think they find in Hume is a sound one. Not being a Hume scholar (but merely a devoted fan), I am less interested in whether Hume really was an expressivist or whether he really did present an argument in its favor. Hume’s metaethical views are very difficult to nail down, and by a careful selection of quotes one can present him (...) as advocating expressivism, or cognitivist subjectivism, or moral skepticism, or a dispositional theory, or an ideal observer theory, or even utilitarianism. It is entirely possible that Hume’s position is indeterminate when considered against these terms of modern moral philosophy; it is also entirely possible that he was hopelessly confused (much as it pains me to admit it). However, I doubt very much that Hume should be interpreted as an expressivist in any straightforward manner, and therefore I am doubtful that he should be interpreted as arguing in its favor. Most of this paper does not discuss Hume directly at all: I critically discuss the motivation argument and I advocate a certain positive metaethical view—one that mixes elements of traditional expressivism with elements of cognitivism. This position is neutral between moral realism and radical moral skepticism. I close by wondering—very briefly— whether Hume might have held such a view. Given my reservations about the determinacy of Hume’s metaethical outlook, the case is not pressed with any vigor, but because it is an interpretation of Hume that has not, so far as I know, been articulated before, it may be of interest to note that it seems to be consistent with much of what he says—at least as much as any other precise interpretation. (shrink)
In his contribution to this volume, Paul Bloomfield analyzes and attempts to answer the question “Why is it bad to be bad?” I too will use this question as my point of departure; in particular I want to approach the matter from the perspective of a moral error theorist. This discussion will preface one of the principal topics of this paper: the relationship between morality and self-interest. Again, my main goal is to clarify what the moral error theorist might say (...) on this subject. Against this background, the final portion of this paper will be a discussion of moral fictionalism, defending it from some objections. (shrink)
According to Mellor, we know what an experience is like if we can imagine it correctly, and we will do so if we recognise the experience as it is imagined. This paper identifies a constraint on adequate accounts of how we ordinarily imagine experiences correctly: the capacities to imagine and to recognise the experience must be jointly operative at the point of forming an intention to imagine the experience. The paper develops an account of imagining experiences correctly that meets this (...) constraint in terms of the subject's possession of a concept of the experience. The account implies that the imagination is active in conscious perception. (shrink)
Isaac Levi has long criticized causal decisiontheory on the grounds that it requiresdeliberating agents to make predictions abouttheir own actions. A rational agent cannot, heclaims, see herself as free to choose an actwhile simultaneously making a prediction abouther likelihood of performing it. Levi is wrongon both points. First, nothing in causaldecision theory forces agents to makepredictions about their own acts. Second,Levi's arguments for the ``deliberation crowdsout prediction thesis'' rely on a flawed modelof the measurement of belief. Moreover, theability of agents (...) to adopt beliefs about theirown acts during deliberation is essentialto any plausible account of human agency andfreedom. Though these beliefs play no part inthe rationalization of actions, they arerequired to account for the causalgenesis of behavior. To explain the causes ofactions we must recognize that (a) an agentcannot see herself as entirely free in thematter of A unless she believes herdecision to perform A will cause A,and (b) she cannot come to a deliberatedecision about A unless she adoptsbeliefs about her decisions. FollowingElizabeth Anscombe and David Velleman, I arguethat an agent's beliefs about her own decisionsare self-fulfilling, and that this can beused to explain away the seeming paradoxicalfeatures of act probabilities. (shrink)
Suppose that the human tendency to think of certain actions andomissions as morally required – a notion that surely lies at the heart of moral discourse – is a trait that has been naturallyselected for. Many have thought that from this premise we canjustify or vindicate moral concepts. I argue that this is mistaken, and defend Michael Ruse''s view that the moreplausible implication is an error theory – the idea thatmorality is an illusion foisted upon us by evolution. Thenaturalistic fallacy (...) is a red herring in this debate,since there is really nothing that counts as a fallacy at all. If morality is an illusion, it appears to followthat we should, upon discovering this, abolish moraldiscourse on pain of irrationality. I argue that thisconclusion is too hasty, and that we may be able usefullyto employ a moral discourse, warts and all, withoutbelieving in it. (shrink)
Bayes' Theorem is a simple mathematical formula used for calculating conditional probabilities. It figures prominently in subjectivist or Bayesian approaches to epistemology, statistics, and inductive logic. Subjectivists, who maintain that rational belief is governed by the laws of probability, lean heavily on conditional probabilities in their theories of evidence and their models of empirical learning. Bayes' Theorem is central to these enterprises both because it simplifies the calculation of conditional probabilities and because it clarifies significant features of subjectivist position. Indeed, (...) the Theorem's central insight — that a hypothesis is confirmed by any body of data that its truth renders probable — is the cornerstone of all subjectivist methodology. (shrink)
Moral imperatives are claimed to be inescapable. The moral felon who convinces us that he desired to commit his crimes, that he had no desires that the actions thwarted, does not incline us to withdraw our judgment that he did what he ought not to have done. We do not permit him to evade his moral culpability by citing unusual desires or interests. This thesis of moral inescapability seems familiar and yet is notoriously difficult to make sense of. Philippa Foot (...) calls it “the fugitive thought,” and argues that there is no coherent thought to be brought into the light, but thinks that we could carry on moral discourse purged of claims of inescapability.1 Her pessimism about locating the fugitive is justified, but moral discourse may well not survive its elimination. Inescapability—our tendency to morally condemn the criminal regardless of his desires or interests—lies at the heart of our moral framework; indeed, we might well think that it is the whole point of having a moral language. For this reason our moral discourse is hopelessly flawed in the sense of there not being an acceptable explication of the central moral concepts, though it is not without practical merit. Participating in moral discourse may be warranted in pragmatic terms, despite its defects. (shrink)
It is often claimed that when a nation or group requests that a cultural treasure of importance be returned to it from a foreign museum, this appeal may reasonably be denied on the grounds that compliance would set “a dangerous precedent.” Different versions of this slippery slope argument are identified, analyzed, and criticized, revealing this to be a flawed consideration against repatriation, and a self-defeating form of argument in general. (There may, of course, be other grounds counting against restoring the (...) item.) Particular attention is given to the Elgin marbles, housed in the British Museum since the early 19th century. (shrink)
The primary impediment to formulating a general theory for adaptive evolution has been the unknown distribution of fitness effects for new beneficial mutations. By applying extreme value theory, Gillespie circumvented this issue in his mutational landscape model for the adaptation of DNA sequences, and Orr recently extended Gillespie's model, generating testable predictions regarding the course of adaptive evolution. Here we provide the first empirical examination of this model, using a single-stranded DNA bacteriophage related to phiX174, and find that our data (...) are consistent with Orr's predictions, provided that the model is adjusted to incorporate mutation bias. Orr's work suggests that there may be generalities in adaptive molecular evolution that transcend the biological details of a system, but we show that for the model to be useful as a predictive or inferential tool, some adjustments for the biology of the system will be necessary. (shrink)
It has by now surely become old hat to note that we live in an ‘Age of Apologizing’. The Pope has led the way, apologizing for almost a hundred actions perpetrated (or permitted) by the Roman Catholic church throughout the centuries—from the crusades and the inquisition, to the treatment of Galileo and women (I understand numerous further mea culpas will mark the millennium).1 The Portuguese president has apologized for an episode in the fifteenth century, wherein thousands of Jewish refugees were (...) forced to flee or convert (December, 1996). The American president has apologized to American victims of radiation tests (October, 1995), to victims of the ‘Tuskegee’ medical experiments conducted between the 1930s and 1970s (May, 1997), and to African leaders for the whole slave trade (March, 1998). On December 11, 1997, the American Secretary of State apologized to African leaders for the international community’s failure to prevent genocide in Rwanda. And so the list could go on, taking in apologies in South Africa over apartheid, in Australia regarding deeds of colonial racism, and from the German government concerning certain episodes of World War Two. (shrink)
This collection of eleven papers by Elijah Millgram (nine of which have been previously published) is ostensibly united by the thesis that the best way to go about assessing moral theories is to identify the view of practical reasoning that each such theory rests upon, and evaluate the adequacy of these respective theories of practical reasoning. The correct moral theory, Millgram assures us, will be the one that is paired with the best theory of practical reasoning. He outlines this methodology (...) in a substantial (32 pp.) introduction. Why should we adopt Millgram’s method? A host of concerns immediately leap to mind. If two or more different moral theories rest on the same theory of practical reasoning, then how would discovering the latter to be the correct theory of practical reasoning help us decide among the moral theories? What if a given moral theory is consistent with two or more different theories of practical reasoning? What if we cannot evaluate theories of practical reasoning independently of having adopted a moral perspective? Millgram doesn’t address these natural questions head on, but rather proposes that the essays of the volume collectively constitute a “feasibility demonstration” (p. 3) of the method. In other words, the only way that we will be persuaded that the pairings between moral theories and practical reasoning theories are tight enough to support this grand project is to get our hands dirty in detailed discussion of particular moral theories, particular theories of practical reasoning, and the relations between them. It is through seeing the method at work that we will become convinced, Millgram hopes, of several interlocking theses: (1) that each of the major moral theories of the past has had a distinctive take on practical reasoning; (2) that pivotal structural elements of these theories are due to the underlying theory of practical reasoning; (3) that problems in a moral theory can often be traced to problems in the underlying theory of practical reasoning; (4) that theories of practical reasoning are “engines” (p.. (shrink)
The lead text of this book is based on primatologist Frans de Waal’s 2003 Tanner Lectures at Princeton University, to which he adds three short appendices. There are commentaries by Robert Wright, Christine Korsgaard, Philip Kitcher, and Peter Singer, followed by a 20-page response. Josiah Ober and Stephen Macedo provide a brief introduction. As befits a Tanner lecturer, de Waal’s scope is broad, his writing accessible, and the pace lively. He continues his crusade against the “veneer theory”—the idea that (...) humans are naturally sociopaths and that empathy, altruism, and morality are the result of recent cultural forces. The extent to which de Waal dichotomizes this debate, however, masks much of interest. One can agree with the seemingly obvious fact that humans are obligatorily gregarious organisms—replete with various prosocial mechanisms—while still expressing reasonable doubt that our capacity to make moral judgments is the result of an innate mechanism dedicated to that task. De Waal is an unparalleled source of rich first-hand primatological data, arguing cogently that humans show continuity with other apes regarding empathy, consolation behavior, peacemaking, and reciprocal relations. Yet he admits these “building blocks” are “by no means sufficient” (p. 20) for morality, and in his Response discusses two further levels of morality: rule enforcement for the community’s good, and disinterested moral reasoning. He doesn’t address whether this third, uniquely human, level is a distinct innate adaptation, apparently not appreciating that if it isn’t, and yet is necessary for being literally accorded a “moral sense” (as he seems to indicate on pp. 20, 49, 55), then moral nativism is false and at least some of human morality is “veneer.” In characteristic non-philosopher manner, de Waal ultimately rejects the question as “semantics” and thus “mostly a waste of time” (p. 181). It seems a surprising blemish that the author of a book subtitled “How Morality Evolved” should grow impatient with those wondering what precisely is necessary and sufficient for morality, and what specifically has evolved.. (shrink)
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
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)
John Mackie’s moral error theory is so closely associated in people’s minds with his arguments from relativity and from queerness that one might overlook the fact that there may be numerous other, and possibly better, ways of establishing that metaethical position. Perhaps, indeed, there are even further resources for arguing for a moral error theory to be unearthed in Mackie’s own book. I have in mind Mackie’s thesis of moral objectification: that the “objective prescriptivity” with which our moral judgments are (...) imbued is the result of our “tendency to read our feelings into their objects” (1977: 42). Mackie invokes Hume’s famous projectivist image of the human mind’s “great propensity to spread itself on external objects,” and, indeed, it is in his book-length analysis of Hume’s moral theory (Mackie 1980) that the topic receives a more careful discussion than in Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. In both books he musters some considerations in favor of the thesis, and reveals to us that he thinks that “it is very largely correct” (1980: 72). (shrink)
To reject a false theory on the basis of an unsound argument is, in my opinion, as much an intellectual sin as to embrace a false theory. Thus, although I am no fan of any particular form of moral rationalism—and, indeed, on occasion have gone out of my way to criticize it—when rationalism is assailed for faulty reasons I find myself in the curious position of leaping to its defense (which goes to show that in philosophy it isn’t the case (...) that one’s enemy’s enemy is one’s friend). This puts me at something of a dialectical disadvantage, since my “defense” of moral rationalism has strict limits: I will defend it against specific kinds of criticism, but I have no interest in defending it simpliciter. It is important to bear in mind that what is in dispute between Shaun Nichols and myself is not the truth or falsity of moral rationalism, but rather what kind of evidence bears on the matter. (shrink)
The popular expedient of identifying noncognitivism with the claim that moral judgments are neither true nor false leaves open the question of what kind of thing a moral judgment is—an indeterminacy that has led to decades of confusion as to what the noncognitivist is more precisely committed to. Sometimes noncognitivism is presented as a claim about mental states (“Moral judgments are not beliefs”), sometimes as a claim about meaning (“X is morally good” means no more than “X: hurray!”), sometimes as (...) a claim about speech acts (“Moral judgments are not assertions”). Focus on the last two possibilities. The former calls for a translation schema from a propositional surface grammar to a non-propositional deep structure. Such schemata from the noncognitivist are familiar to students of metaethics. (Cf. A.J. Ayer’s claim that in saying “You acted wrongly in stealing that money” one is “not saying anything more than … ‘You stole that money,’ [but] in a peculiar tone of horror.”) It is less widely realized that the noncognitivist is not obliged to offer any such translation schema, for she might instead plump for the last option, of formulating noncognitivism as a theory not of meaning but of use. Perhaps the moral cognitivist is correct about the meaning of moral sentences (there is a wide range of possibilities here) but wrong about the way people use moral sentences: perhaps people do not assert moral sentences, perhaps the nature of acceptance of a moral claim is not belief. (shrink)
This collection reports on the latest research on an increasingly pivotal issue for evolutionary biology: cooperation. The chapters are written from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and utilize research tools that range from empirical survey to conceptual modeling, reflecting the rich diversity of work in the field. They explore a wide taxonomic range, concentrating on bacteria, social insects, and, especially, humans. -/- Part I (“Agents and Environments”) investigates the connections of social cooperation in social organizations to the conditions that make (...) cooperation profitable and stable, focusing on the interactions of agent, population, and environment. Part II (“Agents and Mechanisms”) focuses on how proximate mechanisms emerge and operate in the evolutionary process and how they shape evolutionary trajectories. Throughout the book, certain themes emerge that demonstrate the ubiquity of questions regarding cooperation in evolutionary biology: the generation and division of the profits of cooperation; transitions in individuality; levels of selection, from gene to organism; and the “human cooperation explosion” that makes our own social behavior particularly puzzling from an evolutionary perspective. (shrink)
Taking as its point of departure the work of moral philosopher John Mackie (1917-1981), A World Without Values is a collection of essays on moral skepticism by leading contemporary philosophers, some of whom are sympathetic to Mackie s ...
“Beer Gut Gene Discovered” announced the Sydney Morning Herald in 2003 (January 9)—yet another media declaration that scientists have uncovered the “gene for” such-and-such. Claims such as these are, in the popular consciousness, often conflated with proposals from sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists regarding the innateness of certain human traits: infanticide, rape, or intelligence correlated with gender or race. When these traits are nasty or politically disconcerting (as are the three listed) then those pressing the claims are usually quick to point (...) out that to identify any such tendency as the manifestation of an evolutionary adaptation is in no sense to exonerate the behaviour or to justify any political arrangement designed to accommodate it. Often, however, though we may not be quite able to articulate where this defence fails, we are left feeling uneasy. (shrink)
Warren’s goal is to present a ‘multi-criterial’ account of moral status—she eschews any view that holds ‘X has moral status iff X has N’ (where ‘N’ might be life, or personhood, or sentience, for example). Moral status, she asserts, is a more complex affair: it comes in degrees and there are a variety of sufficient conditions. The first part of the book (roughly three quarters of it) is devoted to outlining some standard ‘uni-lateral’ accounts, criticising them in so far as (...) they purport to provide necessary and sufficient conditions for status, but selecting the plausible parts of each to come together later in the multi-criterial account. (shrink)
Current assumptions and values with respect to management training for women are examined. A number of suggestions for change are made. The thrust of the changes will move us toward ensuring that education for women does not remain education for frustration, that is, education which gives women the desire for change in a world that remains the same.Many women have paid their dues, even a premium, for a chance at a top position, only to find a glass ceiling between them (...) and their goal. The glass ceiling is not simply a barrier for an individual, based on the person's inability to handle a higher-level job. Rather, the glass ceiling applies to women as a group who are kept from advancing higher because they are women. (Morrison, White and Velsor, 1987, p. 13). (shrink)
In his response to my paper ?The Error in the Error Theory? criticizing his and J. L. Mackie's moral error theory, Richard Joyce finds my treatment of his position inaccurate and my interpretation of morality implausible. In this reply I clarify my objection, showing that it retains its force against their error theory, and I clarify my interpretation of morality, showing that Joyce's objections miss their mark.
In a 2002 paper for this journal, Richard Joyce presents three new arguments against the Divine Command Theory. In this comment, I attempt to show that each of these arguments is either unpersuasive or uninteresting. Two of Joyce’s arguments are unpersuasive because they rely on an implausible principle or an implausible claim about what counts as a platitude governing use of the term “wrong.” Joyce’s other argument is uninteresting because it is persuasive only if Joyce’s formulation (...) of the Euthyphro Problem is persuasive. However, Joyce argues that the Euthyphro Problem is not persuasive. Therefore, if Joyce is correct about this, then his own objection to the Divine Command Theory is not persuasive either. (shrink)
Abstract: In The Evolution of Morality, Richard Joyce argues there is good reason to think that the “moral sense” is a biological adaptation, and that this provides a genealogy of the moral sense that has a debunking effect, driving us to the conclusion that “our moral beliefs are products of a process that is entirely independent of their truth, … we have no grounds one way or the other for maintaining these beliefs.” I argue that Joyce's skeptical conclusion (...) is not warranted. Even if the moral sense is a biological adaptation, developed moralities (such as Aristotelian eudaimonism) can “co-opt” it into new roles so that the moral judgments it makes possible can come to transcend the evolutionary process that is “entirely independent of their truth.” While evolutionary theory can shed much light on our shared human nature, moral theories must still be vindicated, or debunked, by moral arguments. (shrink)
The cover illustration for Richard Joyce’s elegant and powerful recent work, The Evolution of Morality, is a reproduction of an oddly fascinating and disturbing sixteenth-century engraving, the Anatomia del corpo humano. One has to examine the image for a minute to realize that the standing human figure, stripped of skin, and with muscles, tendons and joints revealed, holds the anatomist’s knife in his left hand and that, with his right, he holds up the single piece of skin, from bearded (...) face to dangling extremities, that had once covered his body. This is the anatomist self-flayed, revealed to inspection by his own knife. A double worry is suggested: the body without the skin may have surprising, or disquieting, features. There is no assurance that what is revealed will accord with our preconceptions. Additionally, there is the thought that only the artist’s magic, freezing a moment in time, permits the body to maintain its integrity. In reality, the body of the self-flayer would collapse and die in short order. -/- Richard Joyce similarly undertakes to wield the analytic knife of science and philosophy to cut away the surface appearance of the moral sense and see what lies beneath. Again, what we find may be surprising or disquieting. Beneath the surface, we find the once-hidden articulation of the moral sensibility. We see its parts, how they are connected, how one links to another. And we may also suspect or fear that what remains cannot long stand inspection in such a state. It may be, indeed, that “we murder to dissect.” And if so, then like the self-flayer, we are ourselves the victims. (shrink)
James Joyce's 'Nonpragmatic Vindication of Probabilism' gives a new argument for the conclusion that a person's credences ought to satisfy the laws of probability. The premises of Joyce's argument include six axioms about what counts as an adequate measure of the distance of a credence function from the truth. This paper shows that (a) Joyce's argument for one of these axioms is invalid, (b) his argument for another axiom has a false premise, (c) neither axiom is plausible, (...) and (d) without these implausible axioms Joyce's vindication of probabilism fails. (shrink)
In an essay recently published in this journal, Branden Fitelson argues that a variant of Miller’s argument for the language dependence of the accuracy of predictions can be applied to Joyce’s notion of accuracy of credences formulated in terms of scoring rules, resulting in a general potential problem for Joyce’s argument for probabilism. We argue that no relevant problem of the sort Fitelson supposes arises since his main theorem and his supporting arguments presuppose the validity of nonlinear transformations (...) of credence functions that Joyce’s theory, charitably construed, would identify as invalid on the basis of the principle of simple dominance. (shrink)
In 1994, Joyce Trebilcot retired from teaching at Washington University in St. Louis, where she had founded the Women's Studies Program and had been a member of the Philosophy Department since 1970. In the Fall of 1994 I participated on a SWIP conference panel on her book Dyke Ideas (Trebilcot 1994) conference; I used that occasion also to reminisce and place her work in the context of her life as a SWIP activist. What follows is adapted from that (...) presentation. (shrink)
Evolutionary debunkers of morality hold this thesis: If S’s moral belief that P can be given an evolutionary explanation, then S’s moral belief that P is not knowledge. In this paper, I debunk a variety of arguments for this thesis. I first sketch a possible evolutionary explanation for some human moral beliefs. Next, I explain how, given a reliabilist approach to warrant, my account implies that humans possess moral knowledge. Finally, I examine the debunking arguments of Michael Ruse, Sharon Street, (...) and Richard Joyce. I draw on the account of moral knowledge sketched earlier to illustrate how these arguments fail. -/- . (shrink)
To the extent that we have reasons to avoid these “bad B -properties”, these arguments provide reasons not to have an incoherent credence function b — and perhaps even reasons to have a coherent one. But, note that these two traditional arguments for probabilism involve what might be called “pragmatic” reasons (not) to be (in)coherent. In the case of the Dutch Book argument, the “bad” property is pragmatically bad (to the extent that one values money). But, it is not clear (...) whether the DBA pinpoints any epistemic defect of incoherent agents. The same can be said for Representation Theorem arguments, since they involve the structure of an agent’s preferences. (shrink)
This book is an impressive and stimulating treatment of central issues in metaethics. It is extremely well-written, combining clarity and precision with an individual style that is engaging and very often witty. It presents a general commentary on the contemporary metaethical debate, on the way to defending a position in that debate—moral fictionalism—that is distinctive and worthy of reaching a wider audience. The book is full of arguments, presenting a wealth of stimulating ideas, objections, and suggestions on all the topics (...) addressed. (shrink)