According to T. M. Scanlon's 'buck-passing' analysis of value, x is good means that x has properties that provide reasons to take up positive attitudes vis-à-vis x. Some authors have claimed that this idea can be traced back to Franz Brentano, who said in 1889 that the judgement that x is good is the judgement that a positive attitude to x is correct ('richtig'). The most discussed problem in the recent literature on buckpassing is known as the 'wrong kind of (...) reason' problem (the WKR problem): it seems quite possible that there is sometimes reason to favour an object although that object is not good and possibly very evil. The problem is to delineate exactly what distinguishes reasons of the right kind from reasons of the wrong kind. In this paper we offer a Brentano-style solution. We also note that one version of the WKR problem was put forward by G. E. Moore in his review of the English translation of Brentano's Vom Ursprung sittlicher Erkenntnis. Before getting to how our Brentano-style approach might offer a way out for Brentano and the buck-passers, we briefly consider and reject an interesting attempt to solve the WKR problem recently proposed by John Skorupski. (shrink)
Jonas Olson presents a critical survey of moral error theory, the view that there are no moral facts and so all moral claims are false. Part I explores the historical context of the debate; Part II assesses J. L. Mackie's famous arguments; Part III defends error theory against challenges and considers its implications for our moral thinking.
According to T.M. Scanlon's buck-passing account of value, to be valuable is not to possess intrinsic value as a simple and unanalysable property, but rather to have other properties that provide reasons to take up an attitude in favour of their owner or against it. The 'wrong kind of reasons' objection to this view is that we may have reasons to respond for or against something without this having any bearing on its value. The challenge is to explain why such (...) reasons are of the wrong kind. This is what I set out to do, after illustrating the objection more thoroughly. (shrink)
The so-called Wrong Kind of Reason (WKR) problem for Scanlon's account of value has been much discussed recently. In a recent issue of Utilitas Gerald Lang provides a highly useful critique of extant proposed solutions to the WKR problem and suggests a novel solution of his own. In this note I offer a critique of Lang's solution and respond to some criticisms Lang directs at a Brentano-style approach suggested by Sven Danielsson and me.
My aim in this essay is largely defensive. I aim to discuss some problems for moral error theory and to offer plausible solutions. A full positive defense of moral error theory would require substantial investigations of rival metaethical views, but that is beyond the scope of this essay. I will, however, try to motivate moral error theory and to clarify its commitments. Moral error theorists typically accept two claims – one conceptual and one ontological – about moral facts. The conceptual (...) claim is that moral facts are or entail facts about categorical reasons (and correspondingly that moral claims are or entail claims about categorical reasons); the ontological claim is that there are no categorical reasons – and consequently no moral facts – in reality. I accept this version of moral error theory and I try to unpack what it amounts to in Section 2.1 In the course of doing so I consider two preliminary objections: that moral error theory is (probably) false because its implications are intuitively unacceptable (what I call the Moorean objection) and that the general motivation for moral error theory is self-undermining in that it rests on a hidden appeal to norms. The above characterization seems to entail the standard formulation of moral error theory, according to which first-order moral claims are uniformly false. Critics have argued that the standard formulation is incoherent since – by the law of excluded middle – the negation of a false claim is true. Hence if ‘Torture is wrong’ is false, ‘Torture is not wrong’ is true. Contrary to what moral error theorists contend, then, moral error theory seems to carry first-order moral implications that by the theory’s own lights are uniformly false. In Section 3 I suggest a formulation that is consistent with the standard formulation of moral error theory, free of first-order moral implications, and subject to no logical difficulties. In Section 4 I consider and rebut Stephen Finlay’s recent attack on moral error theory. According to Finlay the conceptual claim is false because all moral claims – and indeed all normative claims – are, or should be understood as, relativized to some moral standard or system of ends. Moral error theorists thus attribute to ordinary speakers an error that simply isn’t there. I argue that Finlay’s view has some very implausible implications and that it does not avoid commitment to various forms of error theory. This becomes especially clear when we focus on fundamental moral claims. In Section 5 I consider the worry that error theorists’ rejection of categorical reasons proves too much; in particular, the worry that error theorists’ qualms about categorical reasons apply equally to claims about hypothetical reasons, that is, claims to the effect that there is reason to take the means to one’s ends. In my view error theorists such as Mackie and Joyce have failed to pay due consideration to this problem. What the challenge establishes, I submit, is that error theorists cannot just take for granted that hypothetical reasons are metaphysically unproblematic; they must offer an account of hypothetical reasons that shows that they are. I argue that the only plausible account available to error theorists is one according to which claims about hypothetical reasons reduce to non-normative claims about relations between means and ends. (shrink)
Michael Smith has recently argued that non-cognitivists are unable to accommodate crucial structural features of moral belief, and in particular that non-cognitivists have trouble accounting for subjects' certitude with respect to their moral beliefs. James Lenman and Michael Ridge have independently constructed 'ecumenical' versions of non-cognitivism, intended to block this objection. We argue that these responses do not work. If ecumenical non-cognitivism, a hybrid view which incorporates both non-cognitivist and cognitivist elements, fails to meet Smith's challenge, it is unlikely that (...) 'purer' and more familiar versions of non-cognitivism will succeed. (shrink)
According to ‘Fitting Attitude’ (FA) analyses of value, for an object to be valuable is for that object to have properties—other than its being valuable—that make it a fitting object of certain responses. In short, if an object is positively valuable it is fitting to favour it; if an object is negatively valuable it is fitting to disfavour it. There are several variants of FA analyses. Some hold that for an object to be valuable is for it to be such (...) that it ought to be favoured; others hold that value is analyzable in terms of reasons or requirements to favour. All these variants of the FA analysis are subject to a partiality challenge : there are circumstances in which some agents have reasons to favour or disfavour some object—due to the personal relations in which they stand to the object—without this having any bearing on the value of the object. A. C. Ewing was one of the first philosophers to draw attention to the partiality challenge for FA analyses. In this paper I explain the challenge and consider Ewing's responses, one of which is preferable to the other, but none of which is entirely satisfactory. I go on to develop an alternative Brentano-inspired response that Ewing could have offered and that may well be preferable to the responses Ewing actually did offer. (shrink)
Accommodating degrees of moral certitude is a serious problem for non-cognitivism about ethics. In particular, non-cognitivism has trouble accommodating fundamental moral certitude. John Eriksson and Ragnar Francén Olinder  have recently proposed a solution. In fact, Eriksson and Francén Olinder offer two different proposals—one ‘classification’ account and one ‘projectivist’ account. We argue that the classification account faces the same problem as previous accounts do, while the projectivist account has unacceptable implications. Non-cognitivists will have to look elsewhere for a plausible solution (...) to the problem of accommodating fundamental moral certitude. (shrink)
The paper distinguishes between two rival views about the nature of final value (i.e. the value something has for its own sake) — intrinsicalism and conditionalism. The former view (which is the one adopted by G.E. Moore and several later writers) holds that the final value of any F supervenes solely on features intrinsic to F, while the latter view allows that the final value of F may supervene on features non-intrinsic to F. Conditionalism thus allows the final value of (...) F to vary according to the context in which F appears. Given the plausible assumption that there is an intimate tie between final values and appropriate attitudinal responses, it appears that conditionalism is the better approach for mainly the following three reasons: First, intrinsicalism is too indiscriminate, which makes it subject to what I call ‘location problems’ of final value. I illustrate this problem by discussing alleged examples of Moorean organic unities. Second, intrinsicalism evokes symptoms of ‘evaluative schizophrenia’. Third, considerations of theoretical economy tell in favour of conditionalism. Thereafter I respond to some recent challenges to conditionalism. An appendix surveys some meritorious implications that conditionalism offers for various substantial versions of such structurally different views about value as monism, pluralism, and particularism. (shrink)
In The Moral Problem Michael Smith presents what he claims is a decisive argument against moral externalism. Smith's claims that (i) moral externalists are committed to explain the connection between moral beliefs and moral motivation in terms of de dicto desires, and (ii) de dicto desires to perform moral acts amounts to moral fetishism. The argument is spelled out and the difference between desires de dicto and desires de re explained. The tenability of the fetishist argument (as it has been (...) named) is then questioned by focusing on the second clause; contrary to what Smith seems to think, it seems a plausible description of a good moral person that she is often motivated by both kinds of desires and, moreover, there are ways of being motivated to perform moral acts solely by de dicto desires that would not amount to moral fetishism. Lastly, two cases are suggested where being motivated by de dicto desires to perform moral acts would be reasonable as well as morally preferable. Internalists then, should also provide room for de dicto desires in moral motivation.The upshot is that the fetishist argument is unconvincing, though no attempt is made to defend moral externalism in general. (shrink)
Cognitivism is the view that the primary function of moral judgements is to express beliefs that purport to say how things are; expressivism is the contrasting view that their primary function is to express some desire-like state of mind. I shall consider what I call the freshman objection to expressivism. It is pretty uncontroversial that this objection rests on simple misunderstandings. There are nevertheless interesting metaethical lessons to learn from the fact that the freshman objection is prevalent among undergraduates and (...) non-philosophers. It leaves for expressivists two awkward explanatory tasks. Number one is that of explaining why natural selection – which, by expressivism's own lights, favoured moral thought and talk because of their socially useful regulative and coordinating functions – did not favour a stance that would make moral thought and talk more effective in fulfilling these functions. Number two is that of explaining how moral thought and talk survive in cultural evolution, despite the prevalence of the freshman objection and related worries. I conclude that expressivism as a theory of actual moral discourse rather than a revisionist theory is either false or committed to an implausible error theory, according to which ordinary speakers are systematically mistaken about what they are up to when they make moral judgements. (shrink)
Several proponents of the 'buck-passing' account of value have recently attributed to G. E. Moore the implausible view that goodness is reason-providing. I argue that this attribution is unjustified. In addition to its historical significance, the discussion has an important implication for the contemporary value-theoretical debate: the plausible observation that goodness is not reason-providing does not give decisive support to the buck-passing account over its Moorean rivals. The final section of the paper is a survey of what can be said (...) for and against the buck-passing account and Moore's views about goodness and reasons. (shrink)
Just as we can be more or less certain about empirical matters, we can be more or less certain about normative matters. Recently, it has been argued that this is a challenge for noncognitivism about normativity. Michael Smith presented the challenge in a 2002 paper and James Lenman and Michael Ridge responded independently. Andrew Sepielli has now joined the rescue operation. His basic idea is that noncognitivists should employ the notion of being for to account for normative certitude. We shall (...) argue that the being for account of normative certitude is vulnerable to many problems shared by other noncognitivist theories. Furthermore, we shall argue that Sepielli’s account has its own problems: His favored normalization procedure for degrees of being for has highly problematic implications. (shrink)
This article is a response to critical articles by Daan Evers, Bart Streumer, and Teemu Toppinen on my book Moral Error Theory: History, Critique, Defence. I will be concerned with four main topics. I shall first try to illuminate the claim that moral facts are queer, and its role in the argument for moral error theory. In section 2, I discuss the relative merits of moral error theory and moral contextualism. In section 3, I explain why I still find the (...) queerness argument concerning supervenience an unpromising argument against non-naturalistic moral realism. In section 4, finally, I reconsider the question whether I, or anyone, can believe the error theory. (shrink)
This paper is a critical notice of a recent significant contribution to the debate about fitting attitudes and value, namely Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen’s Personal Value . In this book, Rønnow-Rasmussen seeks to analyse the notion of personal value—an instance of the notion of good for a person—in terms of fitting attitudes. The paper has three main themes: Rønnow-Rasmussen’s discussion of general problems for fitting attitude analyses; his formulation of the fitting attitude analysis of personal value and the notion of ‘for someone’s (...) sake attitudes’; and his critique of the dichotomy between agent-neutral and agent-relative reasons. (shrink)
Commentators have attributed to Hume a wide variety of metaethical views. The main questions to be considered in this essay are whether Hume is a moral projectivist and whether he is a moral error theorist. Not surprisingly, these questions cannot be answered with an unqualified ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ We first need to get clear about what is meant by ‘moral projectivism’ and ‘moral error theory.’ I shall argue that Hume is a moral projectivist, and I shall identify two senses in (...) which Hume might be labelled a moral error theorist. This involves distinguishing between Hume’s descriptive metaethics and his revisionary metaethics. The former is his account of actual or vulgar moral thought and talk, that is to say, the moral .. (shrink)
_ Source: _Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 397 - 402 Moral error theorists and moral realists agree about several disputed metaethical issues. They typically agree that ordinary moral judgments are beliefs and that ordinary moral utterances purport to refer to moral facts. But they disagree on the crucial ontological question of whether there are any moral facts. Moral error theorists hold that there are not and that, as a consequence, ordinary moral beliefs are systematically mistaken and ordinary moral judgments uniformly (...) untrue. Perhaps because of its kinship with moral realism, moral error theory is often considered the most notorious of moral scepticisms. While the view has been widely discussed, it has had relatively few defenders. _Moral Error Theory: History, Critique, Defence_ examines the view from a historical as well as a contemporary perspective, and purports to respond to some of its most prominent challenges. This précis is a brief summary of the book’s content. (shrink)
Moral particularism is commonly presented as an alternative to approaches to ethics, such as consequentialism or Kantianism. This paper argues that particularists' aversions to consequentialism stem not from a structural feature of consequentialism per se, but from substantial and structural axiological views traditionally associated with consequentialism. Given a particular approach to (intrinsic) value, there need be no conflict between moral particularism and consequentialism. We consider and reject a number of challenges holding that there is after all such a conflict. We (...) end by suggesting that our proposed position appears quite appealing since it preserves attractive elements from particularism as well as consequentialism. (shrink)
This paper revisits Richard Price’s Review of the Principal Questions in Morals. Price was a defender of rationalism about ethics and he anticipated many views and arguments that became influential as the metaethical and ethical debates evolved over the later centuries. The paper explores and assesses Price’s arguments in favour of rationalism and against sentimentalism, with a view to how they bear on the modern metaethical debate.
Most moral philosophers who have recently expressed sympathy with feminist or ‘care-based’ perspectives on ethical theory have thought that such perspectives can make valuable contributions to more comprehensive ethical theories. Few have thought that an ethics of care can offer a complete normative theory. However, Michael Slote is one of the ambitious few. In his recent book, The Ethics of Care and Empathy, he seeks to show that a care-based perspective can do a lot of service in first-order moral and (...) political theory as well as in metaethics. Here is a quick overview of the book's content: In Chapter 1, Slote explicates the notion of empathy that is central in his ethics of care, which he locates within the sentimentalist paradigm, stemming from philosophers such as Hume and Hutcheson. Slote's account of empathy and moral development draws substantially on work by the psychologist Martin Hoffman. Chapter 2 discusses care ethics and our obligation to help others, including both the near and the distant needy. Chapter 3 aims to show how the notion of empathy can further the case for deontology in ethics. Chapters 4 through 6 discuss the relation of care ethics to pivotal issues in political philosophy, such as autonomy, liberalism, social justice and rights. Slote maintains that autonomy …. (shrink)
Moral particularism is commonly presented as an alternative to ‘principle- or rule-based’ approaches to ethics, such as consequentialism or Kantianism. This paper argues that particularists' aversions to consequentialism stem not from a structural feature of consequentialism per se, but from substantial and structural axiological views traditionally associated with consequentialism. Given a particular approach to value, there need be no conflict between moral particularism and consequentialism. We consider and reject a number of challenges holding that there is after all such a (...) conflict. We end by suggesting that our proposed position appears quite appealing since it preserves attractive elements from particularism as well as consequentialism. (shrink)
In this paper, I defend the view that the values of concrete objects and persons are reducible to the final values of tropes. This reductive account has recently been discussed and rejected by Rabinowicz and Rønnow-Rasmussen (2003). I begin by explaining why the reduction is appealing in the first place. In my rejoinder to Rabinowicz and Rønnow-Rasmussen I defend trope-value reductionism against three challenges. I focus mainly on their central objection, that holds that the reduction is untenable since different evaluative (...) attitudes have, ontologically speaking, different objects. I grant that this may well be so, but argue that the objection is based on an unwarranted, loose reading of the notion 'value for its own sake'. On the more reasonable strict reading, it is plausible to maintain that tropes are the sole ontological category that can properly be ascribed final value. (shrink)
This essay argues that while Hume believes both that morality is grounded in our ordinary moral practices, sentiments, and beliefs, and that moral properties are real, he also holds that ordinary moral thinking involves systematically erroneous beliefs about moral properties. These claims, on their face, seem difficult to square with one another but this paper argues that on Hume’s view, they are reconcilable. The reconciliation is effected by making a distinction between Hume’s descriptive metaethics, that is, his account of vulgar (...) moral thought and discourse, and his revisionary metaethics, that is, his account of how vulgar moral thought and discourse could be reformed so as to no longer involve error. This essay concludes that Hume is a projectivist and an error theorist in descriptive metaethics, while he is a projectivist and a subjectivist in revisionary metaethics. (shrink)
Value theory, or axiology, looks at what things are good or bad, how good or bad they are, and, most fundamentally, what it is for a thing to be good or bad. Questions about value and about what is valuable are important to moral philosophers, since most moral theories hold that we ought to promote the good. This Handbook focuses on value theory as it pertains to ethics, broadly construed, and provides a comprehensive overview of contemporary debates pertaining not only (...) to philosophy but also to other disciplines-most notably, political theory and economics.The Handbook's twenty-two newly commissioned chapters are divided into three parts. Part I: Foundations concerns fundamental and interrelated issues about the nature of value and distinctions between kinds of value. Part II: Structure concerns formal properties of value that bear on the possibilities of measuring and comparing value. Part III: Extensions, finally, considers specific topics, ranging from health to freedom, where questions of value figure prominently. (shrink)
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