Moral disagreement is widely held to pose a threat for metaethical realism and objectivity. In this paper I attempt to understand how it is that moral disagreement is supposed to present a problem for metaethical realism. I do this by going through several distinct (though often related) arguments from disagreement, carefully distinguishing between them, and critically evaluating their merits. My conclusions are rather skeptical: Some of the arguments I discuss fail rather clearly. Others supply with a challenge to realism, but (...) not one we have any reason to believe realism cannot address successfully. Others beg the question against the moral realist, and yet others raise serious objections to realism, but ones that—when carefully stated—can be seen not to be essentially related to moral disagreement. Arguments based on moral disagreement itself have almost no weight, I conclude, against moral realism. (shrink)
Metaethical—or, more generally, metanormative— realism faces a serious epistemological challenge. Realists owe us—very roughly speaking—an account of how it is that we can have epistemic access to the normative truths about which they are realists. This much is, it seems, uncontroversial among metaethicists, myself included. But this is as far as the agreement goes, for it is not clear—nor uncontroversial—how best to understand the challenge, what the best realist way of coping with it is, and how successful this attempt is. (...) In this paper I try, first, to present the challenge in its strongest version, and second, to show how realists—indeed, robust realists—can cope with it. The strongest version of the challenge is, I argue, that of explaining the correlation between our normative beliefs and the independent normative truths. And I suggest an evolutionary explanation as a way of solving it. (shrink)
There is a fairly widespread—and very infl uential—hope among philosophers interested in the status of normativity that the solution to our metaethical and, more generally, metanormative problems will emerge from the philosophy of action. In this essay, I will argue that these hopes are groundless. I will focus on the metanormative hope, but—as will become clear—showing that the solution to our metanormative problems will not come from what is constitutive of action will also devastate the hope of gaining significant insight (...) into first-order, normative truths by focusing on what is constitutive of action. (shrink)
How should you update your (degrees of) belief about a proposition when you find out that someone else — as reliable as you are in these matters — disagrees with you about its truth value? There are now several different answers to this question — the question of `peer disagreement' — in the literature, but none, I think, is plausible. Even more importantly, none of the answers in the literature places the peer-disagreement debate in its natural place among the most (...) general traditional concerns of normative epistemology. In this paper I try to do better. I start by emphasizing how we cannot and should not treat ourselves as `truthometers' — merely devices with a certain probability of tracking the truth. I argue that the truthometer view is the main motivation for the Equal Weight View in the context of peer disagreement. With this fact in mind, the discussion of peer disagreement becomes more complicated, sensitive to the justification of the relevant background degrees of belief (including the conditional ones), and to some of the most general points that arise in the context of discussions of scepticism. I argue that thus understood, peer disagreement is less special as an epistemic phenomenon than may be thought, and so that there is very little by way of positive theory that we can give about peer disagreement in general. (shrink)
This is a contribution to the symposium on Tim Scanlon’s Being Realistic about Reasons. We have two aims here: First, we ask for more details about Scanlon’s meta-metaphysical view, showing problems with salient clarifications. And second, we raise independent objections to the view – to its explanatory productivity, its distinctness, and the argumentative support it enjoys.
I am writing a mediocre paper on a topic you are not particularly interested in. You don't have, it seems safe to assume, a (normative) reason to read my draft. I then ask whether you would be willing to have a look and tell me what you think. Suddenly you do have a (normative) reason to read my draft. By my asking, I managed to give you the reason to read the draft. What does such reason-giving consist in? And how (...) is it that we can do it? In this paper, I characterize what I call robust reason giving, the kind present in requests. I distinguish it from epistemic and merely triggering reason-giving, I discuss in detail the phenomenology of robust reason-giving, and I offer an analysis of robust reason-giving in terms of the complex intentions of the reason-giver and of the normative background. (shrink)
More and more people seem to think that constructivism - in political philosophy, in moral philosophy, and perhaps in practical reasoning most generally - is the way to go. And yet it is surprisingly hard to even characterize the view. In this paper, I go to some lengths trying to capture the essence of a constructivist position - mostly in the realm of practical reason - and to pinpoint its theoretical attractions. I then give some reason to suspect that there (...) cannot be a coherent constructivist view about practical reason as a whole, at least not if it is to be interestingly constructivist, in a sense I make reasonably precise. (shrink)
The law views with suspicion statistical evidence, even evidence that is probabilistically on a par with direct, individual evidence that the law is in no way suspicious of. But it has proved remarkably hard to either justify this suspicion, or to debunk it. In this paper, we connect the discussion of statistical evidence to broader epistemological discussions of similar phenomena. We highlight Sensitivity – the requirement that a belief be counterfactually sensitive to the truth in a specific way – as (...) a way of epistemically explaining the legal suspicion towards statistical evidence. Still, we do not think of this as a satisfactory vindication of the reluctance to rely on statistical evidence. Knowledge – and Sensitivity, and indeed epistemology in general – are of little, if any, legal value. Instead, we tell an incentive-based story vindicating the suspicion towards statistical evidence. We conclude by showing that the epistemological story and the incentive-based story are closely and interestingly related, and by offering initial thoughts about the role of statistical evidence in morality. (shrink)
The combination of this vindication of moral deference and diagnosis of its fishiness nicely accommodates, I argue, some related phenomena, like the (neglected) fact that our uneasiness with moral deference is actually a particular instance of uneasiness with opaque evidence in general when it comes to morality, and the (familiar) fact that the scope of this uneasiness is wider than the moral as it includes other normative domains.
In this paper, we develop an account of the justification thinkers have for employing certain basic belief-forming methods. The guiding idea is inspired by Reichenbach's work on induction. There are certain projects in which thinkers are rationally required to engage. Thinkers are epistemically justified in employing any belief-forming method such that "if it doesn't work, nothing will" for successfully engaging in such a project. We present a detailed account based on this intuitive thought and address objections to it. We conclude (...) by commenting on the implications that our account may have for other important epistemological issues and debates. (shrink)
You may think that you're a moral relativist or subjectivist - many people today seem to. But I don't think you are. In fact, when we start doing metaethics - when we start, that is, thinking philosophically about our moral discourse and practice - thoughts about morality's objectivity become almost irresistible. Now, as is always the case in philosophy, that some thoughts seem irresistible is only the starting point for the discussion, and under argumentative pressure we may need to revise (...) our relevant beliefs. Still, it's important to get the starting points right. So it's important to understand the deep ways in which rejecting morality's objectivity are unappealing. (shrink)
1. The Shmagency Challenge to Constitutivism In metaethics – and indeed, meta-normativity – constitutivism is a family of views that hope to ground normativity in norms, or standards, or motives, or aims that are constitutive of action and agency. And mostly because of the influential work of Christine Korsgaard and David Velleman, constitutivism seems to be gaining grounds in the current literature. The promises of constitutivism are significant. Perhaps chief among them are the hope to provide with some kind of (...) answer to the skeptic about morality or perhaps practical reason, and the hope to secure for practical reason a kind of objectivity that is consistent with its practical, motivationally engaged nature. The former philosophical motivation for constitutivism – most clearly present in much of Korsgaard’s relevant work – relies on the fact that constitutive norms seem to be less mysterious than not-clearly-constitutive norms. There arguably is nothing mysterious about, say, the norms of certain reasonably-well-defined activities, like building a house, or playing chess. And challenges by the relevant skeptic – the one asking "Why should I make sure the house I’m building can shelter people from the weather?" or "Why should I not castle when my king is checked?" – seem very rare, barely intelligible, and anyway remarkably easy to cope with. We should explain to the misguided skeptic that if he doesn’t even try to build something that can protect people from the weather, he’s not in the business of building a house at all; that if she doesn’t even try to play by the rules of chess, she’s not in the business of playing chess at all; and so on. It would be nice, the constitutivist hope seems to go, if we had something equally powerful by way of a response to the skeptic asking "Why be moral?". The other main motivation for constitutivism – most clearly present in David Velleman’s relevant work – starts from a commitment to some rather strong kind of existence-internalism about reasons: An agent has a reason to?, according to such views ), only if she can come to?, or at least to be motivated to?, by sound deliberation starting from her actual motivational set. (shrink)
In virtue of what are we justified in employing the rule of inference Modus Ponens? One tempting approach to answering this question is to claim that we are justified in employing Modus Ponens purely in virtue of facts concerning meaning or concept-possession. In this paper, we argue that such meaning-based accounts cannot be accepted as the fundamental account of our justification.
A spectre is haunting legal positivists – and perhaps jurisprudes more generally – the spectre of the normativity of law. Whatever else law is, it is sometimes said, it is normative, and so whatever else a philosophical account of law accounts for, it should account for the normativity of law. But law is at least partially a social matter, its content at least partially determined by social practices. And how can something social and descriptive in this down-to-earth kind of way (...) be normative? This is presumably a problem for any theory of law, but it is especially acute for legal positivism, according to which (roughly speaking) all there is to facts about legality are such descriptive social facts. If this is so, the thought goes, the task of accommodating the law’s normativity immediately becomes both more daunting, and more urgent. Unfortunately, though, it is entirely unclear what the problem of the normativity of law is supposed to be. Indeed, I suspect that there is no one problem here, as different people seem to have in mind different problems when they use this unhelpful phrase. At least one family of issues people seem to have in mind when they talk about the normativity of law is a host of issues pertaining to the reason-giving force of the law. The law, it is sometimes said, gives reasons for action, and a theory of law should accommodate this obvious fact. But even when we focus just on questions regarding the reason-giving force of the law (and from now on I will restrict myself to just those, leaving other things people may have in mind when they talk about the normativity of law for another occasion), it is still not clear what the problem is. Indeed, my main purpose in this paper is to make some progress in understanding the relevant question here. And my conclusion is going to be somewhat skeptical: Once we are clear on what reason-giving in general consists in, and on what reason-giving powers the law actually has, there is not much by way of a problem here that needs to be solved, not a deep and interesting phenomenon here that theories of law need to accommodate, and that therefore places adequacy constraints on plausible theories of the nature of law.. (shrink)
Some of the recent philosophical literature on moral luck attempts to make headway in the moral-luck debate by employing the resources of empirical psychology, in effect arguing that some of the intuitive judgments relevant to the moral-luck debate are best explained - and so presumably explained away - as the output of well-documented cognitive biases. We argue that such attempts are empirically problematic, and furthermore that even if they were not, it is still not at all clear what philosophical significance (...) they would have. (shrink)
Slippery slope arguments (SSAs) are, so I argue, arguments from consequences which have the following peculiar characteristic: They take advantage of our being less than perfect in making—and acting according to—distinctions. But then, once SSAs are seen for what they are, they can be turned against themselves. Being less than perfect at making the second‐order distinction between distinctions we're good at abiding by and those we're bad at abiding by, we're bound to fail to make the distinction between good and (...) bad SSAs. One can therefore construct an SSA, the conclusion of which is, that we ought not to use SSAs. After characterizing SSAs and constructing the SSA against the use of SSAs, I then explore its implications. (shrink)
For many years, moral philosophers have been debating the conceptual and moral status of the distinction between intending harm and foreseeing harm. In this paper, after surveying some of the objections to the moral significance of this distinction in general, I focus on the special case of state action, arguing that whatever reasons we have to be suspicious about the distinction's moral significance in general, we have very good reasons to believe it lacks intrinsic moral significance when applied to state (...) action. After arguing for this claim, I pursue in a preliminary way some of its implications. (shrink)
Is there a difference in moral blameworthiness between a murderer and an attempted murderer? Should there be a legal difference between them? These questions are particular instances of the question of moral luck and legal luck (respectively). In this paper, I survey and explain the main argumentative moves within the general philosophical discussion of moral luck. I then discuss legal luck, and the different ways in which this discussion may be related to that of moral luck.
Suppose that a world in which we have an utterly non-consequentialist moral status is a better world than one in which we don’t have such a status. Does this give any reason to believe that we have such moral status? Suppose that a world without moral luck is worse than a world with moral luck. Does this give any reason to believe that there is moral luck? The problem is that positive answers to these questions1 seem to commit us to (...) instances of the inference ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if p, therefore, p’. Perhaps it would be nice if we had utterly nonconsequentialist dignity. How is this any reason to believe that we have such status? Perhaps it would be nice if there were moral luck. How is this any reason to believe that there is moral luck? Thus stated, such inferences look ridiculous, paradigmatic cases of wishful thinking.2 And yet they do not sound so obviously ridiculous, at least not as ridiculous as non-moral instances of the same argument schema3 (it would be nice if there were world peace, therefore, there is world peace). Can something be said in defence of such arguments, at least in morality? (shrink)
In this essay, I defend a view I call “Robust Realism” about normativity. According to this view, there are irreducibly, perfectly objective, normative truths, that when successful in our normative inquiries we discover rather than create or construct. My argument in support of Robust Realism is modeled after arguments from explanatory indispensability common in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of mathematics. I argue that irreducibly normative truths, though not explanatorily indispensable, are nevertheless deliberatively indispensable, and that this kind (...) of indispensability is just as respectable as the more familiar explanatory kind. Deliberative indispensability, I argue, justifies belief in normative facts, just like the explanatory indispensability of, say, theoretical entities like electrons justifies belief in electrons. In the introduction I characterize the view I will be arguing for and sketch the main argument of this essay. In chapter 1 I draw the analogy between explanatory and deliberative indispensability, and argue that there is no non-question-begging reason to take the former but not the latter seriously. Here I also present the master-argument of the thesis, and clarify the argumentative work that needs to be done by each of the following chapters. In chapter 2 I address the worries of the antirealist who is willing to reject arguments from explanatory indispensability as well. In other words, in this chapter I try to justify the move from indispensability (of whatever kind) to belief. In chapter 3 I develop an account of deliberation that supports the premises about deliberation needed for my master-argument to go through. In chapter 4 I reject some alternative views, showing that none of them can allow for sincere deliberation. In this chapter, in other words, I support the indispensability premise: I argue that it really is impossible to deliberate sincerely without believing in irreducibly normative truths.. (shrink)
In Chapter 2 of Taking Morality Seriously, I put forward an argument for morality's objectivity that is based on the first-order implications of denying such objectivity. In her contribution to this volume, Mancuso criticizes that argument. This paper is a response to some of her main points.
In Slaves of the Passions Mark Schroeder puts forward Hypotheticalism, his version of a Humean theory of normative reasons that is capable, so he argues, to avoid many of the difficulties Humeanism is traditionally vulnerable to. In this critical notice, I first outline the main argument of the book, and then proceed to highlight some difficulties and challenges. I argue that these challenges show that Schroeder's improvements on traditional Humeanism – while they do succeed in making the view more immune (...) to some argumentative moves and somewhat more plausible – pushes rather strongly in non-Humean directions. This, together with the remaining failures of Schroeder's Hypotheticalism, should make us more rather than less suspicious of the prospects of Humeanism. (shrink)
In this paper I argue, first, that the only difference between Epistemicism and Nihilism about vagueness is semantic rather than ontological, and second, that once it is clear what the difference between these views is, Nihilism is a much more plausible view of vagueness than Epistemicism. Given the current popularity of certain epistemicist views (most notably, Williamson’s), this result is, I think, of interest.
David Enoch develops, argues for, and defends a strongly realist and objectivist view of ethics and normativity more broadly. This view--according to which there are perfectly objective, universal, moral and other normative truths that are not in any way reducible to other, natural truths--is familiar, but this book is the first in-detail development of the positive motivations for the view into reasonably precise arguments. And when the book turns to defend Robust Realism against traditional objections, it mobilizes the original positive (...) arguments for the view to help with fending off the objections. (shrink)
For a state to be legitimate is for it to be permissible for the state to issue and enforce its commands (mostly laws), and for this to be permissible “owing to the process by which they were produced” (2).1 For a state to have authority is for it to have the power to morally require or forbid actions through commands, or the power to create duties (2).2 It seems that a state’s being democratic—in somewhat like the way in which the (...) democracies we are familiar with are democratic—has something to do with its having both authority and legitimacy. But what, exactly? There is, after all, nothing obvious about the relation between democracy on the one hand and legitimacy and authority on the other. One may think that consent has something to do with it. But this would be wrong, because most of those supposedly under the authority of the state haven’t consented to anything of relevance (9). Implicit consent, if it is too implicit, so that the agent may not realize she is consenting, is no substitute for real consent, and if it is more explicit than that then, again, hardly anyone has consented to the state’s authority, not even in democracies (9). And most hypothetical consent theories fall prey to their own difficulties. So consent theory of the typical kind cannot ground political legitimacy and authority. (A very atypical kind of consent will nevertheless eventually emerge victorious.). (shrink)
Many philosophers interested in the nature of moral or other normative truths and facts are attracted to response-dependence accounts. They think, in other words, that the target normative facts are reducible to, or constituted by, or identical with, some facts involving our relevant responses. But these philosophers rarely allow all of our actual responses (of the relevant kind) to play such a role. Rather, they privilege some..
In "Moral Luck" Bernard Williams famously drew on our intuitive judgments about agent-regret – mostly, on our judgment that agent-regret is often appropriate – in his argument about the role of luck in rational and moral evaluation. I think that Williams is importantly right about the appropriateness of agent-regret, but importantly wrong about the implications of this observation. In this paper, I suggest an alternative understanding of the normative judgment Williams is putting forward, the one about the appropriateness of agent-regret. (...) I distinguish between being responsible and taking responsibility. The judgment about the appropriateness of agent-regret, I argue, is better understood as a judgment about the (forward-looking) moral duty to take responsibility than about the (backward-looking) fact of being responsible. The distinction between being responsible and taking responsibility is wider in scope, though, than the discussion of agent-regret, and in this paper I go to some lengths elaborating on this distinction and its theoretical usefulness. Thus, I distinguish different senses of taking responsibility (forward- and backward-looking; just acknowledging responsibility that is already there vs. making it the case that one is responsible); I argue against initial doubts about the very coherence of this stronger understanding of taking-responsibility; and I specify the background conditions for the possibility of taking responsibility in this strong sense. The discussion of the normative background conditions necessary for the possibility of taking responsibility in the strong sense leads to a discussion of an intuitive notion of penumbral agency. Thus, I cannot take responsibility for Jefferson's owning slaves – the relevant actions and events are just too far from my agency to allow for me to take responsibility over them. Of course, I can issue statements that sound like an attempt to take responsibility. But I cannot thereby become responsible. It is just not within my power to make it the case that I am responsible for Jefferson's slave-ownership. At the other extreme, for some things I do not need to take responsibility in order to be responsible. For my actions – or perhaps intentions, or some such – I am already responsible, independently of whether I ever take (or even acknowledge) responsibility. These things are within the core of my agency, and I am responsible for them regardless of whether I take responsibility for them. But we should acknowledge the fact that there is more to this spectrum than just the extremes. Some actions and events are not within my core agency, but nor are they too far to allow me to take responsibility for them (thereby becoming responsible for them). Possible examples include the actions of my country, the actions of my rather young children, and – now getting back to Williams's discussion – the uncontrolled consequences of my actions. In these cases of penumbral agency, I argue, we are not responsible, but we can become responsible by taking responsibility. Furthermore, we may have a moral duty to take responsibility. Thus, the distinction between being responsible and taking responsibility is theoretically useful in accounting for our intuitively problematic and ambivalent responsibility-judgments. In the case of my country's actions, for instance, we want to say both that I am not responsible for them (given my very limited power to influence them); but we also want to say that there's something wrong about my refusing to accept responsibility for my country's actions, or about my just noting that I am not responsible for those actions. Utilizing the distinction between being responsible and taking responsibility, we can say that while I am not responsible for my country's actions, I am under a moral duty to take (some) responsibility for them. In the case of agent-regret and moral luck, this distinction allows us – vis-à-vis Williams – to have our cake and eat it too. True, agent-regret is often appropriate. But this shows nothing directly about responsibility. Rather, it shows something about our moral duties to take responsibility. And that these duties are sensitive to lucky circumstances is not more mysterious or paradoxical than the circumstances-sensitivity of pretty much all of our other moral duties. In other words, thus understood, the appropriateness of agent-regret is perfectly compatible with the denial of moral luck. (shrink)
Jeremy Waldron’s Law and Disagreement1 is an extremely important and influential book. Not only is it probably the best known recent text presenting the case against judicial review, but it is also rich in details and arguments regarding related but distinct issues such as the history of political philosophy, the relevance of metaethics to political philosophy, the desirable structure of legislative bodies, the justification of democracy and majoritarianism, Rawls’ political philosophy, and much more. In commenting on such rich work, then, (...) the difficulty is not to find things to disagree (or indeed agree) with, but rather to pick and choose among the many topics one can discuss. Below I focus on what seem to me like central difficulties in the more general political philosophy Waldron seems to endorse, and in its application to the topic of judicial review. (shrink)
I am writing a mediocre paper on a topic you are not particularly interested in. You don't have, it seems safe to assume, a (normative) reason to read my draft. I then ask whether you would be willing to have a look and tell me what you think. Suddenly you do have a (normative) reason to read my draft. What exactly happened here? Your having the reason to read my draft – indeed, the very fact that there is such a (...) reason – depends, it seems, on my having asked you to read it. By my asking, I managed to make it the case that you have such a reason, or to give you the reason to read the draft. What does such reason-giving consist in? And how is it that we can do it? In the next section, I distinguish between purely epistemic reason-giving, merely triggering reason-giving, and the kind of reason-giving I will be primarily interested in, the kind presumably involved in requests, which I call robust reasongiving. Then, in section 3, I try to characterize in some detail the intuitive or phenomenological data. I try, in other words, to clarify what it is we want an account of robust reason-giving to accommodate. But at the end of section 3 it remains entirely open whether any possible account in fact satisfies the desiderata elaborated in that section. In section 4 I thus proceed to inquire whether such an account is there to be found. I argue that the only plausible way of making sense of robust reason-. (shrink)
In this paper I argue, first, that the only difference between Epistemicism and Nihilism about vagueness is semantic rather than ontological, and second, that once it is clear what the difference between these views is, Nihilism is a much more plausible view of vagueness than Epistemicism. Given the current popularity of certain epistemicist views, this result is, I think, of interest.
Everyone agrees, I think, that there is something fishy about moral deference and expertise, but that's where consensus ends. This paper has two aims – the first is to mount a defense of moral deference, and the second is to offer a (non-debunking) diagnosis of its fishiness. I defend moral deference by connecting the discussion of moral deference to the recent discussion of the appropriate response to uncertainty. It is, I argue, morally obligatory to minimize the risk of one's wrongdoing (...) (at least when all other things are held equal), and this moral requirement entails that deferring to a moral expert is sometimes not just morally permissible but also admirable, and indeed morally required. If moral deference is often justified, why is it fishy? I offer an explanation in terms of the emotions moral judgments are often related to, and their nature (roughly speaking) as directed at the good or bad, right or wrong, de re rather than de dicto. The combination of this vindication of moral deference and diagnosis of its fishiness nicely accommodates, I argue, some related phenomena, like the (neglected) fact that our uneasiness with moral deference is actually a particular instance of uneasiness with opaque evidence in general when it comes to morality, and the (familiar) fact that the scope of this uneasiness is wider than the moral as it includes other normative domains. (shrink)