Moral thinking pervades our practical lives, but where did this way of thinking come from, and what purpose does it serve? Is it to be explained by environmental pressures on our ancestors a million years ago, or is it a cultural invention of more recent origin? In The Evolution of Morality, Richard Joyce takes up these controversial questions, finding that the evidence supports an innate basis to human morality. As a moral philosopher, Joyce is interested in whether any (...) implications follow from this hypothesis. Might the fact that the human brain has been biologically prepared by natural selection to engage in moral judgment serve in some sense to vindicate this way of thinking--staving off the threat of moral skepticism, or even undergirding some version of moral realism? Or if morality has an adaptive explanation in genetic terms--if it is, as Joyce writes, "just something that helped our ancestors make more babies"--might such an explanation actually undermine morality's central role in our lives? He carefully examines both the evolutionary "vindication of morality" and the evolutionary "debunking of morality," considering the skeptical view more seriously than have others who have treated the subject.Interdisciplinary and combining the latest results from the empirical sciences with philosophical discussion, The Evolution of Morality is one of the few books in this area written from the perspective of moral philosophy. Concise and without technical jargon, the arguments are rigorous but accessible to readers from different academic backgrounds. Joyce discusses complex issues in plain language while advocating subtle and sometimes radical views. The Evolution of Morality lays the philosophical foundations for further research into the biological understanding of human morality. (shrink)
In The Myth of Morality, Richard Joyce argues that moral discourse is hopelessly flawed. At the heart of ordinary moral judgements is a notion of moral inescapability, or practical authority, which, upon investigation, cannot be reasonably defended. Joyce argues that natural selection is to blame, in that it has provided us with a tendency to invest the world with values that it does not contain, and demands that it does not make. Should we therefore do away with morality, (...) as we did away with other faulty notions such as witches? Possibly not. We may be able to carry on with morality as a 'useful fiction' - allowing it to have a regulative influence on our lives and decisions, perhaps even playing a central role - while not committing ourselves to believing or asserting falsehoods, and thus not being subject to accusations of 'error'. (shrink)
Moral skepticism is the denial that there is any such thing as moral knowledge. Since the publication of The Myth of Morality in 2001, Richard Joyce has explored the terrain of moral skepticism and has been willing to advocate versions of this radical view. Joyce's attitude toward morality is analogous to an atheist's attitude toward religion: he claims that in making moral judgments speakers attempt to state truths but that the world isn't furnished with the properties and relations (...) necessary to render such judgments true. Moral thinking probably emerged as a human adaptation, but one whose usefulness derived from its capacity to bolster social cohesion rather than its ability to track truths about the world. Essays in Moral Skepticism gathers together a dozen of Joyce's most significant papers from the last decade, following the developments in his ideas, presenting responses to critics, and charting his exploration of the complex landscape of modern moral skepticism. (shrink)
Calls for justice and reconciliation in response to political catastrophes are widespread in contemporary world politics. What implications do these normative strivings have in relation to colonial injustice? Examining cases of colonial war, genocide, forced sexual labor, forcible incorporation, and dispossession, Lu demonstrates that international practices of justice and reconciliation have historically suffered from, and continue to reflect, colonial, statist and other structural biases. The continued reproduction of structural injustice and alienation in modern domestic, international and transnational orders generates contemporary (...) duties of redress. How should we think about the responsibility of contemporary agents to address colonial structural injustices and what implications follow for the transformation of international and transnational orders? Redressing the structural injustices implicated in or produced by colonial politics requires strategies of decolonization, decentering, and disalienation that go beyond interactional practices of justice and reconciliation, beyond victims and perpetrators, and beyond a statist world order. (shrink)
Bayesianism claims to provide a unified theory of epistemic and practical rationality based on the principle of mathematical expectation. In its epistemic guise it requires believers to obey the laws of probability. In its practical guise it asks agents to maximize their subjective expected utility. Joyce’s primary concern is Bayesian epistemology, and its five pillars: people have beliefs and conditional beliefs that come in varying gradations of strength; a person believes a proposition strongly to the extent that she presupposes (...) its truth in her practical and theoretical reasoning; rational graded beliefs must conform to the laws of probability; evidential relationships should be analyzed subjectively in terms of relations among a person’s graded beliefs and conditional beliefs; empirical learning is best modeled as probabilistic conditioning. Joyce explains each of these claims and evaluates some of the justifications that have been offered for them, including “Dutch book,” “decision-theoretic,” and “non-pragmatic” arguments for and. He also addresses some common objections to Bayesianism, in particular the “problem of old evidence” and the complaint that the view degenerates into an untenable subjectivism. The essay closes by painting a picture of Bayesianism as an “internalist” theory of reasons for action and belief that can be fruitfully augmented with “externalist” principles of practical and epistemic rationality. (shrink)
To hold an error theory about morality is to endorse a kind of radical moral skepticism—a skepticism analogous to atheism in the religious domain. The atheist thinks that religious utterances, such as “God loves you,” really are truth-evaluable assertions (as opposed to being veiled commands or expressions of hope, etc.), but that the world just doesn’t contain the items (e.g., God) necessary to render such assertions true. Similarly, the moral error theorist maintains that moral judgments are truth-evaluable assertions (thus contrasting (...) with the noncognitivist), but that the world doesn’t contain the properties (e.g., moral goodness, evil, moral obligation) needed to render moral judgments true. In other words, moral discourse aims at the truth but systematically fails to secure it. If there is no such property as moral wrongness, for example, then no judgment of the form “X is morally wrong” will be true (where “X” denotes an actual action or state of affairs). Advocates of this position include Hinckfuss 1987; Joyce 2001; Mackie 1977 (see MACKIE, J. L.). Various forms of moral skepticism—some of which are arguably instances of the error theoretic stance—have been familiar to philosophers since ancient times. (See SKEPTICISM, MORAL.) Error theoretic views can be controversial—as in the case of religion and morality—or widely agreed upon—as in the case of ghosts and phlogiston. It is important to note that error theorists maintain that the judgments in question are erroneous not merely because of the absence of any objective moral facts sufficient to render them true, but also because of the absence of any non-objective moral facts sufficient to render them true. There is, for example, a kind of moral realist who maintains that moral properties are objective features of the universe (see REALISM, MORAL). There is also a family of metaethical views according to which moral properties are in some manner constituted by us—by our beliefs, attitudes, practices, etc.. (shrink)
Xiaohe Lu is Professor at the Institute of Philosophy and Executive Director of the Centre for Business Ethics, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. Georges Enderle is Arthur and Mary O’Neil Professor of International Business Ethics at the Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame.
“Nihilism” (from the Latin “nihil” meaning nothing) is not a well-defined term. One can be a nihilist about just about anything: A philosopher who does not believe in the existence of knowledge, for example, might be called an “epistemological nihilist”; an atheist might be called a “religious nihilist.” In the vicinity of ethics, one should take care to distinguish moral nihilism from political nihilism and from existential nihilism. These last two will be briefly discussed below, only with the aim of (...) clarifying our topic: moral nihilism. Even restricting attention to “moral nihilism,” matters remain indeterminate. Its most prominent usage in the field of metaethics treats it as a synonym for “error theory,” therefore an entry that said only “Nihilism: see ERROR THEORY” would not be badly misleading. This would identify moral nihilism as the metaethical view that moral discourse consists of assertions that systematically fail to secure the truth. (See Mackie 1977; Joyce 2001.) A broader definition of “nihilism” would be “the view that there are no moral facts.” This is broader because it covers not only the error theory but also noncognitivism (see NONCOGNITIVISM). Both these theories deny that there are moral facts—the difference being that the error theorist thinks that in making moral judgments we try to state facts (but fail to do so, because there are no facts of the type in question), whereas the noncognitivist thinks that in making moral judgments we do not even try to state facts (because, for example, these judgments are really veiled commands or expressions of desire). (In characterizing noncognitivism in this way, I am sidelining various linguistic permissions that may be earned via the quasi-realist program (see QUASI-REALISM).) While it is not uncommon to see “nihilism” defined in this broader way, few contemporary noncognitivists think of themselves as “nihilists,” so it is reasonable to suspect that the extra breadth of the definition is often unintentional. Both these characterizations see moral nihilism as a purely metaethical thesis...n. (shrink)
Catherine Lu | : Is the discrepancy between the cultural and linguistic rights of immigrants on the one hand and national groups on the other justified, with the latter group typically enjoying a fuller set of such rights than the former category? Patten presents a case for accepting some modest departures from neutrality in the treatment of immigrants’ cultural rights and that of majority and minority national groups. I challenge his thesis by asking whether such departures are justified with respect (...) to already settled immigrants; whether the situational argument for unequal treatment is inconsistent with the theory of culture offered earlier in the book; and whether contexts of historical injustice against immigrant groups might complicate judgements about the national minority/immigrant dichotomy with respect to minority cultural rights. | : L’opposition entre les droits culturels et linguistiques des immigrants, d’une part, et ceux des groupes nationaux, d’autre part, est-elle justifiée, considérant que ces derniers apprécient un ensemble plus complet de tels droits que ne le font les immigrants? Patten pose que de modestes écarts de neutralité seraient acceptables dans le traitement des droits culturels des immigrants et ceux de la majorité ainsi que ceux de groupes nationaux minoritaires. Je critique sa thèse en demandant si de tels écarts sont justifiés eu égard aux immigrants déjà installés ; si l’argument pour les traitements inégaux n’est pas incompatible avec la théorie de la culture offerte auparavant dans le livre; enfin si les contextes d’injustice historique contre les groupes d’immigrants ne compliquent pas les jugements sur la dichotomie entre minorité nationale et immigrants lorsqu’il s’agit des droits des minorités culturelles. (shrink)
Joyce, Rosemarie Since the middle of last century, there has been a gradual change in Australian society with regard to how one understands and practises authority and obedience. In the past, those who were in positions of authority, be it church or civil, could expect to be revered and their decisions to be obeyed even if there was no personal agreement with the decision in question. But the situation has changed and continues to change. Many would agree that those (...) who exercise authority today have to earn the respect they require to be shown and that they do not always have the unilateral right to make decisions that affect the general community! (shrink)
The pragmatic character of the Dutch book argument makes it unsuitable as an "epistemic" justification for the fundamental probabilist dogma that rational partial beliefs must conform to the axioms of probability. To secure an appropriately epistemic justification for this conclusion, one must explain what it means for a system of partial beliefs to accurately represent the state of the world, and then show that partial beliefs that violate the laws of probability are invariably less accurate than they could be otherwise. (...) The first task can be accomplished once we realize that the accuracy of systems of partial beliefs can be measured on a gradational scale that satisfies a small set of formal constraints, each of which has a sound epistemic motivation. When accuracy is measured in this way it can be shown that any system of degrees of belief that violates the axioms of probability can be replaced by an alternative system that obeys the axioms and yet is more accurate in every possible world. Since epistemically rational agents must strive to hold accurate beliefs, this establishes conformity with the axioms of probability as a norm of epistemic rationality whatever its prudential merits or defects might be. (shrink)
It might be expected that it would suffice for the entry for “moral anti-realism” to contain only some links to other entries in this encyclopedia. It could contain a link to “moral realism” and stipulate the negation of the view there described. Alternatively, it could have links to the entries “anti-realism” and “morality” and could stipulate the conjunction of the materials contained therein. The fact that neither of these approaches would be adequate—and, more strikingly, that following the two procedures would (...) yield substantively non-equivalent results—reveals the contentious and unsettled nature of the topic. -/- “Anti-realism,” “non-realism,” and “irrealism” may for most purposes be treated as synonymous. Occasionally, distinctions have been suggested for local pedagogic reasons (see, e.g., Wright 1988a; Dreier 2004), but no such distinction has generally taken hold. (“Quasi-realism” denotes something very different, to be discussed in the supplement Projectivism and quasi-realism below.) All three terms are to be defined in opposition to realism, but since there is no consensus on how “realism” is to be understood, “anti-realism” fares no better. Crispin Wright (1992: 1) comments that “if there ever was a consensus of understanding about ‘realism’, as a philosophical term of art, it has undoubtedly been fragmented by the pressures exerted by the various debates—so much so that a philosopher who asserts that she is a realist about theoretical science, for example, or ethics, has probably, for most philosophical audiences, accomplished little more than to clear her throat.” This entry doesn't purport to do justice to the intricacy and subtlety of the topic of realism; it should be acknowledged at the outset that the fragmentation of which Wright speaks renders it unlikely that the label “moral anti-realism” even succeeds in picking out a definite position. Yet perhaps we can at least make an advance on clearing our throats. (shrink)
In his paper ?The Error in the Error Theory?[this journal, 2008], Stephen Finlay attempts to show that the moral error theorist has not only failed to prove his case, but that the error theory is in fact false. This paper rebuts Finlay's arguments, criticizes his positive theory, and clarifies the error-theoretic position.
Andy Egan has recently produced a set of alleged counterexamples to causal decision theory in which agents are forced to decide among causally unratifiable options, thereby making choices they know they will regret. I show that, far from being counterexamples, CDT gets Egan's cases exactly right. Egan thinks otherwise because he has misapplied CDT by requiring agents to make binding choices before they have processed all available information about the causal consequences of their acts. I elucidate CDT in a way (...) that makes it clear where Egan goes wrong, and which explains why his examples pose no threat to the theory. My approach has similarities to a modification of CDT proposed by Frank Arntzenius, but it differs in the significance that it assigns to potential regrets. I maintain, contrary to Arntzenius, that an agent facing Egan's decisions can rationally choose actions that she knows she will later regret. All rationality demands of agents it that they maximize unconditional causal expected utility from an epistemic perspective that accurately reflects all the available evidence about what their acts are likely to cause. This yields correct answers even in outlandish cases in which one is sure to regret whatever one does. (shrink)
Were I not afraid of appearing too philosophical, I should remind my reader of that famous doctrine, supposed to be fully proved in modern times, “That tastes and colours, and all other sensible qualities, lie not in the bodies, but merely in the senses.” The case is the same with beauty and deformity, virtue and vice. This doctrine, however, takes off no more from the reality of the latter qualities, than from that of the former; nor need it give any (...) umbrage either to critics or moralists. Though colours were allowed to lie only in the eye, would dyers or painters ever be less regarded or esteemed? There is a sufficient uniformity in the senses and feelings of mankind, to make all these qualities the objects of art and reasoning, and to have the greatest influence on life and manners. And as it is certain, that the discovery above-mentioned in natural philosophy, makes no alteration on action and conduct; why should a like discovery in moral philosophy make any alteration? (shrink)
Although the ethical judgment of consumers in the United States and other industrialized countries has received considerable attention, consumer ethics in Asian-market settings have seldom been explored. The purchase and making of counterfeit products are considered common, but disreputable, attributes of Southeast Asian consumers. According to the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Indonesia ranks third among the leading countries of counterfeit items in Asia. Retail revenue losses attributed to counterfeiting amounted to US $183 million in 2004. Therefore, elucidating the (...) ethical perspectives of Indonesian consumers is an effective means of clarifying an important cultural influence on consumer behavior. This exploratory study of 230 Indonesians has many meaningful findings. First, certain personal attitudes apparently affect the ethical judgments of Indonesian consumers. Second, Indonesian consumers who exhibited high ethical concern over actively benefiting from illegal actions had high levels of materialism and idealism, as well as low levels of relativism. Third, materialism, idealism, and relativism significantly influenced whether benefits were created from actively engaging in some questionable activities (DELEGAL). Analytical results indicated that Indonesians with high materialism and relativism were more likely to engage in actions that were questionable but legal. Finally, consumer ethics were compared by applying demographic variables such as gender, age, education, religion, and occupation, indicating that all variables significantly varied except for religion. (shrink)
As more and more firms operate globally, an understanding of the effects of cultural differences on ethical decision making becomes increasingly important for avoiding potential business pitfalls and for designing effective international marketing management programs. Although several articles have addressed this area in general, differences along specific, cultural dimensions have not been directly examined. Hence, the purpose of this study was to examine differences in ethical decision making within Hofstede's cultural framework. The results confirm the utility of Hofstede's cultural dimensions (...) and place ethical decision making within an overall theoretical framework. Sales agents from a high power distance, uncertainty avoidant, Confucian, collectivist culture (i.e., Taiwan) placed more value on company and fellow employee interests (vis-à-vis self interests) than did managers from a masculine, individualistic culture (i.e., the United States). American and Taiwanese managers did not differ in their deontological norms or on the importance that they placed on customer interests. The theoretical and managerial importance of these findings are also discussed. (shrink)
This collection reports on the latest research on an increasingly pivotal issue for evolutionary biology: cooperation. The chapters are written from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and utilize research tools that range from empirical survey to conceptual modeling, reflecting the rich diversity of work in the field. They explore a wide taxonomic range, concentrating on bacteria, social insects, and, especially, humans. -/- Part I (“Agents and Environments”) investigates the connections of social cooperation in social organizations to the conditions that make (...) cooperation profitable and stable, focusing on the interactions of agent, population, and environment. Part II (“Agents and Mechanisms”) focuses on how proximate mechanisms emerge and operate in the evolutionary process and how they shape evolutionary trajectories. Throughout the book, certain themes emerge that demonstrate the ubiquity of questions regarding cooperation in evolutionary biology: the generation and division of the profits of cooperation; transitions in individuality; levels of selection, from gene to organism; and the “human cooperation explosion” that makes our own social behavior particularly puzzling from an evolutionary perspective. (shrink)
Isaac Levi has long criticized causal decisiontheory on the grounds that it requiresdeliberating agents to make predictions abouttheir own actions. A rational agent cannot, heclaims, see herself as free to choose an actwhile simultaneously making a prediction abouther likelihood of performing it. Levi is wrongon both points. First, nothing in causaldecision theory forces agents to makepredictions about their own acts. Second,Levi's arguments for the ``deliberation crowdsout prediction thesis'' rely on a flawed modelof the measurement of belief. Moreover, theability of agents (...) to adopt beliefs about theirown acts during deliberation is essentialto any plausible account of human agency andfreedom. Though these beliefs play no part inthe rationalization of actions, they arerequired to account for the causalgenesis of behavior. To explain the causes ofactions we must recognize that (a) an agentcannot see herself as entirely free in thematter of A unless she believes herdecision to perform A will cause A,and (b) she cannot come to a deliberatedecision about A unless she adoptsbeliefs about her decisions. FollowingElizabeth Anscombe and David Velleman, I arguethat an agent's beliefs about her own decisionsare self-fulfilling, and that this can beused to explain away the seeming paradoxicalfeatures of act probabilities. (shrink)
What contribution can the empirical sciences make to metaethics? This paper outlines an argument to a particular metaethical conclusion - that moral judgments are epistemically unjustified - that depends in large part on a posteriori premises.
Confirmation theory is intended to codify the evidential bearing of observations on hypotheses, characterizing relations of inductive “support” and “countersupport” in full generality. The central task is to understand what it means to say that datum E confirms or supports a hypothesis H when E does not logically entail H.
Different versions of moral projectivism are delineated: minimal, metaphysical, nihilistic, and noncognitivist. Minimal projectivism (the focus of this paper) is the conjunction of two subtheses: (1) that we experience morality as an objective aspect of the world and (2) that this experience has its origin in an affective attitude (e.g., an emotion) rather than in perceptual faculties. Both are empirical claims and must be tested as such. This paper does not offer ideas on any specific test procedures, but rather undertakes (...) the important preliminary task of clarifying the content of these subtheses (e.g., what is meant by "objective"? what is meant by "experience"?). Finally, attention is given to the relation between (a) acknowledging that the projectivist account might be true of a token moral judgment and (b) maintaining moral projectivism to be true as a general thesis. (shrink)
In his contribution to this volume, Paul Bloomfield analyzes and attempts to answer the question “Why is it bad to be bad?” I too will use this question as my point of departure; in particular I want to approach the matter from the perspective of a moral error theorist. This discussion will preface one of the principal topics of this paper: the relationship between morality and self-interest. Again, my main goal is to clarify what the moral error theorist might say (...) on this subject. Against this background, the final portion of this paper will be a discussion of moral fictionalism, defending it from some objections. (shrink)
Taking as its point of departure the work of moral philosopher John Mackie (1917-1981), A World Without Values is a collection of essays on moral skepticism by leading contemporary philosophers, some of whom are sympathetic to Mackie s ...
Bayes' Theorem is a simple mathematical formula used for calculating conditional probabilities. It figures prominently in subjectivist or Bayesian approaches to epistemology, statistics, and inductive logic. Subjectivists, who maintain that rational belief is governed by the laws of probability, lean heavily on conditional probabilities in their theories of evidence and their models of empirical learning. Bayes' Theorem is central to these enterprises both because it simplifies the calculation of conditional probabilities and because it clarifies significant features of subjectivist position. Indeed, (...) the Theorem's central insight — that a hypothesis is confirmed by any body of data that its truth renders probable — is the cornerstone of all subjectivist methodology. (shrink)
It is widely believed that the Divine Command Theory is untenable due to the Euthyphro Dilemma. This article first examines the Platonic dialogue of that name, and shows that Socrates’s reasoning is faulty. Second, the dilemma in the form in which many contemporary philosophers accept it is examined in detail, and this reasoning is also shown to be deficient. This is not to say, however, that the Divine Command Theory is true—merely that one popular argument for rejecting it is unsound. (...) Finally, some brief thoughts are presented concerning where the real problems lie for the theory. (shrink)
I argue that one central aspect of the epistemology of causation, the use of causes as evidence for their effects, is largely independent of the metaphysics of causation. In particular, I use the formalism of Bayesian causal graphs to factor the incremental evidential impact of a cause for its effect into a direct cause-to-effect component and a backtracking component. While the “backtracking” evidence that causes provide about earlier events often obscures things, once we our restrict attention to the cause-to-effect component (...) it is true to say promoting (inhibiting) causes raise (lower) the probabilities of their effects. This factoring assumes the same form whether causation is given an interventionist, counterfactual or probabilistic interpretation. Whether we think about causation in terms of interventions and causal graphs, counterfactuals and imaging functions, or probability raising against the background of causally homogenous partitions, if we describe the essential features of a situation correctly then the incremental evidence that a cause provides for its effect in virtue of being its cause will be the same. (shrink)
Colin Radford must weary of defending his thesis that the emotional reactions we have towards fictional characters, events, and states of affairs are irrational.1 Yet, for all the discussion, the issue has not, to my mind, been properly settled—or at least not settled in the manner I should prefer—and so this paper attempts once more to debunk Radford’s defiance of common sense. For some, the question of whether our emotional responses to fiction are rational does not arise, for they are (...) inclined to doubt that we have them at all.2 Emotions, on this view, are fundamentally linked to belief states, as in the following thesis concerning the emotion of fear: 1) We fear for ourselves only if we believe ourselves to be in danger; we fear for others only if we believe they actually exist and are in danger. When we typically engage with fiction we do not ‘suspend our disbelief’, in the sense of coming to believe that the fiction is non-fiction. No matter how engrossed I become in a Dracula movie, I do not begin to believe that I am seeing actual vampires. 2) When we watch a horror movie, we do not believe ourselves, or anyone actual, to be in danger. And so these theorists, endorsing (1) and (2), are obliged to deny the intuitive (3): 3) We are sometimes frightened when watching a horror movie. These three propositions are a version of what is sometimes called ‘The Paradox of Fiction’. For my money, since the denial of (2) is foolish, and the denial of (3) deeply counterintuitive, it is (1)—being a substantive philosophical thesis—that is most likely the culprit. Radford agrees, yet maintains that there is some intimate connection between belief and emotion. For him, the dependence is not the existential one stated in (1), but a normative one: we do not rationally feel fear unless we believe ourselves (or someone actual) to be in danger.3 This revision of the connection allows the construction of a quite different inconsistent triad: 4) We are not rationally frightened unless we believe someone actual to be in danger.. (shrink)
This collection of eleven papers by Elijah Millgram (nine of which have been previously published) is ostensibly united by the thesis that the best way to go about assessing moral theories is to identify the view of practical reasoning that each such theory rests upon, and evaluate the adequacy of these respective theories of practical reasoning. The correct moral theory, Millgram assures us, will be the one that is paired with the best theory of practical reasoning. He outlines this methodology (...) in a substantial (32 pp.) introduction. Why should we adopt Millgram’s method? A host of concerns immediately leap to mind. If two or more different moral theories rest on the same theory of practical reasoning, then how would discovering the latter to be the correct theory of practical reasoning help us decide among the moral theories? What if a given moral theory is consistent with two or more different theories of practical reasoning? What if we cannot evaluate theories of practical reasoning independently of having adopted a moral perspective? Millgram doesn’t address these natural questions head on, but rather proposes that the essays of the volume collectively constitute a “feasibility demonstration” (p. 3) of the method. In other words, the only way that we will be persuaded that the pairings between moral theories and practical reasoning theories are tight enough to support this grand project is to get our hands dirty in detailed discussion of particular moral theories, particular theories of practical reasoning, and the relations between them. It is through seeing the method at work that we will become convinced, Millgram hopes, of several interlocking theses: (1) that each of the major moral theories of the past has had a distinctive take on practical reasoning; (2) that pivotal structural elements of these theories are due to the underlying theory of practical reasoning; (3) that problems in a moral theory can often be traced to problems in the underlying theory of practical reasoning; (4) that theories of practical reasoning are “engines” (p.. (shrink)
Suppose there are two people having a moral disagreement about, say, abortion. They argue in a familiar way about whether fetuses have rights, whether a woman’s right to autonomy over her body overrides the fetus’s welfare, and so on. But then suppose one of the people says “Oh, it’s all just a matter of opinion; there’s no objective fact about whether fetuses have rights. When we say that something is morally forbidden, all we’re really doing is expressing our disapproval of (...) it.” The other person protests: “No!—that’s totally wrong. Of course there are objective moral truths.” And suppose their dispute now settles on this new matter of whether there are objective moral facts, and the debate continues. They’ve now stopped discussing abortion, and are discussing the nature of any moral debate about abortion; they’ve stopped doing ethics, and started doing metaethics. If wondering about what one morally ought to do is to engage in ethical thought, then wondering about what one is doing when one wonders about what one morally ought to do is to engage in metaethical thought. When we make public moral judgments are we stating facts, or are we just expressing our opinions? And if there are moral facts, then what kind of fact are they? Can moral judgments be true or false? Can moral judgments be justified, and if so how? These kinds of questions are the domain of metaethics. (I’m not saying that there is a crisp and principled line to be drawn between meta-ethics and regular ethical discourse; but it is, if nothing else, a pedagogically useful division of labor.). (shrink)
In The Logic of Decision Richard Jeffrey defends a version of expected utility theory that advises agents to choose acts with an eye to securing evidence for thinking that desirable results will ensue. Proponents of "causal" decision theory have argued that Jeffrey's account is inadequate because it fails to properly discriminate the causal features of acts from their merely evidential properties. Jeffrey's approach has also been criticized on the grounds that it makes it impossible to extract a unique probability/utility representation (...) from a sufficiently rich system of preferences (given a zero and unit for measuring utility). The existence of these problems should not blind us to the fact that Jeffrey's system has advantages that no other decision theory can match: it can be underwritten by a particularly compelling representation theorem proved by Ethan Bolker; and it has a property called partition invariance that every reasonable theory of rational choice must possess. I shall argue that the non-uniqueness problem can be finessed, and that it is impossible to adequately formulate causal decision theory, or any other, without using Jeffrey's theory as one's basic analysis of rational desire. (shrink)