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)
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.
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)
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 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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
_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)
My dissertation aims to spell out the implications of moral relativism for political justice. The first part develops and defends a kind of moral relativism I call "Speaker Relativism". According to this view, moral expressions are indexicals; their content depends on the moral system of the speaker. I defend Speaker Relativism from some prominent objections, and provide an argument in favor of the view. ;The second part investigates the question of how, given relativism, citizens might establish public and mutually acceptable (...) principles serving to justify their society's basic institutions. I examine and criticize accounts of justice offered by theorists in the democratic and liberal traditions. I then propose a pragmatic conception of justice, Hobbesian in structure, but purged of Hobbes' bleak picture of human nature and inadequate moral psychology. ;The final chapter delimits the scope of the relativist's solution to the problem of justice, and considers the appropriate attitude for a relativist to adopt toward societies or groups whose deepest moral convictions differ importantly from our own. I explore the issue of cultural and personal autonomy, and conclude on a suitably relativist note. (shrink)