This is a paper about the problem of realism in meta-ethics (and, I hope, also in other areas, but that hope is so far pretty speculative). But it is not about the problem of whether realism is true. It is about the problem of what realism is. More specifically, it is about the question of what divides meta-ethical realists from irrealists. I start with a potted history of the Good Old Days.
In this article I set out a reason for believing in a form of metaethical relativism. In rough terms, the reason is this: a widely held thesis, internalism, tells us that to accept (sincerely assert, believe, etc.) a moral judgment logically requires having a motivating reason. Since the connection is logical, or conceptual, it must be explained by a theory of what it is to accept a moral claim. I argue that the internalist feature of moral expressions can best be (...) explained by my version of moral relativism, which I call "speaker relativism.". (shrink)
The paper describes the problem for robust moral realism of explaining the supervenience of the moral on the non-moral, and examines five objections to the argument: The moral does not supervene on the descriptive, because we may owe different obligations to duplicates. If the supervenience thesis is repaired to block, it becomes trivial and easy to explain. Supervenience is a moral doctrine and should get an explanation from within normative ethics rather than metaethics. Supervenience is a conceptual truth and should (...) be explained by the nature of our concepts rather than by a metaphysical theory. The moral does not supervene on the descriptive, because moral principles are not metaphysically necessary. It concludes that none of these objections is successful, so Robust Realists do have an explanatory debt to worry about. (shrink)
Many philosophers, in different areas, are tempted by what variously goes under the name of Contextualism, Speaker Relativism, Indexical Relativism. (I’ll just use Indexical Relativism in this paper.) Thinking of certain problematic expressions as deriving their content from elements of the context of use solves some problems. But it faces some problems of its own, and in this paper I’m interested in one in particular, namely, the problem of disagreement. Two alternative theories, tempting for just the same kinds of expressions (...) as Indexical Relativism is meant to handle, promise to solve the problem of disagreement. I’ll argue that they do not live up to their promise. At the end of the paper, I’ll ask what exactly disagreement amounts to, and I’ll canvass some purported solutions. (shrink)
Normative theorists like to divide normative theories into classes. One special point of focus has been to place utilitarianism into a larger class of theories which do not necessarily share its view about what is alone of impersonal intrinsic value, namely, individual human well-being, but do share another structural feature, roughly its demand that each person seek to maximize the realization of what is of impersonal intrinsic value. The larger class is distinguished from its complement in two apparently different ways. (...) Let us look briefly at these two ways. (shrink)
Internalism says that if an agent judges that it is right for her to φ, then she is motivated to φ. The disagreement between Internalists and Externalists runs deep, and it lingers even in the face of clever intuition pumps. An argument in Michael Smith’s The Moral Problem seeks some leverage against Externalism from a point within normative theory. Smith argues by dilemma: Externalists either fail to explain why motivation tracks moral judgment in a good moral agent or they attribute (...) a kind of fetishism to good moral agents. I argue that there are alternative models of moral motivation available to Externalists, in particular a model according to which a good moral agent is one who is effectively regulated by a second order desire to desire to do what is right. (shrink)
In chapter five of Wise Choices, Apt Feelings Allan Gibbard develops what he calls a ‘normative logic’ intended to solve some problems that face an expressivist theory of norms like his. The first is “the problem of embedding: The analysis applies to simple contexts, in which it is simply asserted or denied that such-and-such is rational. It says nothing about more complex normative assertions.”1 That is the problem with which I will be concerned. Though he doesn’t list it as one (...) of the problems to be solved, Gibbard’s devices also explain what it means to say that a certain normative argument is ‘valid’, that one normative statement follows from some others. Both of these questions arise because of the ways we ordinarily think and speak, ways which on a simplistic version of expressivism appear not to make any sense. An expressivist committed to making sense of the way we ordinarily think and speak in normative language owes some account of embeddings and of logic. Gibbard’s device seems to me the clearest and most systematic of any expressivist attempt to meet these challenges. (shrink)
This paper is about Truth Minimalism, Norm Expressivism, and the relation between them. In particular, it is about whether Truth Minimalism can help to solve a problem thought to plague Norm Expressivism. To start with, let me explain what I mean by 'Truth Minimalism' and 'Norm Expressivism.'.
In 1971, Simon Blackburn worked out an argument against moral realism appealing to the supervenience of the moral realm on the natural realm.1 He has since revised the argument, in part to take account of objections,2 but the basic structure remains intact. While commentators3 seem to agree that the argument is not successful, they have not agreed upon what goes wrong. I believe this is because no attempt has been made to see what happens when Blackburn's argument is addressed to (...) particular varieties of moral realism. As I see it, we must look to these various brands if we want to understand just where the concept of supervenience can be usefully employed. (shrink)
Internalism says that if an agent judges that it is right for her to φ, then she is motivated to φ. The disagreement between Internalists and Externalists runs deep, and it lingers even in the face of clever intuition pumps. An argument in Michael Smith's The Moral Problem seeks some leverage against Externalism from a point within normative theory. Smith argues by dilemma: Externalists either fail to explain why motivation tracks moral judgment in a good moral agent or they attribute (...) a kind of fetishism to good moral agents. I argue that there are alternative models of moral motivation available to Externalists, in particular a model according to which a good moral agent is one who is effectively regulated by a second order desire to desire to do what is right. (shrink)
In general, the technical apparatus of decision theory is well developed. It has loads of theorems, and they can be proved from axioms. Many of the theorems are interesting, and useful both from a philosophical and a practical perspective. But decision theory does not have a well agreed upon interpretation. Its technical terms, in particular, ‘utility’ and ‘preference’ do not have a single clear and uncontroversial meaning. How to interpret these terms depends, of course, on what purposes in pursuit of (...) which one wants to put decision theory to use. One might want to use it as a model of economic decision-making, in order to predict the behavior of corporations or of the stock market. In that case, it might be useful to interpret the technical term ‘utility’ as meaning money profit. Decision theory would then be an empirical theory. I want to look into the question of what ‘utility’ could mean, if we want decision theory to function as a theory of practical rationality. I want to know whether it makes good sense to think of practical rationality as fully or even partly accounted for by decision theory. I shall lay my cards on the table: I hope it does make good sense to think of it that way. For, I think, if Humeans are right about practical rationality, then decision theory must play a very large part in their account. And I think Humeanism has very strong attractions. (shrink)
1. In ‘A problem for expressivism’ Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit argue ‘that expressivists do not have a persuasive story to tell about how ethical sentences can express attitudes without reporting them and, in particular, without being true or false’ (1998: 240). Brieﬂy: expressivists say that ethical sentences serve to express non-cognitive attitudes, but that these sentences do not report non-cognitive attitudes. The view that ethical sentences do report non-cognitive attitudes is not Expressivism (and not non-cognitivism), but rather a version (...) of cognitivism. According to (what we’ll call) Subjectivism, a typical ethical sentence like ‘Abortion is wrong’ reports the speaker’s non-cognitive attitude toward abortion; it says, in effect, that abortion is the object of some attitude of the speaker’s. Expressivists, by contrast, say that the sentence expresses a non-cognitive attitude toward abortion, but does not say that the speaker has it. Ayer put it this way: I can say that I am bored by uttering the sentence ‘I am bored’, but I can express boredom, without saying that I am bored, by yawning (Ayer 1952: 109). (shrink)
This paper surveys some ways of distinguishing Quasi-Realism in metaethics from Non-naturalist Realism, including ‘Explanationist’ methods of distinguishing, which characterize the Real by its explanatory role, and Inferentialist methods. Rather than seeking the One True Distinction, the paper adopts an irenic and pragmatist perspective, allowing that different ways of drawing the line are best for different purposes.
The chapter argues that we should draw the line between realist and antirealist metaethics according to whether a theory locates the explanation for the special, puzzling features of moral terms and concepts out in the world, with the content of moral thoughts, or inside the head. This taxonomy places Mackie's error theory in the realist category, contrary to the usual scheme. The paper suggests that in looking for the “queerness” of objective value in the metaphysics of moral properties, Mackie makes (...) a mistake parallel to a fantastic mistake made by some of the characters in E. B. White's Charlotte's Web. (shrink)
Dreier shows how the formal apparatus of decision theory is connected to some abstract issues in moral theory. He begins by explaining how to think about utility and the advice that decision theory gives us, in particular, decision theory does not assume or insist that all rational agents act in their own self-interest. Next he examines decision theory’s contributions to social contract theory, with emphasis on David Gauthier’s rationalist contractualism. Dreier’s third section considers a reinterpretation of the formal theory that (...) decision theorists use: utility might represent goodness rather than preference. His last section discusses Harsanyi’s Theorem. (shrink)
_Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory _features pairs of newly commissioned essays by some of the leading theorists working in the field today. Brings together fresh debates on the most controversial issues in moral theory Questions include: Are moral requirements derived from reason? How demanding is morality? Are virtues the proper starting point for moral theorizing? Lively debate format sharply defines the issues, and paves the way for further discussion. Will serve as an accessible introduction to the major topics in contemporary (...) moral theory, while also capturing the imagination of professional philosophers. (shrink)
Non-cognitivists claim to be able to represent normative judgment, and especially moral judgment, as an expression of a non-cognitive attitude. There is some reason to worry whether their treatment can incorporate agent centred theories, including much of common sense morality. In this paper I investigate the prospects for a non-cognitivist explanation of what is going on when we subscribe to agent centred theories or norms. The first section frames the issue by focusing on a particularly simple and clear agent centred (...) theory, egoism. The second section poses the difficulty faced by non-cognitivist analyses of such theories and norms, and runs briefly through a couple of abortive attempts to solve it. The third section offers a solution and explains it. The fourth section uses the account developed in the third section to show in what way agent centred judgments are universalizable and in what way they are not. (shrink)