To what extent are the subjects of our thoughts and talk real? This is the question of realism. In this book, Justin Clarke-Doane explores arguments for and against moral realism and mathematical realism, how they interact, and what they can tell us about areas of philosophical interest more generally. He argues that, contrary to widespread belief, our mathematical beliefs have no better claim to being self-evident or provable than our moral beliefs. Nor do our mathematical beliefs have better claim to (...) being empirically justified than our moral beliefs. It is also incorrect that reflection on the "genealogy" of our moral beliefs establishes a lack of parity between the cases. In general, if one is a moral antirealist on the basis of epistemological considerations, then one ought to be a mathematical antirealist as well. And, yet, Clarke-Doane shows that moral realism and mathematical realism do not stand or fall together -- and for a surprising reason. Moral questions, insofar as they are practical, are objective in a sense that mathematical questions are not. Moreover, the sense in which they are objective can be explained only by assuming practical anti-realism. One upshot of the discussion is that the concepts of realism and objectivity, which are widely identified, are actually in tension. Another is that the objective questions in the neighborhood of questions of logic, modality, grounding, and nature are practical questions too. Practical philosophy should, therefore, take center stage. (shrink)
In "Mathematical Truth", Paul Benacerraf articulated an epistemological problem for mathematical realism. His formulation of the problem relied on a causal theory of knowledge which is now widely rejected. But it is generally agreed that Benacerraf was onto a genuine problem for mathematical realism nevertheless. Hartry Field describes it as the problem of explaining the reliability of our mathematical beliefs, realistically construed. In this paper, I argue that the Benacerraf Problem cannot be made out. There simply is no intelligible problem (...) that satisfies all of the constraints which have been placed on the Benacerraf Problem. The point generalizes to all arguments with the structure of the Benacerraf Problem aimed at realism about a domain meeting certain conditions. Such arguments include so-called "Evolutionary Debunking Arguments" aimed at moral realism. I conclude with some suggestions about the relationship between the Benacerraf Problem and the Gettier Problem. (shrink)
Modal Security is an increasingly discussed proposed necessary condition on undermining defeat. Modal Security says, roughly, that if evidence undermines (rather than rebuts) one’s belief, then one gets reason to doubt the belief's safety or sensitivity. The primary interest of the principle is that it seems to entail that influential epistemological arguments, including Evolutionary Debunking Arguments against moral realism and the Benacerraf-Field Challenge for mathematical realism, are unsound. The purpose of this paper is to critically examine Modal Security in detail. (...) We develop and discuss what we take to be the strongest objections to the principle. One of the aims of the paper is to expose the weakness of these objections. Another is to reveal how the debate over Modal Security interacts with core problems in epistemology — including the generality problem, and the distinction between direct and indirect evidence. (shrink)
In his influential book, The Nature of Morality, Gilbert Harman writes: “In explaining the observations that support a physical theory, scientists typically appeal to mathematical principles. On the other hand, one never seems to need to appeal in this way to moral principles.” What is the epistemological relevance of this contrast, if genuine? This chapter argues that ethicists and philosophers of mathematics have misunderstood it. They have confused what the chapter calls the justificatory challenge for realism about an area, D—the (...) challenge to justify our D-beliefs—with the reliability challenge for D-realism—the challenge to explain the reliability of our D-beliefs. Harman’s contrast is relevant to the first, but not, evidently, to the second. One upshot of the discussion is that genealogical debunking arguments are fallacious. Another is that indispensability considerations cannot answer the Benacerraf–Field challenge for mathematical realism. (shrink)
It is commonly suggested that evolutionary considerations generate an epistemological challenge for moral realism. At first approximation, the challenge for the moral realist is to explain our having many true moral beliefs, given that those beliefs are the products of evolutionary forces that would be indifferent to the moral truth. An important question surrounding this challenge is the extent to which it generalizes. In particular, it is of interest whether the Evolutionary Challenge for moral realism is equally a challenge for (...) mathematical realism. It is widely thought not to be. In this paper, I argue that the Evolutionary Challenge for moral realism is equally a challenge for mathematical realism. Along the way, I substantially clarify the Evolutionary Challenge, discuss its relation to more familiar epistemological challenges, and broach the problem of moral disagreement. The paper should be of interest to ethicists because it places pressure on anyone who rejects moral realism on the basis of the Evolutionary Challenge to reject mathematical realism as well. And the paper should be of interest to philosophers of mathematics because it presents a new epistemological challenge for mathematical realism that bears, I argue, no simple relation to Paul Benacerraf's familiar challenge. (shrink)
Gideon Rosen, Brian Leiter, and Catarina Dutilh Novaes raise deep questions about the arguments in Morality and Mathematics (M&M). Their objections bear on practical deliberation, the formulation of mathematical pluralism, the problem of universals, the argument from moral disagreement, moral ‘perception’, the contingency of our mathematical practices, and the purpose of proof. In this response, I address their objections, and the broader issues that they raise.
This book discusses the problem of mathematical knowledge, and its broader philosophical ramifications. It argues that the challenge to explain the (defeasible) justification of our mathematical beliefs (‘the justificatory challenge’), arises insofar as disagreement over axioms bottoms out in disagreement over intuitions. And it argues that the challenge to explain their reliability (‘the reliability challenge’), arises to the extent that we could have easily had different beliefs. The book shows that mathematical facts are not, in general, empirically accessible, contra Quine, (...) and that they cannot be dispensed with, contra Field. However, it argues that they might be so plentiful that our knowledge of them is intelligible. The book concludes with a complementary ‘pluralism’ about modality, logic and normative theory, highlighting its revisionary implications. Metaphysically, pluralism engenders a kind of perspectivalism and indeterminacy. Methodologically, it vindicates Carnap’s pragmatism, transposed to the key of realism. (shrink)
It is widely alleged that metaphysical possibility is “absolute” possibility Conceivability and possibility, Clarendon, Oxford, 2002, p 16; Stalnaker, in: Stalnaker Ways a world might be: metaphysical and anti-metaphysical essays, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003, pp 201–215; Williamson in Can J Philos 46:453–492, 2016). Kripke calls metaphysical necessity “necessity in the highest degree”. Van Inwagen claims that if P is metaphysically possible, then it is possible “tout court. Possible simpliciter. Possible period…. possib without qualification.” And Stalnaker writes, “we can agree (...) with Frank Jackson, David Chalmers, Saul Kripke, David Lewis, and most others who allow themselves to talk about possible worlds at all, that metaphysical necessity is necessity in the widest sense.” What exactly does the thesis that metaphysical possibility is absolute amount to? Is it true? In this article, I argue that, assuming that the thesis is not merely terminological, and lacking in any metaphysical interest, it is an article of faith. I conclude with the suggestion that metaphysical possibility may lack the metaphysical significance that is widely attributed to it. (shrink)
In his précis of a recent book, Richard Joyce writes, “My contention…is that…any epistemological benefit-of-the-doubt that might have been extended to moral beliefs…will be neutralized by the availability of an empirically confirmed moral genealogy that nowhere…presupposes their truth.” Such reasoning – falling under the heading “Genealogical Debunking Arguments” – is now commonplace. But how might “the availability of an empirically confirmed moral genealogy that nowhere… presupposes” the truth of our moral beliefs “neutralize” whatever “epistemological benefit-of-the-doubt that might have been extended (...) to” them? In this article, I argue that there appears to be no satisfactory answer to this question. The problem is quite general, applying to all arguments with the structure of Genealogical Debunking Arguments aimed at realism about a domain meeting two conditions. The Benacerraf-Field Challenge for mathematical realism affords an important special case. (shrink)
There is a long tradition comparing moral knowledge to mathematical knowledge. In this paper, I discuss apparent similarities and differences between knowledge in the two areas, realistically conceived. I argue that many of these are only apparent, while others are less philosophically significant than might be thought. The picture that emerges is surprising. There are definitely differences between epistemological arguments in the two areas. However, these differences, if anything, increase the plausibility of moral realism as compared to mathematical realism. It (...) is hard to see how one might argue, on epistemological grounds, for moral antirealism while maintaining commitment to mathematical realism. But it may be possible to do the opposite. (shrink)
In this article, we discuss a simple argument that modal metaphysics is misconceived, and responses to it. Unlike Quine's, this argument begins with the simple observation that there are different candidate interpretations of the predicate ‘could have been the case’. This is analogous to the observation that there are different candidate interpretations of the predicate ‘is a member of’. The argument then infers that the search for metaphysical necessities is misguided in much the way the ‘set-theoretic pluralist’ claims that the (...) search for the true axioms of set theory is. We show that the obvious responses to this argument fail. However, a new response has emerged that purports to prove, from higher-order logical principles, that metaphysical possibility is the broadest kind of possibility applying to propositions, and is to that extent special. We distill two lines of reasoning from the literature, and argue that their import depends on premises that any ‘modal pluralist’ should deny. Both presuppose that there is a unique typed hierarchy, which is what the modal pluralist, in the context of higher-order logic, should disavow. In other words, both presupposes that there is a unique candidate for what higher-order claims could mean. We consider the worry that, in a higher-order setting, modal pluralism faces an insuperable problem of articulation, collapses into modal monism, is vulnerable to the Russell-Myhill paradox, or even contravenes the truism that there is a unique actual world, and argue that these worries are misplaced. We also sketch the bearing of the resulting ‘Higher-Order Pluralism’ on the theory of content. One theme of the discussion is that, if Higher-Order Pluralism is correct, then there is no fixed metatheory from which to characterize higher-order reality. (shrink)
It is widely agreed that the intelligibility of modal metaphysics has been vindicated. Quine's arguments to the contrary supposedly confused analyticity with metaphysical necessity, and rigid with non-rigid designators.2 But even if modal metaphysics is intelligible, it could be misconceived. It could be that metaphysical necessity is not absolute necessity – the strictest real notion of necessity – and that no proposition of traditional metaphysical interest is necessary in every real sense. If there were nothing otherwise “uniquely metaphysically significant” about (...) metaphysical necessity, then paradigmatic metaphysical necessities would be necessary in one sense of “necessary”, not necessary in another, and that would be it. The question of whether they were necessary simpliciter would be like the question of whether the Parallel Postulate is true simpliciter – understood as a pure mathematical conjecture, rather than as a hypothesis about physical spacetime. In a sense, the latter question has no objective answer. In this article, I argue that paradigmatic questions of modal metaphysics are like the Parallel Postulate question. I then discuss the deflationary ramifications of this argument. I conclude with an alternative conception of the space of possibility. According to this conception, there is no objective boundary between possibility and impossibility. Along the way, I sketch an analogy between modal metaphysics and set theory. (shrink)
Set-theoretic pluralism is an increasingly influential position in the philosophy of set theory (Balaguer , Linksy and Zalta , Hamkins ). There is considerable room for debate about how best to formulate set-theoretic pluralism, and even about whether the view is coherent. But there is widespread agreement as to what there is to recommend the view (given that it can be formulated coherently). Unlike set-theoretic universalism, set-theoretic pluralism affords an answer to Benacerraf’s epistemological challenge. The purpose of this paper is (...) to determine what Benacerraf’s challenge could be such that this view is warranted. I argue that it could not be any of the challenges with which it has been traditionally identified by its advocates, like of Benacerraf and Field. Not only are none of the challenges easier for the pluralist to meet. None satisfies a key constraint that has been placed on Benacerraf’s challenge. However, I argue that Benacerraf’s challenge could be the challenge to show that our set-theoretic beliefs are safe – i.e., to show that we could not have easily had false ones. Whether the pluralist is, in fact, better positioned to show that our set-theoretic beliefs are safe turns on a broadly empirical conjecture which is outstanding. If this conjecture proves to be false, then it is unclear what the epistemological argument for set-theoretic pluralism is supposed to be. (shrink)
Holly Smith has done more than anyone to explore and defend the importance of usability for moral theories. In Making Morality Work, she develops a moral theory that is almost universally usable. But not quite. In this article, I argue that no moral theory is universally usable, in the sense that is most immediately relevant to action, even by agents who know all the normative facts. There is no moral theory knowledge of which suffices to settle deliberation about what to (...) do. However, this is unsurprising if the question of what to do is not a question of fact. One upshot of the discussion is that the search for a universally usable moral theory is misconceived. Another is that, contra Smith (341), agents who are radically uncertain need not lack autonomy. (shrink)
Logical monism is the view that there is ‘One True Logic’. This is the default position, against which pluralists react. If there were not ‘One True Logic’, it is hard to see how there could be one true theory of anything. A theory is closed under a logic! But what is logical monism? In this article, I consider semantic, logical, modal, scientific, and metaphysical proposals. I argue that, on no ‘factualist’ analysis (according to which ‘there is One True Logic’ expresses (...) a factual claim, rather than an attitude like approval), does the doctrine have both metaphysical and methodological import. Metaphysically, logics abound. Methodologically, what to infer from what is not settled by the facts, even the normative ones. I conclude that the only interesting sense in which there could be One True Logic is noncognitive. The same may be true of monism about normative areas, like moral, epistemic, and prudential ones, generally. (shrink)
Scanlon’s Being Realistic about Reasons (BRR) is a beautiful book – sleek, sophisticated, and programmatic. One of its key aims is to demystify knowledge of normative and mathematical truths. In this article, I develop an epistemological problem that Scanlon fails to explicitly address. I argue that his “metaphysical pluralism” can be understood as a response to that problem. However, it resolves the problem only if it undercuts the objectivity of normative and mathematical inquiry.
Does consciousness exist? In “The Meta-Problem of Consciousness” (MPC) David Chalmers sketches an argument for illusionism, i.e., the view that it does not. The key premise is that it would be a coincidence if our beliefs about consciousness were true, given that the explanation of those beliefs is independent of their truth. In this article, I clarify and assess this argument. I argue that our beliefs about consciousness are peculiarly invulnerable to undermining, whether or not their contents are indubitable or (...) even obvious. However, the reason that they are peculiarly invulnerable to undermining points to a fundamental flaw in modal arguments for dualism. (shrink)
It is often alleged that, unlike typical axioms of mathematics, the Continuum Hypothesis (CH) is indeterminate. This position is normally defended on the ground that the CH is undecidable in a way that typical axioms are not. Call this kind of undecidability “absolute undecidability”. In this paper, I seek to understand what absolute undecidability could be such that one might hope to establish that (a) CH is absolutely undecidable, (b) typical axioms are not absolutely undecidable, and (c) if a mathematical (...) hypothesis is absolutely undecidable, then it is indeterminate. I shall argue that on no understanding of absolute undecidability could one hope to establish all of (a)–(c). However, I will identify one understanding of absolute undecidability on which one might hope to establish both (a) and (c) to the exclusion of (b). This suggests that a new style of mathematical antirealism deserves attention—one that does not depend on familiar epistemological or ontological concerns. The key idea behind this view is that typical mathematical hypotheses are indeterminate because they are relevantly similar to CH. (shrink)
How do axioms, or first principles, in ethics compare to those in mathematics? In this companion piece to G.C. Field's 1931 "On the Role of Definition in Ethics", I argue that there are similarities between the cases. However, these are premised on an assumption which can be questioned, and which highlights the peculiarity of normative inquiry.
The motivating question of this paper is: ‘How are our beliefs in the theorems of mathematics justified?’ This is distinguished from the question ‘How are our mathematical beliefs reliably true?’ We examine an influential answer, outlined by Russell, championed by Gödel, and developed by those searching for new axioms to settle undecidables, that our mathematical beliefs are justified by ‘intuitions’, as our scientific beliefs are justified by observations. On this view, axioms are analogous to laws of nature. They are postulated (...) to best systematize the data to be explained. We argue that there is a decisive difference between the cases. There is agreement on the data to be systematized in the scientific case that has no analog in the mathematical one. There is virtual consensus over observations, but conspicuous dispute over intuitions. In this respect, mathematics more closely resembles stereotypical philosophy. We conclude by distinguishing two ideas that have long been associated -- realism (the idea that there is an independent reality) and objectivity (the idea that in a disagreement, only one of us can be right). We argue that, while realism is true of mathematics and philosophy, these domains fail to be objective. One upshot of the discussion is that even questions of fundamental physics may fail to be objective in roughly the sense that the question, ‘Is the Parallel Postulate is true?’, understood as one of pure mathematics, fails to be. Another is a kind of pragmatism. Factual questions in mathematics, modality, logic, and evaluative areas go proxy for non-factual practical ones. -/- . (shrink)
I discuss methodology in epistemology. I argue that settling the facts, even the epistemic facts, fails to settle the questions of intellectual policy at the center of our epistemic lives. An upshot is that the standard methodology of analyzing concepts like knowledge, justification, rationality, and so on is misconceived. More generally, any epistemic method that seeks to issue in intellectual policy by settling the facts, whether by way of abductive theorizing or empirical investigation, no matter how reliable, is inapt. The (...) argument is a radicalization of Moore’s Open Question Argument. I conclude by considering the ramifications of this conclusion for the debate surrounding “Modal Security”, a proposed necessary condition on undermining defeat. (shrink)
It is widely assumed that platonism with respect to a discourse of metaphysical interest, such as fictional or mathematical discourse, affords a better account of the semantic appearances than nominalism, other things being equal. Of course, other things may not be equal. For example, platonism is supposed to come at the cost of a plausible epistemology and ontology. But the hedged claim is often treated as a background assumption. It is motivated by the intuitively stronger one that the platonist can (...) take the semantic appearances at ‘face-value’ while the nominalist must resort to ad hoc and technically problematic machinery in order to explain those appearances away. In this article, I argue that, on any natural construal of ‘face-value’, the platonist, like the nominalist, is not able to take the semantic appearances at face-value. And insofar as the nominalist is forced to resort to ad hoc and technically awkward devices in order to explain those appearances away, the platonist must resort to such devices as well. One moral of the story is that the thesis that platonism affords a better account of the semantic appearances than nominalism – even other things being equal – is not trivial. Another is that we should rethink a widespread methodology in metaphysics. (shrink)
I discuss the structure of genealogical debunking arguments. I argue that they undermine our mathematical beliefs if they undermine our moral beliefs. The contrary appearance stems from a confusion of arithmetic truths with (first-order) logical truths, or from a confusion of reliability with justification. I conclude with a discussion of the cogency of debunking arguments, in light of the above. Their cogency depends on whether information can undermine all of our beliefs of a kind, F, without giving us direct reason (...) to doubt that our F-beliefs are modally secure. (shrink)
Ethics and mathematics have long invited comparisons. On the one hand, both ethical and mathematical propositions can appear to be knowable a priori, if knowable at all. On the other hand, mathematical propositions seem to admit of proof, and to enter into empirical scientific theories, in a way that ethical propositions do not. In this article, I discuss apparent similarities and differences between ethical (i.e., moral) and mathematical knowledge, realistically construed -- i.e., construed as independent of human mind and languages. (...) I argue that some are are merely apparent, while others are of little consequence. There is a difference between the cases. But it is not an epistemological difference per se. The difference, surprisingly, is that ethical knowledge, if it is practical, cannot fail to be objective in a way that mathematical knowledge can. One upshot of the discussion is radicalization of Moore’s Open Question Argument. Another is that the concepts of realism and objectivity, which are widely identified, are actually in tension. (shrink)
I this article, I introduce the notion of pluralism about an area, and use it to argue that the questions at the center of our normative lives are not settled by the facts -- even the normative facts. One upshot of the discussion is that the concepts of realism and objectivity, which are widely identified, are actually in tension. Another is that the concept of objectivity, not realism, should take center stage.
Paul Benacerraf's argument from multiple reductions consists of a general argument against realism about the natural numbers (the view that numbers are objects), and a limited argument against reductionism about them (the view that numbers are identical with prima facie distinct entities). There is a widely recognized and severe difficulty with the former argument, but no comparably recognized such difficulty with the latter. Even so, reductionism in mathematics continues to thrive. In this paper I develop a difficulty for Benacerraf's argument (...) against reductionism that is of comparable severity to the now widely recognized difficulty with his general argument against realism. Thanks to Kit Fine, Hartry Field, Jeff Sebo, Ted Sider, Stephen Schiffer, and anonymous referees at Philosophia Mathematica for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. Thanks to Aron Edidin for many helpful discussions of the problems that inspired it. CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)
I discuss Benacerraf's epistemological challenge for realism about areas like mathematics, metalogic, and modality, and describe the pluralist response to it. I explain why normative pluralism is peculiarly unsatisfactory, and use this explanation to formulate a radicalization of Moore's Open Question Argument. According to the argument, the facts -- even the normative facts -- fail to settle the practical questions at the center of our normative lives. One lesson is that the concepts of realism and objectivity, which are widely identified, (...) are actually in tension. (shrink)
Addicts are often portrayed as compelled by their addiction and thus as a paradigm of unfree action and mitigated blame. This chapter argues that our best scientific theories of addiction reveal that, psychologically, addicts are not categorically different from non-addicts. There is no pairing of contemporary accounts of addiction and of prominent theories of moral responsibility that can justify our intuitions about the mitigation of addicts but not non-addicts. Two conclusions are advanced. First, we should either treat addicts as we (...) normally treat non-addicts (as fully culpable) or embrace the skeptical conclusion that everyone is less responsible than we thought—perhaps not responsible at all. Second, we should be doubtful that theorizing about responsibility will be advanced by focusing on particular kinds of psychopathologies. (shrink)
A disagrees with B with respect to a proposition, p, flawlessly just in case A believes p and B believes not-p, or vice versa, though neither A nor B is guilty of a cognitive shortcoming – i.e. roughly, neither A nor B is being irrational, lacking evidence relevant to p, conceptually incompetent, insufficiently imaginative, etc.