Paul James Barry
University of Melbourne
This paper responds to Richard Joyce’s argument for a moral error theory. Joyce claims that our moral discourse purports to speak of something objective in that it presupposes the existence of non-institutional, categorical reasons for action. Given this, he argues that a proper vindication of our moral discourse would be one carried out from a point of view that is objective inasmuch as it is external to the ‘institution of morality’. And since our moral discourse cannot be vindi- cated from that external point vantage point, it follows that that discourse is fundamentally flawed. My critique of Joyce’s argument goes to his appeal to an external point of view from which to assess the legitimacy of our moral discourse. I argue that our moral talk is intelligible only in the context of the understanding we inhabit as moral agents. Hence, the external vantage point that Joyce identifies is a point of view from which moral claims are deprived of the conditions in which they make sense. I therefore reject Joyce’s claim that our moral discourse is conceptually non-institutional: whilst morality is committed to categorical reasons, these reasons are ‘institutional’ insofar they are intelligible only from within the institution of morality.
Keywords Error theory
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DOI 10.1080/09672559.2013.860613
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Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.Immanuel Kant - 2002 [1785] - Oxford University Press.
The Myth of Morality.Richard Joyce - 2001 - Cambridge University Press.
Values and Secondary Qualities.John McDowell - 1985 - In Ted Honderich (ed.), Morality and Objectivity. London: Routledge. pp. 110-129.

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