Moral Realism is a systematic defence of the idea that there are objective moral standards. Russ Shafer-Landau argues that there are moral principles that are true independently of what anyone, anywhere, happens to think of them. His central thesis, as well as the many novel supporting arguments used to defend it, will spark much controversy among those concerned with the foundations of ethics.
Our project in this essay is to showcase nonnaturalistic moral realism’s resources for responding to metaphysical and epistemological objections by taking the view in some new directions. The central thesis we will argue for is that there is a battery of substantive moral propositions that are also nonnaturalistic conceptual truths. We call these propositions the moral fixed points. We will argue that they must find a place in any system of moral norms that applies to beings like us, in worlds (...) similar to our own. By committing themselves to true propositions of these sorts, nonnaturalists can fashion a view that is highly attractive in its own right, and resistant to the most prominent objections that have been pressed against it. (shrink)
This paper reconstructs what I take to be the central evolutionary debunking argument that underlies recent critiques of moral realism. The argument claims that given the extent of evolutionary influence on our moral faculties, and assuming the truth of moral realism, it would be a massive coincidence were our moral faculties reliable ones. Given this coincidence, any presumptive warrant enjoyed by our moral beliefs is defeated. So if moral realism is true, then we can have no warranted moral beliefs, and (...) hence no moral knowledge. In response, I first develop what is perhaps the most natural reply on behalf of realism namely, that many of our highly presumptively warranted moral beliefs are immune to evolutionary influence and so can be used to assess and eventually resuscitate the epistemic merits of those that have been subject to such influence. I then identify five distinct ways in which the charge of massive coincidence has been understood and defended. I argue that each interpretation is subject to serious worries. If I am right, these putative defeaters are themselves subject to defeat. Thus many of our moral beliefs continue to be highly warranted, even if moral realism is true. (shrink)
In this paper I offer two arguments designed to defend the existence of categorical reasons, which I define as those justifying considerations that obtain independently of their relation to an agent's commitments. The first argument is based on certain paradigm cases meant to reveal difficulties for practical instrumentalism—the view, as I define it here, that categorical reasons do not exist, because all reasons must serve the commitments of the agents to whom they apply. The second argument relies on considerations of (...) responsibility and blame to establish the existence of categorical reasons. (shrink)
Introduction -- Part I: The good life -- Hedonism : its powerful appeal -- Is happiness all that matters? -- Getting what you want -- Problems for the desire theory -- Part II: Doing the right thing -- Morality and religion -- Natural law theory -- Psychological egoism -- Ethical egoism -- Consequentialism : its nature and attractions -- Consequentialism : its difficulties -- The kantian perspective : fairness and justice -- The kantian perspective : autonomy and respect -- The (...) social contract tradition : theory and attractions -- The social contract tradition : problems and prospects -- Ethical pluralism and absolute moral rules -- Ethical pluralism : prima facie duties and ethical particularism -- Virtue ethics -- Feminist ethics -- Part III: The status of morality -- Ethical relativism -- Moral nihilism -- Ten arguments against moral objectivity. (shrink)
Since September 11, 2001, many people in the United States have been more inclined to use the language of good and evil, and to be more comfortable with the idea that certain moral standards are objective (true independently of what anyone happens to think of them). Some people, especially those who are not religious, are not sure how to substantiate this view. Whatever Happened to Good and Evil? provides a basis for exploring these doubts and ultimately defends the objectivity of (...) ethics. Engaging and accessible, it is the first introduction to meta-ethics written especially for students and general readers with no philosophical background. Focusing on the issues at the foundation of morality, it poses such questions as: How can we know what is right and wrong? Does ethical objectivity require God? Why should I be moral? Where do moral standards come from? What is a moral value, and how can it exist in a scientific world? Do cultural diversity and persistent moral disagreement support moral skepticism? Writing in a clear and lively style and employing many examples to illustrate theoretical arguments, Russ Shafer-Landau identifies the many weaknesses in contemporary moral skepticism and devotes considerable attention to presenting, and critiquing, the most difficult objections to his view. Also included in the book are a helpful summary of all the major arguments covered, as well as a glossary of key philosophical terms. Whatever Happened to Good and Evil? is ideal for a variety of philosophy courses and compelling reading for anyone interested in ethics. (shrink)
The traditional conception of ethical theory sees it as the project of developing a coherent set of rules from which one can infer all determinate moral verdicts. I am not optimistic about the prospects for constructing such a theory. To explain this pessimism, we need to understand what moral rules are and what roles they might play in ethical theory.
There are striking parallels, largely unexplored in the literature, between skeptical arguments against theism and against moral realism. After sketching four arguments meant to do this double duty, I restrict my attention to an explanatory argument that claims that we have most reason to deny the existence of moral facts (and so, by extrapolation, theistic ones), because such putative facts have no causal-explanatory power. I reject the proposed parity, and offer reasons to think that the potential vulnerabilities of moral realism (...) on this front are quite different from those of the theist. Key Words: causal power explanatory power Gilbert Harman moral facts moral realism theism. (shrink)
A substantial collection of seminal articles, Foundations of Ethics covers all of the major issues in metaethics. Covers all of the major issues in metaethics including moral metaphysics, epistemology, moral psychology, and philosophy of language. Provides an unparalleled offering of primary sources and expert commentary for students of ethical theory. Includes seminal essays by ethicists such as G.E. Moore, Simon Blackburn, Gilbert Harman, Christine Korsgaard, Michael Smith, Bernard Williams, Jonathan Dancy, and many other leading figures of ethical theory.
I criticize an important argument of Michael Smith, from his recent book The Moral Problem (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994). Smith's argument, if sound, would undermine one form of moral externalism 2013 that which insists that moral judgements only contingently motivate their authors. Smith claims that externalists must view good agents as always prompted by the motive of duty, and that possession of such a motive impugns the goodness of the agent. I argue (i) that externalists do not (ordinarily) need to assign (...) moral agents such as a motive, and (ii) that possession of this motive, when properly understood, is morally admirable. (shrink)
Over the past ten years or so, there has been a renewed interest in the moral education theory of punishment. The attractions of the theory are numerous, not least of which is that it offers hopes for a breakthrough in the apparently intractable debate between deterrence theorists and retributivists. Nevertheless, I believe there are severe problems with recent formulations of the theory. First, contemporary educationists all place great emphasis on autonomy, yet fail to show how continued respect for autonomy is (...) compatible with achievement of their stated punitive goals. Second, educationists have, and possibly must, take incarceration as the best available punitive sanction. Yet it is unclear how morally educative such a punishment will be. Third, contemporary educationists view punishment as a benefit to be conferred on an offender. But educationists have not succeeded in arguing that society is obligated to confer such benefits, nor have they adequately defended the Platonic moral psychology necessary to show that moral education is always a benefit to justly punished offenders. Fourth, contemporary educationists are hopeful that an indeterminate sentencing policy can be avoided, but I argue that such a policy is an ineliminable component of an educationist justification of punishment. Finally, I raise some doubts about the scope that educationist goals ought to have in any comprehensive theory of punishment. (shrink)
_Ethical Theory: An Anthology_ is an authoritative collection of key essays by top scholars in the field, addressing core issues including consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics, as well as traditionally underrepresented topics such as moral knowledge and moral responsibility. Brings together seventy-six classic and contemporary pieces by renowned philosophers, from classic writing by Hume and Kant to contemporary writing by Derek Parfit, Susan Wolf, and Judith Jarvis Thomson Guides students through key areas in the field, among them consequentialism, deontology, contractarianism, (...) and virtue ethics Includes coverage of metaethics, normative ethics, and practical ethics Reaches beyond traditional texts by also including important, but usually underrepresented, topics such as moral knowledge, moral standing, moral responsibility, and ethical particularism Raises questions about the status and rational authority of morality. (shrink)
The contents of the inaugural volume of Oxford Studies in Metaethics nicely mirror the variety of issues that make this area of philosophy so interesting. The volume opens with Peter Railton's exploration of some central features of normative guidance, the mental states that underwrite it, and its relationship to our reasons for feeling and acting. In the next offering, Terence Cuneo takes up the case against expressivism, arguing that its central account of the nature of moral judgments is badly mistaken. (...) Terence Horgan and Mark Timmons, two of the most prominent contemporary expressivists, then offer their take on how expressivism manages to avoid a different objection-that of collapsing into an objectionable form of relativism. Daniel Jacobson and Justin D'Arms next offer an article that continues their research program devoted to exploring the extent to which values might depend upon, or be constrained by, human psychology. Ralph Wedgwood engages in some classical metaethical conceptual analysis, seeking to explicate the meaning of ought. Mark van Roojen then contributes a new take on the Moral Twin Earth Argument, a prominent anti-realist puzzle advanced in the early 1990s by Horgan and Timmons. -/- Allan Gibbard next presents his latest thoughts on the nature of moral feelings and moral concepts, crucial elements in the overall project of defending the expressivism he is so well known for. James Dreier then takes up the details of Gibbard's recent efforts to provide a solution to what many view as the most serious difficulty for expressivism, namely, the Frege-Geach problem. Dreier identifies difficulties in Gibbard's expressivist account, and offers a suggestion for their solution. Sergio Tenenbaum explores the concept of a direction of fit, relied on so heavily nowadays in accounts of moral motivation. Nadeem Hussain and Nishiten Shah then consider the merits of Christine Korsgaard's influential critique of moral realism. T. M. Scanlon's widely-discussed buck-passing account of value attracts the critical eye of Pekka Väyrynen, who attempts to reveal the reasons that we might resist it. Derek Parfit's contribution concludes this volume, with an article on normativity that presents his most recent thinking on this fundamental notion. (shrink)
Metaethics is the branch of knowledge that considers the foundational issues of morality, and deals especially with the nature of ethical statements. Philosophers doing metaethics ask vital and fundamental questions such as these: • is morality merely conventional, or are there objective standards of right and wrong? • how can we gain moral knowledge? • why should we be moral? • can there be a science of morality? Over the past thirty years, there has been a great surge of interest (...) in metaethics. Almost every university offers courses in this area; new philosophical societies have formed that focus on metaethical issues; and an ever-increasing number of books and research articles attest to the growing interest in the field. Metaethics flourishes now as it has never done before and this new title in the Routledge series, Critical Concepts in Philosophy, meets the need for an authoritative reference work to make sense of the subject’s vast literature and the continuing explosion in research output. Edited by Russ Shafer-Landau, a prominent scholar in the field, this new Routledge Major Work is a four-volume collection of classic and contemporary contributions that cover all of the major issues in metaethics. The first of the four volumes is dedicated to the historical antecedents of current metaethical thinking. The second volume covers the central theories within metaethics. The third and fourth volumes bring together the most important thinking on all of the key questions that are the focus of contemporary research in metaethics. Together, the four volumes provide a one-stop resource for all interested researchers, teachers, and students to gain a thorough understanding of from where this thriving subdiscipline has emerged, and where it is today. With a large, comprehensive introduction, newly written by the editor, which place the collected material in its historical and intellectual context, Metaethics is an essential work of reference and is destined to be valued by metaethicists—as well as those working in allied areas such as metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind—as a vital research tool. (shrink)
Oxford Studies in Metaethics is the only publication devoted exclusively to original philosophical work in the foundations of ethics. It provides an annual selection of much of the best new scholarship being done in the field.