This paper defends moralrealism against Sharon Street’s “Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value” (this journal, 2006). I argue by separation of cases: From the assumption that a certain normative claim is true, I argue that the first horn of the dilemma is tenable for realists. Then, from the assumption that the same normative claim is false, I argue that the second horn is tenable. Either way, then, the Darwinian dilemma does not add anything to realists’ epistemic (...) worries. (shrink)
MoralRealism is a systematic defence of the idea that there are objective moral standards. Russ Shafer-Landau argues that there are moral principles that are true independently of what anyone, anywhere, happens to think of them. His central thesis, as well as the many novel supporting arguments used to defend it, will spark much controversy among those concerned with the foundations of ethics.
The main aim of this thesis is to defend moralrealism. In chapter 1, I argue that moralrealism is best understood as the view that (1) moral sentences have truth-value (cognitivism), (2) there are moral properties that make some moral sentences true (success-theory), and (3) moral properties are not reducible to non-moral properties (non-reductionism). Realism is contrasted with non-cognitivism, error-theory and reductionism, which, in brief, deny (1), (2) and (3), (...) respectively. In the introductory chapter, it is also argued that there are some prima facie reasons to assume that non-cognitivism and error-theory are erroneous. In chapters 2 and 3, I suggest that the two main forms of reductionism, analytic and synthetic reductionism, are mistaken. In chapter 4, I argue that the considerations in the previous chapters in relation to non-cognitivism, error-theory and reductionism provide support to moralrealism. It is also suggested that these considerations make it plausible to hypothesise that moral properties depend on non-moral properties in a way I refer to as ‘the realist formula’. The realist formula confirms moralrealism since it implies that moral properties are not reducible to non-moral properties. In chapters 5, 6 and 7, I argue that moralrealism, much owing to the realist formula, is able to explain significant meta-ethical issues regarding moral disagreement, moral reason and moral motivation. Among other things, externalism concerning moral motivation is defended. The explanatory value of moralrealism in relation to these meta-ethical issues is taken to suggest that this view is preferable to non-cognitivism, error-theory and reductionism. Some of the meta-ethical issues discussed in these chapters, particularly moral disagreement and motivation, have been thought to provide support to non-cognitivism and error-theory. I maintain that since realism, unlike reductionism, is able to counter these arguments, it justifies us in upholding the view that moral sentences have truth-value and the view that there are moral properties. In chapter 8, various objections against realism with regard to the dependence of moral properties on non-moral properties are responded to. In chapter 9, I consider an influential argument to the effect that moral properties are not involved in causal explanations. I maintain that this argument fails and that it therefore is reasonable to assume that moral properties are natural properties. However, the discussions in chapters 8 and 9 also suggest that moralrealism might face problems that cannot be thoroughly discussed in this thesis. (shrink)
The author considers how constructivism, presently known to us essentially as a theory for generating rules of social cooperation, embodies a certain conception of justification that in turn may be thought of as a general theory. It is argued that moralrealism and projectivism are by turns platitudinous and unsatisfactory as conceptions of justification; by contrast the general conception of justification in constructivism makes sense of reason giving and coherent rivalry. The author argues that once the right picture (...) of justification is in place, the picture constructivism illustrates or embodies, the problem of moral ontology disappears. (shrink)
Moralrealism of a paradigmatic sort -- Defending the parallel -- The parity premise -- Epistemic nihilism -- Epistemic expressivism : traditional views -- Epistemic expressivism : nontraditional views -- Epistemic reductionism -- Three objections to the core argument.
: The dominant interpretation of Kant as a moral constructivist has recently come under sustained philosophical attack by those defending a moral realist reading of Kant. In light of this, should we read Kant as endorsing moral constructivism or moralrealism? In answering this question we encounter disagreement in regard to two key independence claims. First, the independence of the value of persons from the moral law (an independence that is rejected) and second, the (...) independence of the content and authority of the moral law from actual acts of willing on behalf of those bound by that law (an independence that is upheld). The resulting position, which is called not ‘all the way down’ constructivism, is attributed to Kant. (shrink)
Conventional wisdom has it that evolution makes a sham of morality, even if morality is an adaptation. I disagree. I argue that our best current adaptationist theory of meaning offers objective truth conditionsfor signaling systems of all sorts. The objectivity is, however, relative to species – specifically to the adaptive history of the signaling system in question. While evolution may not provide the kind of species independent objective standards that (e.g.) Kantians desire, this should be enough for the practical work (...) of justifying our confidence in the objectivity of moral standards. If you believe morality is an adaptation, you should be a moral realist. (shrink)
Many philosophers argue that the face-value of moral practice provides presumptive support to moralrealism. This paper analyses such arguments into three steps. (1) Moral practice has a certain face-value, (2) only realism can vindicate this face value, and (3) the face-value needs vindicating. Two potential problems with such arguments are discussed. The first is taking the relevant face-value to involve explicitly realist commitments; the second is underestimating the power of non-realist strategies to vindicate that (...) face-value. Case studies of each of these errors are presented, drawn from the writings of Shafer-Landau, Brink and McNaughton, and from recent work in experimental metaethics. The paper then considers weak presumptive arguments, according to which both realist and non-realist vindications of moral practice are possible, but the realist vindications are more natural. It is argued that there is no sense of ‘natural’ available that can make these arguments work. The conclusion is that all extant presumptive arguments for moralrealism fail. (shrink)
The question of moralrealism—whether our ethical beliefs rest on some objective foundation—is one that mattered as much to Aristotle as it does to us today, and his writings on this topic continue to provide inspiration for the contemporary debate. This volume of essays expands the fruitful conversation among scholars of ancient philosophy and contemporary ethical theorists on this question and related issues such as the virtues, justice, and Aristotle’s theory of tragedy.The distinguished contributors to this volume enrich (...) and clarify both Aristotle’s views and the contemporary debates. This book makes an important contribution to both topics, and it will be essential reading for all philosophers and classicists with an interest in moral philosophy and Greek ethics. (shrink)
Ronald Dworkin famously argued that many putatively nonmoral metaethical theories can only be understood as being internal to the moral domain. If correct, this position, referred to as anti-archimedeanism, has profound implications for the methodology of metaethics. This is particularly true for skeptical metaethical theories. This article defends a version of anti-archimedeanism that is true to the spirit rather than the letter of Dworkin's original thesis from several recent objections. First, it addresses Kenneth Ehrenberg's recent attempt to demonstrate how (...) certain metaethical theories can be understood in a morally neutral manner. It then discusses Charles Pigden's claim that Dworkin begs the question against error theorists and nihilists by assuming a conceptual space that error theorists and nihilists would reject. It concludes that the anti-archimedean methodology originally proposed by Dworkin is defensible, and can be used to support a robust form of moralrealism. (shrink)
In a recent paper, Alvin Plantinga has argued that there is good reason to think that naturalism and moralrealism are incompatible. He has done so by arguing that the most important argument for the compatibility of these two theses, which has been provided by Frank Jackson, fails and that any other argument that serves the same purpose is likely to fail for the same reason. His argument against the compatibility of naturalism and more realism, then, is (...) indirect: he argues against it by refuting the most important argument for it. In this paper, I argue that Plantinga’s argument is unconvincing for at least two reasons. First, Jackson’s argument can be revised in such a way that it meets Plantinga’s worry. Second, there is another way of arguing for the compatibility of two propositions which Plantinga does not consider. If the naturalist takes this alternative route, she does not face the problem identified by Plantinga. I thus show not only that Plantinga’s argument does not count against the compatibility of naturalism and moralrealism, but that there is even good reason to think that naturalism and moralrealism are in fact compatible. (shrink)
Many commentators suppose that morality, objectively construed, must possess a minimal sort of explanatory relevance if moralrealism is to be plausible. To the extent that moral realists are unable to secure explanatory relevance for moral facts, moralrealism faces a problem. Call this general objection an “explanatory objection” to moralrealism. Despite the prevalence of explanatory objections in the literature, the connection between morality’s explanatory powers and moralrealism’s truth (...) is not clear. This paper considers several different reasons for subjecting morality to explanatory scrutiny and concludes that none of them uncover a special or compelling explanatory problem for realism. In light of these difficulties, an alternative account of the connection between moralrealism and moral explanation is developed. Not only does this account make sense of explanatory objections to realism, it turns out that realists may have the resources to defend themselves against this explanatory concern, properly understood. (shrink)
In this paper I argue (i) that choosing to abide by realist moral norms would be as arbitrary as choosing to abide by the mere preferences of a God (a difficulty akin to the Euthyphro dilemma raised for divine command theorists); in both cases we would lack reason to prefer these standards to alternative codes of conduct. I further develop this general line of thought by arguing in particular (ii) that we would lack any noncircular justification to concern ourselves (...) with any such realist normative standards. (shrink)
Moral disagreement is widely held to pose a threat for metaethical realism and objectivity. In this paper I attempt to understand how it is that moral disagreement is supposed to present a problem for metaethical realism. I do this by going through several distinct (though often related) arguments from disagreement, carefully distinguishing between them, and critically evaluating their merits. My conclusions are rather skeptical: Some of the arguments I discuss fail rather clearly. Others supply with a (...) challenge to realism, but not one we have any reason to believe realism cannot address successfully. Others beg the question against the moral realist, and yet others raise serious objections to realism, but ones that—when carefully stated—can be seen not to be essentially related to moral disagreement. Arguments based on moral disagreement itself have almost no weight, I conclude, against moralrealism. (shrink)
This book is a systematic and constructive treatment of a number of traditional issues at the foundations of ethics. These issues concern the objectivity of ethics, the possibility and nature of moral knowledge, the relationship between the moral point of view and a scientific or naturalist world-view, the nature of moral value and obligation, and the role of morality in a person's rational lifeplan. In striking contrast to traditional and more recent work in the field, David Brink (...) offers an integrated defense of the objectivity of ethics. (shrink)
There are striking parallels, largely unexplored in the literature, between skeptical arguments against theism and against moralrealism. After sketching four arguments meant to do this double duty, I restrict my attention to an explanatory argument that claims that we have most reason to deny the existence of moral facts (and so, by extrapolation, theistic ones), because such putative facts have no causal-explanatory power. I reject the proposed parity, and offer reasons to think that the potential vulnerabilities (...) of moralrealism on this front are quite different from those of the theist. Key Words: causal power explanatory power Gilbert Harman moral facts moralrealism theism. (shrink)
Many believe that objective morality requires a theistic foundation. I maintain that there are sui generis objective ethical facts that do not reduce to natural or supernatural facts. On my view, objective morality does not require an external foundation of any kind. After explaining my view, I defend it against a variety of objections posed by William Wainwright, William Lane Craig, and J. P. Moreland.
This book describes the shape of a Christian ethic that arises from a conversation between contemporary accounts of natural law theory, and virtue ethics. The ethic that emerges from this conversation seeks to resolve the tensions in Christian ethics between creation and eschatology, narrative and natural law, and objectivity and relativity. Black moves from this analytic foundation to conclude that worship lies at the heart of a theologically grounded ethic whose central concern is the flourishing of the whole human person (...) in community with both one another and God. (shrink)
Non-reductive moralrealism is the view that there are moral properties which cannot be reduced to natural properties. If moral properties exist, it is plausible that they strongly supervene on non-moral properties- more specifically, on mental, social, and biological properties. There may also be good reasons for thinking that moral properties are irreducible. However, strong supervenience and irreducibility seem incompatible. Strong supervenience entails that there is an enormous number of modal truths (specifically, truths about (...) exactly which non-moral properties necessitate which moral properties); and all these modal truths must be explained. If these modal truths can all be explained, then it must be a fundamental truth about the essence of each moral property that the moral property is necessarily equivalent to some property that can be specified purely in mental, social and biological terms; and this fundamental truth appears to be a reduction of the moral property in question. The best way to resist this argument is by resorting to the claim that mental and social properties are not, strictly speaking, natural properties, but are instead properties that can only be analysed in partly normative terms. Acceptance of that claim is the price of non-reductive moralrealism. (shrink)
In a recent article, William F. Harms (2000) argues in a novel way for a form of moralrealism. He does not actually argue that moralrealism is true, but rather that if morality is the product of natural selection.
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 moralrealism, and theological voluntarism and (...) evil. (shrink)
To enhance the plausibility of naturalistic moralrealism, David Copp develops an argument from epistemic defeaters aiming to show that strongly a priori synthetic moral truths do not exist. In making a case for the non-naturalistic position, I locate Copp’s account within the wider literature on peer disagreement; I identify key points of divergence between Copp’s doctrine and conciliatorist doctrines; I introduce the notion of ‘minimal moral competence’; I contend that some plausible benchmarks for minimal (...) class='Hi'>moral competence are grounded in substantive moral considerations; and I discuss two forms of spinelessness that Copp’s moral naturalism could result in. (shrink)
The familiar argument from disagreement has been an important focal point of discussion in contemporary meta-ethics. Over the past decade, there has been an explosion of interdisciplinary work between philosophers and psychologists about moral psychology. Working within this trend, John Doris and Alexandra Plakias have made a tentative version of the argument from disagreement on empirical grounds. Doris and Plakias present empirical evidence in support of premise 4, that ethics is beset by fundamental disagreement. They examine Richard Brandt on (...) Hopi ethics and, especially, Richard E. Nisbett & Dov Cohen on cultures of honor to make a prima facie version of this case. This raises important questions. Are Doris and Plakias correct that there is even a prima facie empirical basis for moral anti-realism? What sort of empirical contribution can be made to such debates in meta-ethics? I argue that we should have reservations about the prospects of empirical contributions to the argument from disagreement. Specifically, before empirical results from psychology can be used to offer conclusions about meta-ethical issues, more careful attention must be paid to normative ethics, and especially to normative theory. There are two parts to this position. First, there is good reason to think that the evidence we currently have about moral disagreement is irrelevant to the meta-ethical debate. Second, the relevant evidence is useless for meta-ethical purposes on its own. Instead, it must be combined with normative theorizing about value pluralism. (shrink)
Moralrealism and antirealist-expressivism are of course incompatible positions. They disagree fundamentally about the nature of moral states of mind, the existence of moral states of affairs and properties, and the nature and role of moral discourse. The central realist view is that a person who has or expresses a moral thought is thereby in, or thereby expresses, a cognitive state of mind; she has or expresses a belief that represents a moral state (...) of affairs in a way that might be accurate or inaccurate. The view of antirealist-expressivism is that such a person is in, or expresses, a conative state of mind, one that consists in a certain kind of attitude or motivational stance toward something, such as an action or a person. Realism holds that moral thoughts have truth conditions and that in some cases these truth conditions are satisfied so that our moral thoughts are true. Antirealist-expressivism holds, to a first approximation, that the distinctive moral content of a moral thought does not have truth conditions. (shrink)
In 1971, Simon Blackburn worked out an argument against moralrealism appealing to the supervenience of the moral realm on the natural realm.1 He has since revised the argument, in part to take account of objections,2 but the basic structure remains intact. While commentators3 seem to agree that the argument is not successful, they have not agreed upon what goes wrong. I believe this is because no attempt has been made to see what happens when Blackburn's argument (...) is addressed to particular varieties of moralrealism. As I see it, we must look to these various brands if we want to understand just where the concept of supervenience can be usefully employed. (shrink)
This essay explains for a general philosophical audience the central issues and strategies in the contemporary moralrealism debate. It critically surveys the contribution of some recent scholarship, representing expressivist and pragmatist nondescriptivism (Mark Timmons, Hilary Putnam), subjectivist and nonsubjectivist naturalism (Michael Smith, Paul Bloomfield, Philippa Foot), nonnaturalism (Russ Shafer-Landau, T. M. Scanlon) and error theory (Richard Joyce). Four different faces of ‘moralrealism’ are distinguished: semantic, ontological, metaphysical, and normative. The debate is presented as taking (...) shape under dialectical pressure from the demands of (i) capturing the moral appearances and (ii) reconciling morality with our understanding of the mind and world. (Formerly “Explaining MoralRealism”. Updated 7-16-07). (shrink)
In this paper, I develop a neglected puzzle for the moral realist. I then canvass some potential responses. Although I endorse one response as the most promising of those I survey, my primary goal is to make vivid how formidable the puzzle is, as opposed to offering a definitive solution.
Metaethics is a perennially popular subject, but one that can be challenging to study and teach. As it consists in an array of questions about ethics, it is really a mix of (at least) applied metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and mind. The seminal texts therefore arise out of, and often assume competence with, a variety of different literatures. It can be taught thematically, but this sample syllabus offers a dialectical approach, focused on metaphysical debate over moralrealism, (...) which spans the century of debate launched and framed by G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica. The territory and literature are, however, vast. So, this syllabus is highly selective. A thorough metaethics course might also include more topical examination of moral supervenience, moral motivation, moral epistemology, and the rational authority of morality. Authors Recommend: Alexander Miller, An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003). This is one of the few clear, accessible, and comprehensive surveys of the subject, written by someone sympathetic with moral naturalism. David Brink, MoralRealism and the Foundations of Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). Brink rehabilitates naturalism about moral facts by employing a causal semantics and natural kinds model of moral thought and discourse. Michael Smith, The Moral Problem (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994). Smith's book frames the debate as driven by a tension between the objectivity of morality and its practical role, offering a solution in terms of a response-dependent account of practical rationality. Gilbert Harman and Judith Jarvis Thomson, Moral Relativism & Moral Objectivity (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996). Harman argues against the objectivity of moral value, while Thomson defends it. Each then responds to the other. Frank Jackson, From Metaphysics to Ethics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998). Jackson argues that reductive conceptual analysis is possible in ethics, offering a unique naturalistic account of moral properties and facts. Mark Timmons, Morality without Foundations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). Timmons distinguishes moral cognitivism from moralrealism, interpreting moral judgments as beliefs that have cognitive content but do not describe moral reality. He also provides a particularly illuminating discussion of nonanalytic naturalism. Philippa Foot, Natural Goodness (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001). A Neo-Aristotelian perspective: moral facts are natural facts about the proper functioning of human beings. Russ Shafer-Landau, MoralRealism: A Defence (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003). In this recent defense of a Moorean, nonnaturalist position, Shafer-Landau engages rival positions in a remarkably thorough manner. Terence Cuneo, The Normative Web (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007). Cuneo argues for a robust version of moralrealism, developing a parity argument based on the similarities between epistemic and moral facts. Mark Schroeder, Slaves of the Passions (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007). Schroeder defends a reductive form of naturalism in the tradition of Hume, identifying moral and normative facts with natural facts about agents' desires. Online Materials: PEA Soup: http://peasoup.typepad.com A blog devoted to philosophy, ethics, and academia. Its contributors include many active and prominent metaethicists, who regularly post about the moralrealism and naturalism debates. Metaethics Bibliography: http://www.lenmanethicsbibliography.group.shef.ac.uk/Bib.htm Maintained by James Lenman, professor of philosophy at the University of Sheffield, this online resource provides a selective list of published research in metaethics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu See especially the entries under 'metaethics'. Sample Syllabus: Topics for Lecture & Discussion Note: unless indicated otherwise, all the readings are found in R. Shafer-Landau and T. Cuneo, eds., Foundations of Ethics: An Anthology (Malden: Blackwell, 2007). (FE) Week 1: Realism I (Classic Nonnaturalism) G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica, 2nd ed. (FE ch. 35). W. K. Frankena, 'The Naturalistic Fallacy,'Mind 48 (1939): 464–77. S. Finlay, 'Four Faces of MoralRealism', Philosophy Compass 2/6 (2007): 820–49 [DOI: [DOI link]]. Week 2: Antirealism I (Classic Expressivism) A. J. Ayer, 'Critique of Ethics and Theology' (1952) (FE ch. 3). C. Stevenson, 'The Nature of Ethical Disagreement' (1963) (FE ch. 28). Week 3: Antirealism II (Error Theory) J. L. Mackie, 'The Subjectivity of Values' (1977) (FE ch. 1). R. Joyce, Excerpt from The Myth of Morality (2001) (FE ch. 2). Week 4: Realism II (Nonanalytic Naturalism) R. Boyd, 'How to be a Moral Realist' (1988) (FE ch. 13). P. Railton, 'MoralRealism' (1986) (FE ch. 14). T. Horgan and M. Timmons, 'New Wave MoralRealism Meets Moral Twin Earth' (1991) (FE ch. 38). Week 5: Antirealism III (Contemporary Expressivism) A. Gibbard, 'The Reasons of a Living Being' (2002) (FE ch. 6). S. Blackburn, 'How To Be an Ethical Anti-Realist' (1993) (FE ch. 4). T. Horgan and M. Timmons, 'Nondescriptivist Cognitivism' (2000) (FE ch. 5). W. Sinnott-Armstrong, 'Expressivism and Embedding' (2000) (FE ch. 37). Week 6: Realism III (Sensibility Theory) J. McDowell, 'Values and Secondary Qualities' (1985) (FE ch. 11). D. Wiggins, 'A Sensible Subjectivism' (1991) (FE ch. 12). Week 7: Realism IV (Subjectivism) & Antirealism IV (Constructivism) R. Firth, 'Ethical Absolutism and the Ideal Observer' (1952) (FE ch. 9). G. Harman, 'Moral Relativism Defended' (1975) (FE ch. 7). C. Korsgaard, 'The Authority of Reflection' (1996) (FE ch. 8). Week 8: Realism V (Contemporary Nonnaturalism) R. Shafer-Landau, 'Ethics as Philosophy' (2006) (FE ch. 16). T. M. Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), ch. 1. T, Cuneo, 'Recent Faces of Moral Nonnaturalism', Philosophy Compass 2/6 (2007): 850–79 [DOI: [DOI link]]. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that the explanationist argument in favour of moralrealism fails. According to this argument, the ability of putative moral properties to feature in good explanations provides strong evidence for, or entails, the metaphysical claims of moralrealism. Some have rejected this argument by denying that moral explanations are ever good explanations. My criticism is different. I argue that even if we accept that moral explanations are (sometimes) good explanations (...) the metaphysical claims of realism do not follow. (shrink)
This paper argues for the view that moralrealism is irrelevant to ethics. It recalls Aristotle's claim that the Platonic Form of the Good is irrelevant because it is not the sort of thing we can desire or pursue. Moore's account of ethics in relation to conduct and of the Ideal is woefully inadequate as a morality to live by. Peter Railton's moralrealism also involves a very weak first-order moral theory. These failures are due, (...) I claim, to the fact that Plato, Moore and Railton regard morality as a science; it is not a science, it is an art. (shrink)
SOME THINK THAT MORAL REALISTS CANNOT RECOGNIZE THE PRACTICAL OR ACTION-GUIDING CHARACTER OF MORALITY AND SO REJECT MORALREALISM. THIS FORM OF ANTI-REALISM DEPENDS UPON AN INTERNALIST MORAL PSYCHOLOGY. BUT AN EXTERNALIST MORAL PSYCHOLOGY IS MORE PLAUSIBLE AND ALLOWS THE REALIST A SENSIBLE EXPLANATION OF THE ACTION-GUIDING CHARACTER OF MORALITY. CONSIDERATION OF THE PRACTICAL CHARACTER OF MORALITY, THEREFORE, DOES NOT UNDERMINE AND, INDEED, SUPPORTS MORALREALISM.
G. E. Moore famously argued on the basis of semantic intuitions that moral properties are not reducible to natural properties, and therefore that moral predicates refer to nonnatural properties. This clearly represents a version of “moralrealism,” but it is a testament to the strength of naturalist intuitions in contemporary philosophical debate that, insofar as one accepts Moore’s arguments, this is typically seen as a boon for antirealists rather than realists. For many philosophers worry that putative (...) nonnatural properties would be too metaphysically and epistemologically queer to be admissible into our ontology. These philosophers conclude that if moral properties cannot be understood as natural properties, then it is more reasonable to abandon commitment to moral properties than to follow Moore into nonnaturalism. -/- In this dialectical milieu, three positions have become popular. Naturalists argue that Moorean arguments are bunk; moral properties can be understood as natural properties. Constructivists argue that Moore was right that moral properties cannot be understood as objective natural properties—that is, the properties that are logically independent of the attitudes of human agents—however, quasi‐objective moral properties can be constructed out of the attitudes of human agents. And noncognitivists argue that moral predicates are nonreferential, and so the best understanding of moral discourse is one which does not construe it as committed to the existence of moral properties. -/- Russ Shafer‐Landau’s new book is distinctive in that it argues against each of these three popular positions while developing and defending a contemporary nonnaturalist version of moralrealism. (shrink)
There have been times in the history of ethical theory, especially in this century, when moralrealism was down, but it was never out. The appeal of this doctrine for many moral philosophers is apparently so strong that there are always supporters in its corner who seek to resuscitate the view. The attraction is obvious: moralrealism purports to provide a precious philosophical good, viz., objectivity and all that this involves, including right answers to (most) (...)moral questions, and the possibility of knowing those answers. In the last decade, moralrealism has re-entered the philosophical ring in powerful-looking naturalistic form. ln this paper we provide a dialectical overview: we situate the new wave position itself, and also our objections to it, in the context of the evolving program of philosophical naturalism in 20th century analytic philosophy. We seek to show that although this new contender might initially look like championship material, it succumbs to punches surprisingly similar to those that knocked out the old-fashioned versions of naturalist moralrealism. (shrink)
1. Evolutionary MoralRealism. On most contemporary approaches to evolution and ethics, morality is not a real part of the environment in which social and intelligent creatures evolve.1 According to such approaches, certain cooperative behavioural patterns develop, and thus become biologically real, but morality doesn’t become possible until creatures evolve a sophisticated enough cognitive ability to mistake the goals of such behavioural patterns for objective moral values. At a metaethical level, this line of thought has led evolutionary (...) biologists and moral philosophers alike to the conclusion that objective moral values are illusory. At an ethical level, the same line of thought has led most moral philosophers to suppose that evolutionary biology tells us nothing very important about ethics. Ethics is possible because of our evolutionary heritage as cooperative primates, but ethics itself only begins as we humans begin to talk, argue and reason about how we ought to live our lives together. With the standard view, we think morality is tied to cooperative behavioural patterns that.. (shrink)
In 1903 G.E. Moore celebrated a robust nonnaturalistic form of moralrealism with the publication of his Principia Ethica. Subsequent years have witnessed the development and refinement of a number of views motivated at least in part by a deep resistance to the metaphysical and epistemological commitments of nonnaturalism. Over time, Moore’s view arguably has become the position of last resort for philosophers working in metaethics. Exactly one hundred years later, analytic metaethics has come full circle with the (...) publication of Russ Shafer-Landau’s MoralRealism: A Defence. Shafer-Landau confidently elaborates and defends a form of nonnaturalism about moral facts and properties, and conjoins his moral metaphysics with an anti-Humean theory of motivation, motivational externalism, reasons externalism, moral rationalism, and a hybrid of selfevident justification and reliabilism in moral epistemology. Needless to say, Shafer-Landau’s book is highly ambitious with respect to both the number of controversial theses it tries to defend as well as the antecedent skepticism it attempts to overcome. Regardless of whether its arguments are ultimately successful, MoralRealism deserves to be taken very seriously by anyone interested in metaethics, moral psychology, and the philosophy of action.1 In what follows, I will consider all five parts of MoralRealism in order, offering a brief summary of some of the main ideas in each section as well as raising a few objections (although without being able, in the space available, to do justice to all or even the majority of the interesting arguments with which the book is filled). (shrink)
Mark Timmons and Terry Horgan have argued that the new moralrealism, which rests on the causal theory of reference, is untenable. While I do agree that the new moralrealism is untenable, I do not think that Timmons and Horgan have succeeded in showing that it is. I will lay out the case for new moralrealism and Horgan and Timmons’ argument against it, and then argue that their argument fails. Further, I will (...) discuss Boyd’s semantic theory as well as attempts to improve upon it, raise serious problems for these semantic accounts, and suggest an alternative view that accounts for our use of moral terms. (shrink)
This paper argues that we can acknowledge the existence of moral truths and moral progress without being committed to moralrealism. Rather than defending this claim through the more familiar route of the attempted analysis of the ontological commitments of moral claims, I show how moral belief change for the better shares certain features with theoretical progress in the natural sciences. Proponents of the better theory are able to convince their peers that it is (...) formally and empirically superior to its rivals, and the better theory may be promoted to the status of the truth. Yet there is no 'decision-procedure' for ethics any more than there is for molecular biology. The betterness of true theories can be grasped through what I term 'undirectional narratives' of progress. And while there are true moral claims and perhaps numerous moral truths yet to be discovered, we should reject currently popular forms of moralrealism with bivalence. Some moral claims lend themselves to the construction of fully reversible, bi-directional narratives and are likely neither true nor false. (shrink)
Alexander Miller has recently considered an ingenious extension of Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit's account of 'program explanation' as a way of defending non-reductive naturalist versions of moralrealism against Harman's explanatory criticism. Despite the ingenuity of this extension, Miller concludes that program explanation cannot help such moral realists in their attempt to defend moral properties. Specifically, he argues that such moral program explanations are dispensable from an epistemically unlimited point of view. I show that (...) Miller's argument for this negative claim is inadequate, and that he has, in spite of himself, identified a promising defence of moralrealism. (shrink)
In this paper, I hope to provide an account of the conditions of moralrealism whereby there are still significant metaphysical commitments made by the realist which set the view apart as a distinct position in the contemporary meta-ethical landscape. In order to do so, I will be appealing to a general account of what it is for realism to be true in any domain of experience, whether it be realism about universals, realism about unobservable (...) scientific entities, realism about artifacts, and so forth. (shrink)
Book Information MoralRealism: A Defence. MoralRealism: A Defence Russ Shafer-Landau , Oxford : Clarendon Press , 2003 , x + 322 , £35 ( cloth ) By Russ Shafer-Landau. Clarendon Press. Oxford. Pp. x + 322. £35 (cloth:).
Ethics and mathematics are normally treated independently in philosophical discussions. When comparisons are drawn between problems in the two areas, those comparisons tend to be highly local, concerning just one or two issues. Nevertheless, certain metaethicists have made bold claims to the effect that moralrealism is on “no worse footing” than mathematical realism -- i.e. that one cannot reasonably reject moralrealism without also rejecting mathematical realism. -/- In the absence of any remotely (...) systematic survey of the relevant arguments, however, the prima facie plausibility of such claims cannot be usefully judged. There is no way to guess whether the few local parallels that have been observed are symptomatic of pervasive ones. What is needed is a general overview of the relevant dialectical landscape – one which serves to suggest the likely extent of commonality between arguments in ethics and arguments in the philosophy of mathematics. -/- In this survey, I offer such an overview. I consider a wide array of arguments for mathematical realism, and against moralrealism, and indiacte analogs to each. I argue that, while nothing definitive can be said at this point, the aforementioned bold claims do have significant prima facie plausibility. In particular, parallels between arguments in metaethics and arguments in the philosophy of mathematics seem to be much more systematic than is commonly supposed. (shrink)
Russ Shafer-Landau’s MoralRealism: A Defence is a refreshingly clear, straightforward, and elegant search for the truth about whether there are any objective, universal truths in ethics. The book’s jargon-free writing style, clarity in argumentation and comprehensive coverage of the issues make it an ideal main text for upper-division undergraduate courses and seminars in ethics. It is also accessible also to bright students with just a few philosophy courses who are interested in the issues (Shafer-Landau’s entry-level..