Moral Vagueness: A Dilemma for Non-Naturalism

In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics: Volume 9. Oxford University Press. pp. 152-185 (2014)
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In this paper I explore the implications of moral vagueness (viz., the vagueness of moral predicates) for non-naturalist metaethical theories like those recently championed by Shafer-Landau, Parfit, and others. I characterise non-naturalism in terms of its commitment to 7 theses: Cognitivism, Correspondence, Atomism, Objectivism, Supervenience, Non-reductivism, and Rationalism. I start by offering a number of reasons for thinking that moral predicates are vague in the same way in which ‘red’, ‘tall’, and ‘heap’ are said to be. I then argue that the moral non-naturalist seeking to countenance moral vagueness faces a dilemma: are moral properties vague, or perfectly sharp? On either horn of the dilemma, serious problems arise for some of the central tenets of non-naturalism: vague properties seem to threaten Objectivism, Supervenience, and Non-reductivism; on the other hand, sharp properties raise problems for Supervenience and Rationalism. The difficulties on each horn of the dilemma are real, and while they may not be insuperable, they do, at the very least, drastically limit the things non-naturalists can consistently say about moral properties, facts, and reasons.

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Cristian Constantinescu
Birkbeck, University of London

Citations of this work

Vague Value.Tom Dougherty - 2013 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 89 (2):352-372.
Sorites On What Matters.Theron Pummer - 2022 - In Jeff McMahan, Timothy Campbell, Ketan Ramakrishnan & Jimmy Goodrich (eds.), Ethics and Existence: The Legacy of Derek Parfit. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 498–523.

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References found in this work

On the Plurality of Worlds.David K. Lewis - 1986 - Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell.
Knowledge and its limits.Timothy Williamson - 2000 - New York: Oxford University Press.
On What Matters: Two-Volume Set.Derek Parfit - 2011 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Principia ethica.George Edward Moore - 1903 - Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. Edited by Thomas Baldwin.

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