Back    All discussions

2015-06-23
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism

Normative antirealism supposes that the only normative reasons are empirical, viz. those constituted by the actual attitudes of individuals and what follows from them.  However, the empirical normative attitudes of some individuals (e.g. normative realists) posit attitude-independent standards of normative judgement:  for example, rational measures of correctness (e.g. right and wrong) that are independent of the attitudes individuals actually have.  Since it follows from the actual attitudes of realists that there are independent normative standards, at least for them antirealism entails realism.  The antirealists respond that they have proven such independent standards to be fatally compromised:  when properly scrutinized they fail to follow even from the attitudes of realists.  But that's not an empirical claim!  The antirealist is replacing the question "What attitudes do persons actually have?" with the question "What personal attitudes stand up to scrutiny?", so withstanding scrutiny becomes an attitude-independent standard of correctness!  For, at least as judged by realists' actual attitudes, antirealism does not follow from them even in reflective equilibrium.  To suppose that it really does follow, regardless of what realists think, is to suppose that attitudes can be rationally "corrected" on empirical-attitude-independent, therefore realist, grounds.  Which is to say, the argument for antirealism depends on antirealism being false, at least with regard to the question of whether antirealism is true.  So antirealism faces this dilemma:  either it implies realism, at least for the realist, or it supposes a non-empirical, realist basis for antirealism.  In either case it is self-confuting.


2015-06-28
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
In response to Jerry Hull:

> The empirical normative attitudes of some individuals (e.g. normative realists) posit attitude-independent standards of normative judgement....

This is an empirical observation, and I do not doubt its truth.

> ... it follows from the actual attitudes of realists that there are independent normative standards ....

No it doesn't. That realists posit attitude-independent standards does not imply or entail that there really are attitude-independent standards. It implies only that realists believe that there are such standards.

>  The antirealist replaces the question "What attitudes do persons actually have?" with the question "What personal attitudes stand up to scrutiny?", so withstanding scrutiny becomes an attitude-independent standard of correctness! ... To suppose that [anti-realism] really does follow, regardless of what realists think, is to suppose that attitudes can be rationally "corrected" on empirical-attitude-independent, therefore realist, grounds.

If your argument is against the strongest form of anti-realism, namely that there are no normative standards at all, then you are right. Such an attitude is self-refuting. However, your argument does not stand against the more common anti-realist stand, moral anti-realism.

The scrutiny employed by moral anti-realists is not moral scrutiny, but either logical or empirical scrutiny.  The moral anti-realists do not say that realist notions are morally wrong or deficient.  They may say that such notions are logically incoherent, or they may say that such notions lack grounding in empirical observation (the famous Humean "is-ought" problem). Moral anti-realists do not subscribe to moral standards of scrutiny, but they certainly may subscribe to non-moral standards of scrutiny. Hence, there is no inconsistency in the stance of the moral anti-realists.


2015-06-30
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Bill Meacham
Hi!  Thanks for the reply.  I take your point that I did not specify what normativity is problematic.  Let's assume (as seems wise) that it is just the reality of practical/moral normativity, as opposed to epistemic normativity, that is in question.

You say
>That realists posit attitude-independent standards does not imply or
>entail that there really are attitude-independent standards. It
>implies only that realists believe that there are such standards.

By saying the realists only believe there are such standards, you imply the belief is false.  But false how?  It's not to the point that it "lacks grounding in empirical observation", because the non-naturalist realist will happily agree with that.

So that leaves "logical incoherence"; but the presumption is that the realists' practical/moral normativity survives reflective equilibrium.  Unless you have a very clever proof otherwise, antirealism is not a truth of logic!  Most people throughout history have been moral realists, after all, so it would seem odd at this late date to discover that attitude-independent moral standards are intrinsically contradictory.

Consequently, the only scrutiny moral realism fails to survive is one that presupposes antirealism is true.  Which of course simply begs the question. 

2015-06-30
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
> By saying the realists only believe there are such standards, you imply the belief is false.

No I don't.  That realists posit attitude-independent standards does not imply that there really are such standards, but it does imply that there really aren't any either. It is not evidence for their existence either way.


2015-07-01
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
I am not an expert on Ethics. But I am not clear about what Jerry stated at the outset:

`the empirical normative attitudes of some individuals (e.g. normative realists) posit attitude-independent standards of normative judgement:  for example, rational measures of correctness (e.g. right and wrong) that are independent of the attitudes individuals actually have. `

Who are these ``normative realists`` (indicated in parentheses) ? Are they moral agents -- who the theorists (the philosophers) are observing and theorizing about, or are they the theorists themselves? Or, they can be both -- agents as well as theorists. Don't we have to make a distinction between object level (that includes the agents) and meta-level (where the theorists are)?

2015-07-01
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Bill Meacham
I explained the realist's evidentiary basis in my initial post:  normative reasons are constituted by each person's empirical attitudes and what follows from them.  I pointed out in my second post that this can be tested via reflective equilibrium.

So it's simply false to say there is no evidence.  You apparently find that evidence inadequate, but so far you haven't bothered to explain why.


2015-07-01
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
I'm not familiar with the object/meta distinction being applied to persons; usually that's a distinction regarding language(s).

To get an idea of the issues I'm discussing, you could check out this Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on antirealism

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-anti-realism/

Or this unpublished essay by Sharon Street, particularly germane to the questions I've raised:

https://files.nyu.edu/ss194/public/sharonstreet/Writing_files/Paper%2013%20for%20website%20-%20How%20to%20Be%20a%20Relativist%20About%20Normativity.pdf

2015-07-02
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Bill Meacham
Oops. This

> but it does imply that there really aren't any either

should be this

> but it does not imply that there really aren't any either

Sorry about that.

2015-07-02
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
Please forgive my obtuseness, but I still don't get it.  You say

> I explained the realist's evidentiary basis in my initial post.

The initial post says

> the empirical normative attitudes of some individuals (e.g. normative realists) posit attitude-independent standards of normative judgement: ...  it follows from the actual attitudes of realists that there are independent normative standards, at least for them .... [emphasis added]

You say there are independent normative standards at least for those who posit them.  To me that means that those who posit such standards believe and act as if such standards exist.  (If you mean something else by "at least for them," please explain.)  But how do such belief and action warrant anybody else believing that such standards exist?  How do such belief and action warrant the assertion that the standards exist not only for those who believe in them but those who do not as well (which is what I take "independent" to mean)?

2015-07-05
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Bill Meacham
By saying the implication is "there are" such independent standards for the realist, I mean "there are" such independent standards; not just that realists "believe and act" if they exist.

But you have put your finger on why some antirealists want to avoid such embarrassing implications by claiming the realists' supposedly independent attitudes fail to "withstand scrutiny".

I argue that the withstand-scrutiny test amounts to a be-compatible-with-antirealism test, and conveniently begs the question.

Do you have an alternative antirealist strategy?


2015-07-05
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
You say

> I mean "there are" such independent standards; not just that realists "believe and act" if they exist.

What is your evidence that there really such independent standards?  Is your only evidence that realists posit them?

Your original post says this (let's call it A):

A: > the empirical normative attitudes of some individuals (e.g. normative realists) posit attitude-independent standards of normative judgement ... it follows from the actual attitudes of realists that there are independent normative standards ....

Suppose I say this, paraphrasing your original post (let's call it B):

B: > the empirical normative attitudes of some individuals (e.g. normative anti-realists) posit the lack of existence of attitude-independent standards of normative judgment. ... it follows from the actual attitudes of anti-realists that there are no independent normative standards ....

Given these two contradictory assertions, which one should we believe, and why?


2015-07-06
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Bill Meacham
Neither.  Normative antirealism is incoherent.

2015-07-06
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
Uh ...  The first one is yours.  Are you saying we should not believe what you asserted in your original post?


2015-07-07
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Bill Meacham

You appear to have been confusing my exposition of the antirealist view I am criticizing with statements of my own position.

The antirealist says:  R is a value for A if R follows from A's attitudes in a manner that withstands scrutiny.  However, Rr is an attitude for Ar that presupposes mind-independent values.  Therefore, if Rr withstands scrutiny, Ar has mind-independent values.  The latter contradicts antirealism; therefore, it is argued, Rr doesn't withstand scrutiny.  (Check out the Street article.)

I say:  Begs the question. 

I personally don't believe that values are simply what follows from person's attitudes.  I am not an antirealist -- that should have been obvious.  I believe mind-independent values, in particular, need an argument.


2015-07-07
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
Sorry for my misunderstanding.

Your original post says

> Since it follows from the actual attitudes of realists that there are independent normative standards, at least for them antirealism entails realism.

Did you mean to say this instead?

> Since it follows from the actual attitudes of antirealists that there are independent normative standards, at least for them antirealism entails realism. [emphasis added]


2015-07-07
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
And in response to this:

> if Rr withstands scrutiny, Ar has mind-independent values.

The mind-independent values that provide standards for scrutiny are not moral values.  They are logical or epistemological values.  That the anti-realist subscribes to mind-independent logical or epistemological values does not contradict his or her assertion that there are no mind-independent moral values.  No question is begged.


2015-07-08
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Bill Meacham
No.

2015-07-08
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Bill Meacham
I'm not saying the antirealist is improperly using moral values in its scrutiny.  I'm saying your "logical or epistemological values" exclude the mind-independent values of the realist only by presupposing antirealism.

Empirical methods are irrelevant for non-naturalist moral values.  But neither is antirealism a logical truth.  Therefore, the realist's mind-independent moral values cannot be excluded on either "logical or epistemological" grounds.

We already reached this point.  See my response to your first reply.  You are going in circles.

2015-07-09
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
OK, I think we are getting closer to the crucial point of disagreement.  You say

> Empirical methods are irrelevant for non-naturalist moral values.

I disagree.  Empirical observation fails to show that there really are mind-independent moral values. Why do you say such observation is irrelevant?

Unless you can show why such observation is irrelevant it appears that you are the one begging the question.

2015-07-09
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
You say

> I'm saying your "logical or epistemological values" exclude the mind-independent values of the realist only by presupposing antirealism.

I do not presuppose antirealism. Nor do I presuppose realism.  I would like to know what you think would count as evidence either for or against realism.


2015-07-09
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
What leads the moral realist to assert that mind-independent moral values actually exist?

In your original post you say

> It follows from the actual attitudes of realists that there are independent normative standards.

Later you say

> the non-naturalist realist will happily agree that ... [belief in mind-independent moral values] lacks grounding in empirical observation.

Well, then, what is the grounding for belief in such values? Please explain how it follows from the actual attitudes of moral realists that there are independent moral values.


2015-07-09
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Bill Meacham
Let's put this to bed.

You don't seem to understand why empirical methods are irrelevant to non-naturalist claims.
You don't seem to understand burden of proof.
You don't seem to understand what it is to "beg the question".
You can't tell the difference between my views and those I am criticizing.
You seem to have no comprehension of my argument as a whole
You reassert points already dismissed.
You show no willingness to describe in detail your own views.
Despite explicit references to the literature, you continue to reveal your ignorance of same.

At a certain point one reluctantly concludes one's interlocutor is an idiot.


2015-07-09
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
>You don't seem to understand why empirical methods are irrelevant to non-naturalist claims.

Right.  Please enlighten me.

> You don't seem to understand burden of proof.

I do. I suggest that you have the burden of proof to show why empirical methods are irrelevant to non-naturalist claims.  So far you have only asserted, not demonstrated, why that is so.

> You don't seem to understand what it is to "beg the question".

I do. If one of your premises is that empirical methods are irrelevant to non-naturalist claims and then you conclude that that empirical methods are irrelevant to non-naturalist claims, then I suggest that you beg the question.

> You can't tell the difference between my views and those I am criticizing.

Right again.  Could you state your views more clearly?

> You seem to have no comprehension of my argument as a whole.

> Right again.  Perhaps your argument is not clearly stated.

You reassert points already dismissed.

> I guess so, but that is because I disagree with your dismissal.

You show no willingness to describe in detail your own views.

> I am trying to understand your views.  You are the one who started this by asking for feedback.  However, if you want to know my views, please look here: http://www.bmeacham.com/blog/?p=622.

> Despite explicit references to the literature, you continue to reveal your ignorance of same.

You have cited the SEP and an unpublished paper available on line.  I have read the SEP article, but not the other one.  I believe I know what realism and anti-realism are.

> At a certain point one reluctantly concludes one's interlocutor is an idiot.

Yes, one does, doesn't one?


2015-07-13
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
I have to agree with Bill here, at least in general. I'm going to skip all the back and forth here and just go back to Jerry's original post:

>Normative antirealism supposes that the only normative reasons are empirical, viz. those constituted by the actual attitudes of individuals and what follows from them.

First off, these strike me as odd uses of the terms "antirealism" and "empirical." For instance, it seems to me that a meta-ethical consequentialism identifies normative reasons with certain empirical outcomes, which will be achieved if certain empirical actions are performed in certain empirical settings; natural law/function theories say something similar, often with more emphasis on actions than outcomes. Such theories clearly have naturalistic definitions of moral properties; and obviously insist that the properties, like the naturalistic facts they are identical with, are real. Yet you would seem to count them as antirealist theories with non-empirical reasons, given your constricted understanding of these terms. That's not to say you aren't describing and critiquing a real theory, just that I question the terminology you describe it with.

>However, the empirical normative attitudes of some individuals (e.g. normative realists) posit attitude-independent standards of normative judgement:  for example, rationalmeasures of correctness (e.g. right and wrong) that are independent of the attitudes individuals actually have.  Since it follows from the actual attitudes of realists that there are independent normative standards, at least for them antirealism entails realism.  The antirealists respond that they have proven such independent standards to be fatally compromised:  when properly scrutinized they fail to follow even from the attitudes of realists.  But that's not an empirical claim!

It sounds like your argument is parallel to one that might be given about epistemic relativism. The relativist says all truth is relative to your beliefs; the non-relativist says that she believes in non-relative truths, so according to relativism itself her belief in these truths is justified; the relativist says the existence of non-relative truth does not follow from the mere fact that non-relativists believe in them, but one can counter that this is itself not a relativist claim, but a non-relativist one (you add here the term "empirical" but this is just part of your understanding of the relativist, that is, anti-realist position).

But why should the claim need to be empirical? The fundamental "antirealist" claim you described earlier sounds like a proposal for an analytic definition of what a normative reason *is*. It does not purport to be an empirical claim--certainly not in the narrow sense in which you define it--but simply an analysis of what constitutes a normative reason. Given that analysis, and a suitable definition of what "follows from" an attitude, it seems completely coherent to say that no "realist" moral facts follow from the attitudes of self-described realists, just more "antirealist" reasons.

Now it seems to me that "antirealism" as you have cast it may have a problem at its heart; for we could ask if they have normative reasons to accept their own proposed analytic definition of a reason; if not, then neither they nor anyone else seems rationally required to accept it, but if so, then it seems that whether anyone is rationally required to accept it depends upon their own attitudes. Perhaps more work could be done with the "follows from" relation; but perhaps the same question could be asked: do we have normative reasons to accept that B follows from A? I'm inclined to think that this does pose a real challenge for the position you're attacking. But that's not how you described the problem, and I don't see the way you described it as going anywhere interesting.

>The antirealist is replacing the question "What attitudes do persons actually have?" with the question "What personal attitudes stand up to scrutiny?", so withstanding scrutiny becomes an attitude-independent standard of correctness!

I don't think so. The issue, as you've described it so far, is not whether the realists' belief in real normative truths stands up to scrutiny, but whether it "follows from"--in whatever technical definition of this the anti-realist (or you, describing their purported position) accepts--this belief that there really are normative truths. Many other things may follow from it, like that realists have good normative reasons to do various things that anti-realists do not have reasons to do: preach or write books about realism, promote it, live their lives as if realism was truth, and so forth. All of this is consistent, at least at a first pass, with the anti-realist denying that the *truth* of realism follows from commitment to it, for you described their view as a view about *specific* normative reasons, i.e., that such reasons are agent-relative functions of each person's attitudes. This is quite distinct from the view that the *nature* of what normative reasons are, in general, is an agent-relative function of each person's attitudes. You seem to need the latter to make your argument work, but you have only described AR using the former, and I wonder if you are surreptitiously confusing the two.

2015-07-15
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
If you want to know what I'm on about, check out the examples Ann in Sharon Street's "Objectivity and Truth:  You'd Better Rethink It" and Abe in her "How to be a Relativist About Normativity".

You've gotten off on the wrong foot with "empirical"; I'm not talking about naturalism.  I'm saying, for Street's "Humean" antirealism, what a person's attitudes are is a matter of fact, not a matter for conceptual speculation.  Whether Joe thinks "X is wrong" is an empirical matter; but that doesn't imply "wrong" has a naturalistic definition for Joe (or anybody).

It seems you wish to deny that the realist's mind-independent attitude poses a problem for antirealism, e.g. the realist only gets to pretend there are mind-independent values.  But that's not how Street sees it; from "Objectivity" (my italics):

"On the one hand, J [a mind-independent reason] would seem to be false on my view, since it's in direct contradiction to my constructivist proposal. On the other hand, J would seem to be true on my view, since it stands up to scrutiny from the standpoint of Ann's other normative commitments.  My reply to this is to deny that J stands up to scrutiny." 

Street then argues that the realist's mind-independent standard fails to withstand scrutiny because mind-independent standards lead inevitably to skepticism.  But that's not what "reflective equilibrium" means for anybody else!  Skepticism is only "inevitable" on her antirealist view.  Realists, on the contrary, do not think that their mind-independent normative standards are inevitably unknowable.  Indeed, they know precisely what mind-independent values they are defending :  e.g., torturing children is wrong regardless of how delightful one may find it.  So Street is assuming precisely the point at issue -- she resolves the above contradiction between realism and antirealism by assuming antirealism is correct.  It's hard to get petitio principiier.

I don't quite get the point of your "specific"/"nature" distinction.  Anyway, Street is clearly making a general, analytical claim about what is a normative reason:

"according to [my] constructivist view, the fact that X is a reason for agent A to Y is constituted by the fact that the judgment that X is a reason (for A) to Y withstands scrutiny from the standpoint of A's other judgments about reasons."  ("Objectivity".)


2015-07-15
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
Well, no, Jerry, it looks like you got off on the wrong foot by using words like "antirealism" and "empirical" in a misleading context. My only mistake was to simply try to respond to your original message, instead of trying to follow some of your latter dialogue in which you (partly) clarified what you meant by reference to Street's article. Things would (perhaps) have been much clearer if you identified Street's antirealism as your target in the initial post, as opposed to antirealism in general.
If you're not talking about naturalism, then why are you using the word "empirical"? Does anyone hold (or has ever suggested) the position that moral (or other reasons) for a person depends upon what /other people/ 'conceptually' speculate the person's attitudes are, as opposed to what they actually are? This would be a most bizarre view, so contrasting the view you wish to attack with this (non-existent?) one is a weird way to begin. Even if so, the word "empirical" is hardly the right way to make this distinction; you use "viz." to indicate that this means actual; it does not.

>It seems you wish to deny that the realist's mind-independent attitude poses a problem for antirealism, e.g. the realist only gets to pretend there are mind-independent values.

I certainly don't wish to deny that antirealism (at least Street's version) has such problems; I even suggested another way to identify such a problem in my first post, and there might be others. I was only saying that your identification of the problem seemed confused. But yes, the final phrase does explain what I think the antirealist's obvious response is. And I don't understand your supposed contrast between this point and what Street says; the passage you quote, prima facie, explains why the realist only gets to pretend there are mind-independent values, rather than offer some quite incompatible response.

>because mind-independent standards lead inevitably to skepticism.  But that's not what "reflective equilibrium" means for anybody else!

This is very confused. In the first sentence you give an abbreviated version of her argument; in the second you challenge her conception of the meaning of reflective equilibrium. But you haven't said (in this message, anyway) what you think she means by this, and how this contributes to her argument, so the content and basis of your protest is entirely unclear.

Nowhere have you even mentioned, let alone criticized, the real core assumption of her argument: that normative properties, unlike empirical ones, lack causal powers, and hence that any belief in them cannot be caused by them, and can only be true by coincidence, so that we should be skeptical about any such beliefs. Before you misattribute my views again, let me be clear: I think Street is deeply wrong about this, and there are many good arguments against her (first, if this argument was valid then it would apply to mathematical properties as well, skepticism about which is quite implausible; second, if we can identify analytic truths through conceptual analysis rather than empirical observation, then if truths about normative properties are analytic, we can identify them through our empirical brains which are non-coincidentally fashioned to reliably perform such analysis; third, if normative properties are patterns of empirical truths, supervening upon them, then they do have causal powers after all; and there may be others). So I agree that Street is all washed up. I just don't think you've gotten anywhere close to identifying her problem. Indeed, you confuse the situation further by saying that

>Realists, on the contrary, do not think that their mind-independent normative standards are inevitably unknowable.  Indeed, they know precisely what mind-independent values they are defending...

This confuses two completely different things. Street is most certainly not saying that realists don't know what standards they are defending. Where on earth did you get that strange idea? She is saying that they should be skeptical that those standards are the correct ones. You're attacking a straw man and misreading the essence of her article.

It's not often I would go out to defend Street, as I think she is completely misguided. But it is important to be fair even to someone as wrong as her, and attack what she actually says instead of a straw man given her name.

>I don't quite get the point of your "specific"/"nature" distinction.  Anyway, Street is clearly making a general, analytical claim about what is a normative reason

Uh, yeah. That is my point, actually, pretty exactly, just put another way. Her claim is about the nature of reasons, which allows us to reach specific conclusions about what specific reasons people have. Even though the latter "follow from" individual persons' attitudes, and hence are functions of the latter, it does not follow that the nature of (i.e., general analytic facts about) normative reasons are functions of the latter. So the fact that her claim about the nature of reasons is attitude-independent is irrelevant to whether her claim is true that specific normative reasons are never attitude independent. (Barring, as I suggested earlier, some argument that any such proposal requires a normative reason to accept--an argument to which I would be very sympathetic, but again, this is nothing like the argument you gave.) But actually you are even uncharitable in saying that her general claim is itself attitude-independent; I don't remember whether she ever describes it this way, but she shouldn't, as she says instead that it follows from all attitudes whatsoever, not that it is some a priori truth independent of them. Right after the first passage you quote in your recent message she explains:

"My claim is that no matter what starting set of normative judgments one begins with—no matter how causes shaped one’s initial set of normative commitments—it follows from those commitments that constructivism is true." [My italics added so you don't miss this point.]

At least, that seems the most plausible reading of this passage. I'm no Street scholar. But your descriptions of her views at least need more explanation in the face of passages like this one.


2015-07-17
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Scott,

I posted my remarks because I am interested in the issues.  Notwithstanding a regrettable impatience with what I perceive to be evident unseriousness, I am not interested in pissing contests.  

If you can discuss these issues without flaunting your contempt, please continue below.  Otherwise, I am not interested in any further discussion.

********************

"Does anyone hold (or has ever suggested) the position that moral (or other reasons) for a person depends upon what /other people/ 'conceptually' speculate the person's attitudes are, as opposed to what they actually are?"

Yes; this is the approach that Street calls "Kantian" in contrast with her "Humean" antirealism, which she attributes e.g. to Korsgaard.  Williams also shows some sympathy for Korsgaard's position.  You appear to endorse the same non-empirical approach yourself below.

"I don't understand your supposed contrast between this point and what Street says; the passage you quote, prima facie, explains why the realist only gets to pretend there are mind-independent values, rather than offer some quite incompatible response."

What you consider not "incompatible", Street calls "contradictory".  Street says "On the other hand, J would seem to be true on my view, since it stands up to scrutiny from the standpoint of Ann's other normative commitments."  Why do you believe Street is wrong about the implications of her own view?

"you challenge her conception of the meaning of reflective equilibrium. But you haven't said (in this message, anyway) what you think she means by this"

For Street, "follow from", "withstand scrutiny", and "reflective equilibrium" are more or less interchangeable formulae for the process whereby fractious empirical contents of a person's attitudes are rendered into a coherent whole.  "Reflective equilibrium" has been championed most notably by Rawls.  Usually it is taken to be the least modification of one's actual attitudes needed to attain internal consistency (perhaps also consistency with the facts).  Street expands this process to require compatibility with her own brand of antirealism.  Is it not clear that, were I to suppose that the "least modification" for everybody required agreement with my own substantive metaethical view, I would somewhat beg the question?  Would I not be presupposing I am right and e.g. you are wrong?  And is not Street making exactly this mistake?

"Nowhere have you even mentioned, let alone criticized, the real core assumption of her argument: that normative properties, unlike empirical ones, lack causal powers"

Allow me to take on her antirealism one issue at a time.

"Street is most certainly not saying that realists don't know what standards they are defending.  Where on earth did you get that strange idea? She is saying that they should be skeptical that those standards are the correct ones."

Realists do not think the "correct" mind-independent normative standards are inevitably unknowable; they reject Street's claim that they need be skeptical about e.g. the wrongness of child torture.

"But actually you are even uncharitable in saying that her general claim is itself attitude-independent; I don't remember whether she ever describes it this way, but she shouldn't, as she says instead that it follows from all attitudes whatsoever, not that it is some a priori truth independent of them."

If something can be claimed to be true of "all attitudes whatsoever", then whether it is true of someone's attitudes presumably has become a non-empirical viz. a priori matter.  This sort of conceptual move appears to be the same as what you earlier described as "most bizarre".

Sincerely,
Jer


2015-07-18
The Incoherence of Normative Antirealism
Reply to Gerald Hull
Gerry, I am extremely serious, and your calling my remarks a "pissing contest" is extremely rude and quite unprovoked. Please stop this and try to pay attention to the specific criticisms people are giving you, or you won't get any further feedback.

>"Does anyone hold ... that moral (or other reasons) for a person depends upon what /other people/ 'conceptually' speculate the person's attitudes are...

You say that Korsgaard, Williams, and I do so. I haven't the foggiest idea why you think so. Korsgaard does *NOT* say that what is right for person P is a function of what some other person Q "speculates" as being the attitudes of P. She thinks it is a function of whether the person's (actual; we might even say empirical) maxims are universalizable, show respect for humanity, etc. Speculation about the person's attitudes has nothing to do with it. I differ (a little, not too much) with Korsgaard on what constitutes morality, and I'm sure Williams disagrees with both of us, but I very much doubt that he thinks that P is moral if some Q's speculations on P's attitudes meet some standard.

I must confess, I feared that suggesting that you thought anyone hold this view would be the most outrageous thing I said, the one most likely to be based on a misreading, or too-literal reading, of one of your earlier comments; I was stunned that you agreed that this was what you meant to say, and seem to have instead been set off by quite different comments. I was pretty sure, and am still pretty sure, that the comment of yours which led to my description of this "bizarre" view does not represent what you meant to say, and we are chasing a phantom if we continue to pursue this particular point too far.

>What you consider not "incompatible", Street calls "contradictory".

Jerry, here you're just confusing different claims. What I called compatible are 1) the claim that the realist can only pretend that there are mind-independent values, and 2) Street's considered view, which is that such values would not actually stand up to scrutiny, and hence are not really endorsed as true by her constructivist view. What Street calls "in direct contradiction" are 3) her constructivist theory in general (from which she claims (2) follows) and 4) the claim that there are actually mind-independent values.

I fail to see how you think that the 1-2 distinction is identical to the 3-4 distinction; indeed, 4 and 1 are contradictory, while 2 and 3 are closely linked albeit not identical. You are not even identifying a substantive dispute between us here, let alone a point on which I have made an error; instead you have mixed up different ideas and hence misattributed a view to me. This is not the first time. I urge you to be more careful about this.

>Street says "On the other hand, J would seem to be true on my view, since it stands up to scrutiny from the standpoint of Ann's other normative commitments."  Why do you believe Street is wrong about the implications of her own view?

Why do you believe that when Street says "seem" she is stating what (she thinks) is actually true, especially when she says it is not true in the very next sentence?

>"Reflective equilibrium" [is] Usually...taken to be the least modification of one's actual attitudes needed to attain internal consistency (perhaps also consistency with the facts).  Street expands this process to require compatibility with her own brand of antirealism.  Is it not clear that, were I to suppose that the "least modification" for everybody required agreement with my own substantive metaethical view, I would somewhat beg the question?  Would I not be presupposing I am right and e.g. you are wrong?  And is not Street making exactly this mistake?

Jerry, first off let me thank you for having just (at least partially) explained what I said was missing earlier; note that when you attacked her argument that "mind-independent standards lead inevitably to skepticism" on the ground that "that's not what "reflective equilibrium" means for anybody else", I didn't say you were wrong, just that you were jumping several steps without explaining yourself (a jump evident even in your own grammar: your demonstrative "that" had no reference, as you nowhere said what (you think that) her views on RE *are*). Now you have explained this, so we can proceed.

The answers to your question are, I think, yes, yes, and no. I do not see that Street at least explicitly says that a valid RE process requires "compatibility with her own brand of antirealism." You have not quoted her saying anything of the sort (if she does, please cite this, and I will humbly apologize). Instead, I think, she says exactly what I said earlier was the core of her argument: a valid RE process would reveal that one's commitments to any specific mind-independent value could only be correct via a massive coincidence, and therefore one has reason to be skeptical that these commitments are correct, regardless of their specific content. You said you didn't want to engage with this part of her argument at this time. That's fine; what is not fine is for you to instead attribute to her a quite different (and very stupid) claim. Her rejection of mind-independent values is a conclusion of her argument, not its starting point. Again, Jerry, I'm actually more with you than you might think. I think she says a lot of very stupid things; enough that there is no need to invent things and misattribute them to her in order to criticize her.

>Realists do not think the "correct" mind-independent normative standards are inevitably unknowable; they reject Street's claim that they need be skeptical about e.g. the wrongness of child torture.

Of course they don't! That what makes them realists. The question is, are they right, and can they give a good response to Street's argument? Note, of course, that Street is not saying that the rest of us should be skeptical about such things, just that realists, as she defines them, should be. Even that is true only given their starting premise of realism; since she then uses a reductio to conclude that realism is false, it actually doesn't follow that even realists should really (all things considered) be skeptical of all their specific moral beliefs; rather, they should reject realism.
For my money, I think she's got a point only if realism is defined very narrowly and contentiously, while under a broader understanding of "realism" she is completely and utterly wrong. But that's a debate for another time. The current issue is that you said that Street must be wrong about this claim because realists

> "... know precisely what mind-independent values they are defending :  e.g., torturing children is wrong..."

Which, again, has absolutely nothing to do with the question of whether, as Street suggests, their realism entails skepticism about *whether this claim is correct.* It's like this: if I say that a person who believes in Mormonism just because he was raised a Mormon and has never seriously consider the truth-claims of other religions (or of atheists) should be skeptical that his belief is correct, it does him no good to say "but I know precisely what I believe: that the Angel Moroni and Ether and blah blah blah did this that and the other thing, you're wrong to suggest that I should be skeptical that I believe and am committed to these things." Yes, yes, I would reply, I am sure you do believe these things, and can describe them in great detail. I am not skeptical that you believe in these things; I am skeptical that you have good reason to do so, and you would be too if you were rational.

I suspect you'll see this next comment as insulting, but seriously Jerry, I already explained this. What is difficult about grasping this distinction? It's one thing if you mistakenly defend one of your claims with an irrelevant point; I've done that myself on many an occasion, as have we all. It's quite another, once the mistake has been pointed out, to double-down, repeat the point, and say that the objection was irrelevant without further explanation.

>If something can be claimed to be true of "all attitudes whatsoever", then whether it is true of someone's attitudes presumably has become a non-empirical viz. a priori matter.  This sort of conceptual move appears to be the same as what you earlier described as "most bizarre".

Not at all!! You are again conflating two distinct things. What I described as "most bizarre" is the view that what is right or wrong for P is a function of what Q "conceptually speculates" to be P's attitudes. But this bizarre view is certainly not a non-empirical view of moral reasons, for surely Q's speculations can be empirically ascertained. In any case, you are of course correct that what is true of "all attitudes whatsoever" is non-empirical and a priori. But as I pointed out, Street is saying that describes A) her constructivist view, not B) the actual facts about what people have reasons to do, or is moral for them, etc., which she thinks are functions of their empirical attitudes.

It's clear we are not agreeing on many things (though again, I think this has little to do with substance, and more with how you are explaining yourself and responding to others). But just in case you're curious, I am not just wasting time here, still less trying to show off or put you down. This has provided a good opportunity for me to review Street's views, and what I disagree with her on; which is useful because her view puzzles me in many ways.

Scott