One way to understand the nature of our moral disagreements is to study the meaning of moral discourse. Nonetheless, Metaethical Theories that account for these disagreements face important challenges. For instance, if our theory of moral terms assigns them a reference too specifically related to a contextual parameter, we might be ruling out the substantiality of moral disagreements (e.g., while ‘To eat people is wrong’ is plausibly true relative to our culture, it’d be false for a community of cannibals). This (...) paper (1) explores the theoretical room for a contextualist account of moral terms that models the substantiality of moral disagreements; (2) sketches the characterization of the contextual parameter these terms’ meaning is sensitive to; and (3) shows the tools this account has to avoid reducing moral disagreements to merely linguistic ones. (shrink)
Metaethical minimalism. sometimes called quietism, is the view that first-order moral judgments can be true but nothing makes them true. This article raises three worries for that view. First, minimalists have no good reason to insist that moral judgments can be true. Second, minimalism, in abandoning the requirement that true judgments need to have truthmakers, leads to a problematic proliferation of truths. Third, most versions of minimalism entail a disjointed and therefore unacceptable theory of language and thought.
In this chapter I consider the work of four leading naturalistic moral psychologists – Joshua Greene, Shaun Nichols, Jesse Prinz, and John Doris. Each of them draws a different meta-ethical conclusion, and they would likely disagree amongst themselves on a number of points. But here my goal is to consider, as much as space allows, whether the moral realist should feel threatened by the empirical work which they cite and the arguments which they base upon it.
Bromwich (2010) argues that a belief is motivationally efficacious in that, other things being equal, it disposes an agent to answer a question in accordance with that belief. I reply that what we are disposed to do is largely determined by our genes, whereas what we believe is largely determined by stimuli from the environment. We have a standing and default disposition to answer questions honestly, ceteris paribus, even before we are exposed to environmental stimuli. Since this standing and default (...) disposition is innate, and our beliefs have their source in environmental stimuli, our beliefs cannot be the source of the disposition. Moreover, a recent finding in neuroscience suggests that motivation is extrinsic to belief. (shrink)
The ecosystem approach to computer system development is similar to management of biodiversity. Instead of modeling machines after a successful individual, it models machines after successful teams. It includes measuring the evaluative diversity of human teams (i.e. the disparity in ways members conduct the evaluative aspect of decision-making), adding similarly diverse machines to those teams, and monitoring the impact on evaluative balance. This article reviews new research relevant to this approach, especially the validation of a survey instrument for measuring computational (...) evaluative differences in humans (the GRINSQ). The research confirms the existence of all four known machine types among humans. (shrink)
This paper examines whether realists can explain co-reference without appealing to subjects’ ideal convergence in judgment. This question is particularly pressing in the normative domain, since deep disagreement about the applicability of normative predicates suggests that different speakers may not pick out the same property when they use normative terms. Normative realists, we believe, have not been sufficiently aware of the difficulties involved in providing a theory of reference-determination. Our aim in this paper is to clarify the nature of this (...) reference-fixing task and the challenges that arise for a non-convergentist normative realist. Our focal point will be Richard Boyd’s externalist account, which has been a model for non-convergentist theories of reference in metaethics. A close examination of Boyd’s account of reference and the ways it could be developed or supplemented, we’ll argue, suggests that explaining co-reference without convergence in the normative domain is a more challenging problem than many realists have supposed. (shrink)
This paper applies the theory of teleosemantics to the issue of moral content. Two versions of teleosemantics are distinguished: input-based and output-based. It is argued that applying either to the case of moral judgements generates the conclusion that such judgements have both descriptive (belief-like) and directive (desire-like) content, intimately entwined. This conclusion directly validates neither descriptivism nor expressivism, but the application of teleosemantics to moral content does leave the descriptivist with explanatory challenges which the expressivist does not face. Since teleosemantics (...) ties content to function, the paper also offers an account of the evolutionary function of moral judgements. (shrink)
Some philosophers think that normative properties are identical to descriptive properties. In this paper, I argue that this entails that it is possible to say which descriptive properties normative properties are identical to. I argue that Frank Jackson's argument to show that this is possible fails, and that the objections to this argument show that it is impossible to say which descriptive properties normative properties are identical to. I conclude that normative properties are not identical to descriptive properties. I then (...) show that if we combine this conclusion with the conclusion of a different argument that Jackson has given to show that there are no irreducibly normative properties, it follows that there are no normative properties at all. (shrink)
Introduction: characterizing ethical realismIt is useful to begin a survey of recent work on ethical realism with a look at current disputes over what makes a theory of ethics count as ‘realist’ in the first place. Nearly all characterizations of ethical realism include some version of the following two core claims: Ethical discourse is assertoric and descriptive: ethical claims purport to state ethical facts by attributing ethical properties to people, actions, institutions, etc., and are thus true or false depending on (...) whether their descriptions of things are accurate or not . 1 At least some ethical claims, when literally construed, are true in the above sense.Sayre-McCord maintains that these two conditions are necessary and sufficient to characterize ethical realism; others argue that further conditions must be added to yield ethical realism, or at least ‘paradigmatic’ or ‘robust’ ethical realism. Before turning to that, however, it is worth noting that some have recently denied that the above two conditions are even necessary for ethical realism. In probing new work on metaethical taxonomy, Miller argues that the core of ethical realism is simply the metaphysical commitment to objective ethical properties and facts, which is strictly independent of the semantic claims above. If one holds that there are objective facts about the wrongness of slavery, for example, then one ought to count as an ethical realist regardless of whatever views one might hold about the semantics of the contingent forms of discourse that have evolved among language users. Even if our ethical discourse turns out primarily to express conative states ), or all moral claims turn out to be false because …. (shrink)
In this major new work, Matthew Kramer seeks to establish two main conclusions. On the one hand, moral requirements are strongly objective. On the other hand, the objectivity of ethics is itself an ethical matter that rests primarily on ethical considerations. Moral realism - the doctrine that morality is indeed objective - is a moral doctrine. Major new volume in our new series _New Directions in Ethics_ Takes on the big picture - defending the objectivity of ethics whilst rejecting the (...) grounds of much of the existing debate between realists and anti-realists Cuts across both ethical theory and metaethics Distinguished by the quality of the scholarship and its ambitious range. (shrink)
I present and defend (1) an account of ethical judgments as judgments about our reasons to feel specific motivationally laden attitudes, (2) an account of what an agent should do in terms of what would achieve ends that she has reason to be motivated to pursue, and (3) an account of an agent’s reasons for motivation (and thus action) in terms of the prescriptions of the most fundamental principles that guide her deliberations. Using these accounts, I explain the connection between (...) ethics and reasons for action, how ethical judgments are both descriptive and intrinsically motivating, and how ethical facts arise from facts about agents’ deliberations. (shrink)
The aim of William Casebeer’s book is ‘to show that, theoretically speaking, there is no reason to rule out a scientific naturalized ethics tout court, and that, practical speaking, by taking into account recent developments in evolutionary biology and the cognitive sciences, the outlines of one promising form of such an ethics can be sketched’ (p. 1-2). The result is an interesting treatment of a wide variety of issues at the intersection of cognitive science, meta-ethics, normative theory, and evolutionary psychology, (...) a treatment that is often suggestive but also frequently lacking in detailed argumentation. (shrink)
Analyses of moral value judgements must meet a practicality requirement: moral speech acts characteristically express pro- or con-attitudes, indicate that speakers are motivated in certain ways, and exert influence on others' motivations. Nondescriptivists including Simon Blackburn and Allan Gibbard claim that no descriptivist analysis can satisfy this requirement. I argue first that while the practicality requirement is defeasible, it indeed demands a connection between value judgement and motivation that resembles a semantic or conceptual rather than merely contingent psychological link. I (...) then show how a form of descriptivism, the interest-relational theory, satisfies the requirement as a pragmatic and conversational feature of value judgement – thereby also accommodating its defeasibility. The word ``good'' is always indexed to some set of motivations: when this index is unarticulated in many contexts the speaker conversationally implicates possession of those motivations. (shrink)