In Uri D. Leibowitz & Neil Sinclair (eds.), Explanation in Ethics and Mathematics: Debunking and Dispensability. Oxford University Press (2016)

Toby Handfield
Monash University
Objective chance and morality are rarely discussed together. In this paper, I argue that there is a surprising similarity in the epistemic standing of our beliefs about both objective chance and objective morality. The key similarity is that both of these sorts of belief are undermined -- in a limited, but important way -- by plausible genealogical accounts of the concepts that feature in these beliefs. The paper presents a brief account of Richard Joyce's evolutionary hypothesis of the genealogy of morality, and refines the debunking argument which he consequently mounts against moral beliefs. The evolutionary hypothesis in question suggests that we could easily have failed to believe that moral judgments have a peculiarly categorical force. This aspect of our moral belief, then, is unreliable. The paper then turns to chance, and presents a more speculative hypothesis about the cultural evolution of ideas about chance, as a peculiarly physical and objective form of probability. It is argued that, in the same way that our beliefs about morality could easily have lacked the commitment to inescapable force, our beliefs about chance could easily have lacked various idiosyncratic commitments. By a similar argument then, these aspects of our chance beliefs are unreliable. In the final section of the paper, I review some recent objections to genealogical debunking arguments, due to Roger White and Guy Kahane, showing how the form of argument developed in this paper is immune to these criticisms.
Keywords moral realism  debunking  genealogy  evolution  reliability  objective chance
Categories (categorize this paper)
Buy the book Find it on
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 70,192
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Evolution and Moral Disagreement.Michael Klenk - 2018 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 14 (2).
The Epistemology of Debunking Argumentation.Jonathan Egeland - forthcoming - The Philosophical Quarterly.
A Bayesian Analysis of Debunking Arguments in Ethics.Shang Long Yeo - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 179 (5):1673-1692.

View all 8 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
138 ( #84,699 of 2,507,536 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
3 ( #209,626 of 2,507,536 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes