Michael Ridge presents an original expressivist theory of normative judgments--Ecumenical Expressivism--which offers distinctive treatments of key problems in metaethics, semantics, and practical reasoning. He argues that normative judgments are hybrid states partly constituted by ordinary beliefs and partly constituted by desire-like states.
Moral philosophy has long been dominated by the aim of understanding morality and the virtues in terms of principles. However, the underlying assumption that this is the best approach has received almost no defence, and has been attacked by particularists, who argue that the traditional link between morality and principles is little more than an unwarranted prejudice. In Principled Ethics, Michael Ridge and Sean McKeever meet the particularist challenge head-on, and defend a distinctive view they call "generalism as a regulative (...) ideal.". (shrink)
In this paper, I argue that anti-reductionist moral realism still has trouble explaining supervenience. My main target here will be Russ Shafer-Landau's attempt to explain the supervenience of the moral on the natural in terms of the constitution of moral property instantiations by natural property instantiations. First, though, I discuss a recent challenge to the very idea of using supervenience as a dialectical weapon posed by Nicholas Sturgeon. With a suitably formulated supervenience thesis in hand, I try to show how (...) Shafer-Landau's proffered strategy to explain supervenience not only fails to explain supervenience, but that it also has a number of implausible consequences. The more general lesson is that strategies which may work well for explaining supervenience in the philosophy of mind and other areas cannot be assumed to carry over successfully to the metaethical context. We should therefore treat so-called `companions in guilt' arguments in this area of philosophy with considerable skepticism. Key Words: expressivism moral realism non-naturalism reductionism supervenience trope. (shrink)
Philosophers are by now familiar with “the” paradox of supererogation. This paradox arises out of the idea that it can never be permissible to do something morally inferior to another available option, yet acts of supererogation seem to presuppose this. This paradox is not our topic in this paper. We mention it only to set it to one side and explain our subtitle. In this paper we introduce and explore another paradox of supererogation, one which also deserves serious philosophical attention. (...) People who perform paradigmatic acts of supererogation very often claim and believe that their acts were obligatory. Plausibly, this is simply a mistake insofar as the actions really are “above and beyond the call of duty,” as common sense would have it. The fact that moral heroes tend to view their actions in this apparently mistaken way is puzzling in itself, and we might learn something interesting about the moral psychology of such individuals if we could explain this tendency. However, this puzzling aspect of the moral psychology of moral heroes is also the chief ingredient in a deeper puzzle, one perhaps more worthy of the title “paradox.” In this paper we present and try to resolve this paradox. The paradox arises when we combine our initial observation about the moral psychology of moral heroes with three plausible claims about how these cases compare with one in which the agent realizes her act is “above and beyond.” The first of these three additional claims is that the agent who mistakenly claims that the act is obligatory is no less virtuous than someone who performs such an act whilst correctly judging it to be obligatory. The second is that the agent who makes such a mistake would display more moral wisdom if she judged the act to be supererogatory. The third is that there is no other relevant difference between the two agents. These three claims, together with a plausible principle about the way in which the virtues work, give rise to a paradox. We consider several ways in which this paradox might be resolved. We argue that the most plausible resolution is to reject the claim that there is no other relevant difference between the two agents. More specifically, we argue that a relevant difference is that the agent who makes this mistake does so because of the depth of their commitment to certain moral values, and that this is itself an important moral virtue: moral depth. (shrink)
There may be as much philosophical controversy about how to distinguish naturalism from non-naturalism as there is about which view is correct. In spite of this widespread disagreement about the content of naturalism and non-naturalism there is considerable agreement about the status of certain historically influential philosophical accounts as non-naturalist. In particular, there is widespread agreement that G.E. Moore's account of goodness in.
In this paper I argue that so-called “Relaxed Realism” of the sort defended by T. M. Scanlon fails on its own terms by failing to distinguish itself from its putative rivals—in particular, from Quasi-Realism. On a whole host of questions, Relaxed Realism and Quasi-Realism give exactly the same answers, and these answers make up much of the core of the view. Scanlon offers three possible points of contrast, each of which I argue is not fit for purpose. Along the way (...) I argue that Quasi-Realists can provide a better account of practical rationality than Relaxed Realists can, so insofar as they are distinct Quasi-Realism is superior. (shrink)
Early expressivists, such as A.J. Ayer, argued that normative utterances are not truth-apt, and many found this striking claim implausible. After all, ordinary speakers are perfectly happy to ascribe truth and falsity to normative assertions. It is hard to believe that competent speakers could be so wrong about the meanings of their own language, particularly as these meanings are fixed by the conventions implicit in their own linguistic behavior. Later expressivists therefore tried to arrange a marriage between expressivism and the (...) truth-aptness of normative discourse. Like many arranged marriages, this has not been an entirely happy one. In particular, the marriage has seemed to depend on so-called deflationist theories of truth, and these may well turn out to provide at best a shaky foundation for any marriage. Before advising the parties to file for divorce, though, we should first see whether expressivism itself has not been misunderstood. I argue that the marriage of expressivism to the truth-aptness of normative discourse can indeed be saved, though only in the context of a version of expressivism I call “Ecumenical Expressivism.”. (shrink)
The basic idea of rule-utilitarianism is that right action should be defined in terms of what would be required by rules which would maximize either actual or expected utility if those rules gained general acceptance, or perhaps general compliance. Rule-utilitarians face a dilemma. They must characterize 'general acceptance' either as 100% acceptance, or as something less. On the first horn of the dilemma, rule-utilitarianism in vulnerable to the charge of utopianism; on the second, it is open to the charge of (...) arbitrariness and lack of philosophical depth. I press this objection, and develop and defend an alternative version of rule-utilitarianism which can evade the dilemma. I call this new version 'variable-rate rule-utilitarianism'. (shrink)
Moral particularists are united in their opposition to the codification of morality, and their work poses an important challenge to traditional ways of thinking about moral philosophy. Defenders of moral particularism have, with near unanimity, sought support from a doctrine they call “holism in the theory of reasons.” We argue that this is all a mistake. There are two ways in which holism in the theory of reasons can be understood, but neither provides any support for moral particularism. Moral particularists (...) are united in their opposition to the codification of morality in purely descriptive terms, but their opposition takes different forms. Sometimes particularists maintain that codifying the moral landscape is impossible. In other contexts particularists argue that moral principles are in any event unnecessary. In yet other contexts particularists contend that the codification of morality is undesirable, perhaps because it would encourage people to look less carefully at the case at hand.1 These are distinct theses, although particularists often endorse all three. As Jonathan Dancy, citing John McDowell puts it, “Particularism is at its crudest the claim that we neither need nor can see the search for an ‘evaluative outlook which one can endorse as rational as the search for a set of principles.’”2 On any interpretation, particularism poses an important challenge for traditional conceptions of moral philosophy.. (shrink)
What is it for a speech-act to be sincere? A very tempting answer, defended by John Searle and others, is that a speech-act is sincere just in case the speaker has the state of mind it expresses. I argue that we should instead hold that a speech-act is sincere just in case the speaker believes that she has the state of mind she believes it expresses (Sections 1 and 2). Scenarios in which speakers are deluded about their own states of (...) mind play an important role in arguing for this account. In the course of developing this account I also explore how it might make good use of the often neglected distinction between insincerity and mere non-sincerity (Section 2). After defending and developing my positive proposal, I explore its implications for debates over expressivism in meta-ethics (Sections 3 and 4). (shrink)
I offer new arguments for an unorthodox reading of J. L. Mackie’s Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, one on which Mackie does not think all substantive moral claims are false, but allows that a proper subset of them are true. Further, those that are true should be understood in terms of a “hybrid theory”. The proposed reading is one on which Mackie is a conceptual pruner, arguing that we should prune away error-ridden moral claims but hold onto those already free (...) of error. This reading is very different from the standard ones found in the literature. I build on recent work by Moberger and argue that this reading is better corroborated by close attention to the way in which Mackie argues at length that terms like “good” and “ought” are systematically context-sensitive, as well as by considerable additional textual evidence. This reading, however, faces an important challenge—to explain in what sense, if any, morality retains its “normativity” on the proposed reading. I argue that this challenge can be met, at least given some of Mackie’s further assumptions about the nature of rationality. (shrink)
The agent-relative/agent-neutral distintion is widely and rightly regarded as a philosophically important one. Unfortunately, the distinction is often drawn in different and mutually incompatible ways. The agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction has historically been drawn three main ways: the ‘principle-based distinction’, the ‘reason-statement-based distinction’ and the ‘perspective-based distinction’. Each of these approaches has its own distinctive vices (Sections 1-3). However, a slightly modified version of the historically influential principle-based approach seems to avoid most if not all of these vices (Section 4). The distinction (...) so understood differs from numerous other distinctions with which it might easily be confused (Section 5). Finally, the distinction so drawn is important to normative theorizing for a variety of reasons (Section 6). (shrink)
While the meta-ethical error theory has been of philosophical interest for some time now, only recently a debate has emerged about the question what is to be done if the error theory turns out to be true. This paper argues for a novel answer to this question, namely revolutionary expressivism: if the error theory is true, we should become expressivists. Additionally, the paper explores certain important but largely ignored methodological issues that arise for reforming definitions generally and with a vengeance (...) in the context of a radical error theory about all practical normative judgements, and suggests how these issues can be resolved. (shrink)
- Peter Railton1 Railton's remark is accurate; contemporary philosophers almost invariably suppose that morality is more vulnerable than empirical science to scepticism. Yet David Hume apparently embraces an inversion of this twentieth century orthodoxy.2 In book I of the Treatise, he claims that the understanding, when it reflects upon itself, "entirely subverts itself" (T 1. 4.7.7; SBN 267) while, in contrast, in book III he claims that our moral faculty, when reflecting upon itself, acquires "new force" (T 220.127.116.11; SBN 619). (...) Such passages suggest Hume's view is that morality's claims on us are justified, whereas the understanding's claims are not -- that scepticism about empirical science, but not morality, is irresistible. However, this interpretation does not accurately reflect Hume's position. Indeed, any interpretation which has Hume concluding that the understanding's claims on us are not justified faces an obvious worry - it makes nonsense of the rest of his naturalistic project, including, but not limited to, his description and justification of our moral faculty. For in defending his account of our moral faculty and, perhaps more clearly, in arguing against those who believe in miracles, Hume inescapably presupposes that the understanding's claims on us are in some sense justified. In light of Hume's meticulous and enthusiastic pursuit of his larger naturalistic project, one might even be tempted to conclude that Hume never really thought his sceptical arguments were sound. It would, however, be a mistake to submit to this temptation -- to do so would be to ignore the last part of book I of the Treatise, in which Hume evidently does find such arguments to be sound. Hume is undeniably impressed by scepticism about the. (shrink)
Games, which philosophers commonly invoke as models for diverse phenomena, are plausibly understood in terms of rules and goals, but this gives rise to two puzzles. The first concerns the identity of a single game over time. Intuitively one and the same game can undergo a change in rules, as when the rules of chess were modified so that a pawn could be moved two squares forward on its first move. Yet if games are individuated in terms of their constitutive (...) rules and goals, this is incoherent—new rules mean a new game. The second concerns the individuation of games at a point in time. Intuitively, there can be different versions of a single game, where the versions differ in the details of their rules. I offer a solution to this problem that draws on an analogy with individuating languages. The resulting theory should illuminate the metaphysics of games more generally. (shrink)
Consequentialists are sometimes accused of being unable to accommodate all the ways in which an agent should care about her own integrity. Here it is helpful to follow Stephen Darwall in distinguishing two approaches to moral theory. First, we might begin with the value of states of affairs and then work our way ‘inward’ to our integrity, explaining the value of the latter in terms of their contribution to the value of the former. This is the ‘outside-in’ approach, and Darwall (...) argues that it is well-suited to defending consequentialism. Alternatively, we might begin with the perspective of a virtuous agent's concern for her integrity, and then work our way ‘outward’, building a conception of the value of states of affairs from this perspective. On this ‘inside-out’ account there is a kind of agent-centred concern each agent should have for her own integrity simply because it is her own. The inside-out approach therefore suggests a possible rationale for a non-consequentialist moral theory, in so far as such a fundamental egocentric concern for one's own integrity seems alien to consequentialism's commitment to the agent-neutrality of value. If this is correct then the consequentialist should explain why we should prefer the outside-in approach to its rival. I argue that the consequentialist can meet this challenge. (shrink)
An important worry about what Simon Blackburn has called ‘quasi-realism’ is that it collapses into realism full-stop. Edward Harcourt has recently pressed the worry about collapse into realism in an original way. Harcourt presents the challenge in the form of a dilemma. Either ethical discourse appears to ordinary speakers to express representational states or not. If the former then expressivism means that this appearance is not saved after all, in which case quasi-realism fails in its own terms. If the latter, (...) then we lose our grip on the idea that ordinary descriptive utterances are somehow paradigmatic assertions of fact and with it our ability to explain why such utterances really do express representational states. Finally, Harcourt argues that the expressivist’s only hope for meeting these concerns relies on a distinction between states of mind with a ‘world-directed’ direction of fit and those with a ‘state-directed’ direction of fit, the thesis that no state of mind has both directions of fit, and the thesis that a state-directed direction of fit entails no truth-conditions. Previous critics have attacked and, but Harcourt takes a novel turn and attacks. The challenge is a bracing one. If Harcourt is right, then the quasi-realist project inevitably destroys the very distinction in terms of which his position is cast – roughly, the distinction between beliefs and desires. I argue that Harcourt’s challenge can be met. To anticipate, I argue that Harcourt’s critique presumes that the quasi-realist’s fundamental distinction is best understood semantically, whereas I shall argue that it is better understood functionally. (shrink)
At least since the late Early Modern period, the Holy Grail of ethics, for many philosophers, has been to say how ethical values could have a kind of protagorean objectivity: values are to be both fully objective as values and yet depend on us by their very nature. More than any other contemporary foundational approach it is “constructivist” theories, such as those due to Rawls, Scanlon, and Korsgaard, which have consciously sought to explain how protagorean objectivity is a real possibility. (...) Yet there remains considerable uncertainty about what the various versions of constructivism have in common, what, if anything, “constructivism” as a general approach is supposed to accomplish, and whether, if it is a general approach, it amounts to a distinctive foundational view. (shrink)
Meta-ethical non-cognitivism makes two claims—a negative one and a positive one. The negative claim is that moral utterances do not express beliefs which provide the truth-conditions for those utterances. The positive claim is that the primary function of such utterances is to express certain of the speaker’s desire-like states of mind. Non-cognitivism is officially a theory about the meanings of moral words, but non-cognitivists also maintain that moral states of mind are themselves at least partially constituted by desire-like states to (...) which moral utterances give voice. Non-cognitivists need a plausible account of what distinguishes whims, addictions and cravings from genuinely moral judgments. For while non-cognitivists maintain that in a suitably broad sense moral judgments just are constituted by desire-like states they also insist that not any old desire constitutes a genuinely moral judgment. Since the challenge is to demarcate what is distinctive about moral attitudes we might usefully call this the demarcation challenge. One common strategy for meeting the demarcation challenge is to focus on desires directed at getting others to share one’s own desires and emotions. This strategy has some of its earliest roots in Charles Stevenson’s pioneering work. Stevenson argued that there is a ‘do so as well!’ aspect to moral discourse. On Stevenson’s account, in saying something is morally good a speaker not only expresses her own attitude of approval of the object of evaluation but also urges her interlocutors to share that attitude, thereby expressing a desire that they ‘do so as well.’ More recently, in Ruling Passions, Simon Blackburn emphasizes the importance of what he refers to as a ‘staircase of practical and emotional ascent’. (shrink)
The central thesis of Derek Parfit's On What Matters is that three of the most important secular moral traditions – Kantianism, contractualism, and consequentialism – all actually converge in a way onto the same view. It is in this sense that he suggests that we may all be 'climbing the same mountain, but from different sides'. In this paper, I argue that Parfit's argument that we are all metaphorically climbing the same mountain is unsound. One reason his argument does not (...) work is that he has misunderstood the way in which a plausible rule-consequentialism should understand the supervenience of rightness on all possible acceptance levels of the ideal moral code. In place of Parfit's own understanding of this, I develop a view I call 'variable-rate rule-utilitarianism', which I argue shares the key insight of Parfit's view but avoids a fatal objection to his own articulation of that insight. Finally, I explore how this modification might allow us to still make a case that we are all 'climbing the same mountain', albeit in a very different way and for very different reasons than the ones Parfit had in mind. (shrink)
Quasi-realism aspires to preserve the intelligibility of the realist-sounding moral judgments of ordinary people. These judgments include ones of the form, “I believe that p, but I might be mistaken,” where “p” is some moral content. The orthodox quasi-realist strategy is to understand these in terms of the agent’s worrying that some improving change would lead one to aban-don the relevant moral belief. However, it is unclear whether this strate-gy generalizes to cases in which the agent takes their error to (...) be funda-mental in a sense articulated by Andy Egan. In an influential paper, Egan argues that it does not. Egan suggests that Blackburn’s approach is the only game in town for the quasi-realist when it comes to making sense of judgment of fallibility, and therefore concludes that Blackburn’s ina-bility to handle worries about fundamental moral error refutes quasi-realism tout court. Egan’s challenge has generated considerable discus-sion. However, in my view, we have not yet gotten to the heart of the matter. I argue that what is still needed is a fully general, quasi-realist-friendly theory of the nature of first-person judgments of fallibility, such that these judgments are demonstrably consistent with judging that the belief is stable in Egan’s sense. In this article, I develop and defend a fully general quasi-realist theory of such judgments, which meets this demand. With this theory in hand, I argue that Egan’s challenge can be met. Moreover, my discussion of how the challenge is best met provides an elegant diagnosis of where Egan’s argument against goes wrong. On my account, Egan’s argument equivocates at a key point between a “could” and a “would.”. (shrink)
What place, if any, moral principles should or do have in moral life has been a longstanding question for moral philosophy. For some, the proposition that moral philosophy should strive to articulate moral principles has been an article of faith. At least since Aristotle, however, there has been a rich counter-tradition that questions the possibility or value of trying to capture morality in principled terms. In recent years, philosophers who question principled approaches to morality have argued under the banner of (...) moral particularism. Particularists can be found in diverse areas of philosophical inquiry, and their positions and arguments are of broad interest.1 Despite its importance, a proper evaluation of particularism has been hindered both by the diversity of arguments employed to defend it, and, perhaps more significantly, by the diversity of positions that can fairly claim to be particularist. Our aim is first to explicate particularism by identifying a unified range of particularist theses and explaining both what unites them as versions of particularism as well as what distinguishes them from each other. We then articulate and evaluate the main arguments for particularism and explain how each is especially well-suited to supporting some conceptions of particularism rather than others. We tentatively conclude that the positive arguments for particularism are not convincing. They do, however, reveal particularism to be a surprisingly resilient position, one that is not readily refuted.. (shrink)
Constitutivism is best understood as a strategy for meeting a set of related metanormative challenges, rather than a fully comprehensive metanormative theory in its own right, or so many have plausibly argued. Whether this strategy succeeds may depend, in part, on which broader metanormative theory it is combined with. In this paper I argue that combining constitutivism with expressivism somewhat surprisingly provides constitutivists with their best chances for success, and that this combination of views has some surprising benefits for both (...) parties. (shrink)
Particularism takes an extremely ecumenical view of what considerations might count as reasons and thereby threatens to ‘flatten the moral landscape’ by making it seem that there is no deep difference between, for example, pain, and shoelace color. After all, particularists have claimed, either could provide a reason provided a suitable moral context. To avoid this result, some particularists draw a distinction between default and non-default reasons. The present paper argues that all but the most deflationary ways of drawing this (...) distinction are either implausible or else insufficient to help the particularist avoid flattening the moral landscape. The difficulty can be avoided, however, if we reject particularism's extremely ecumenical view of reasons. (shrink)
One might have thought that any right-thinking utilitarian would hold that motives and intentions are morally on a par, as either might influence the consequences of one's actions. However, in a neglected passage of Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill claims that the rightness of an action depends 'entirely upon the intention' but does not at all depend upon the motive. In this paper I try to make sense of Mill's initially puzzling remarks about the relative importance of intentions and motives in (...) a way that highlights the importance of other elements of his moral philosophy and action theory. (shrink)
-- Immanuel Kant (Kant 1990, p. 46/429) The idea that our most basic duty is to treat each other with respect is one of the Enlightenment’s greatest legacies and Kant is often thought to be one of its most powerful defenders. If Kant’s project were successful then the lofty notion that humanity is always worthy of respect would be vindicated by pure practical reason. Further, this way of defending the ideal is supposed to reflect our autonomy, insofar as it is (...) always one’s own reason that demands that one treat humanity with respect. In this article, I consider what I take to be one of the most important and compelling attempts to defend the Kantian project. I draw the disappointing conclusion that this attempt does not succeed. The reasons this attempt fails shed some light on the difficulties facing any attempt to defend the Kantian project. (shrink)
The present chapter attempts to resolve a puzzle about normative testimony. On the one hand, agents act on the advice of others, advice which purports to tell them what they have reason to do. When they do so, they can act for good reason. This thought, though, sits uneasily with another: that the mere fact that someone has advised a course of action is not itself a reason. An interesting view of reasons recently defended by Stephen Kearns and Daniel Star (...) offers a resolution to the puzzle. On this view, reasons are evidence, specifically evidence concerning what one ought to do. If they are correct, then sufficiently good advice is, it turns out, itself a reason, and it is then no puzzle that an agent who acts on such advice is acting for a good reason. The chapter argues that this account of reasons is subject to counterexamples. There are reasons which are not evidence and evidence which is not a reason. This view of reasons cannot therefore hold the key to solving the puzzle of normative testimony. The solution to the puzzle of normative testimony lies instead in a more careful account of what it is to act for a reason. Such an account can preserve both the intuition that advice is not an independent reason and the thought that agents who act on sound advice act for good reason. The account also explains how agents can act for “elusive reasons.” These are facts which are reasons but which would not be if the agent became sufficiently aware of them. (shrink)
Many hold that the differences between intentions and desires are so significant that, not only can we not identify intentions with desires simpliciter, but that intentions are irreducible to any subclass of desires. My main aim is to explain why we should reject the irreducibility thesis in both forms, thereby defending the Humean view of action explanation.
What place, if any, moral principles should or do have in moral life has been a longstanding question for moral philosophy. For some, the proposition that moral philosophy should strive to articulate moral principles has been an article of faith. At least since Aristotle, however, there has been a rich counter-tradition that questions the possibility or value of trying to capture morality in principled terms. In recent years, philosophers who question principled approaches to morality have argued under the banner of (...) moral particularism. Particularists can be found in diverse areas of philosophical inquiry, and their positions and arguments are of broad interest. Despite its importance, a proper evaluation of particularism has been hindered both by the diversity of arguments employed to defend it, and, perhaps more significantly, by the diversity of positions that can fairly claim to be particularist. (shrink)
This paper contends that a Kantian universalizability constraint on theories of practical reason in conjunction with the possibility of collective rational agents entails the surprisingly strong conclusion that no fully agent-relative theory of practical reason can be sound. The basic point is that a Kantian universalizability constraint, the thesis that all reasons for action are agent-relative and the possibility of collective rational agents gives rise to a contradiction. This contradiction can be avoided by either rejecting Kantian universalizability, the possibility of (...) collective rational agents, or the tenability of a fully agent-relative theory of practical reason; we cannot have all three. (shrink)
Moral particularism, as recently defended, charges that traditional moral theorizing unduly privileges moral principles. Moral generalism defends a prominent place for moral principles. Because moral principles are often asked to play multiple roles, moral particularism aims at multiple targets. We distinguish two leading roles for moral principles, the role of standard and the role of guide. We critically survey some of the leading arguments both for and against principles so conceived.