Moral metasemantic theories explain how our moral thought and talk are about certain properties. Given the connection between what our moral terms are about and which moral claims are true, it might be thought that metasemantic theorising can justify first-order ethical conclusions, thus providing a novel way of doing moral epistemology. In this paper, we spell out one kind of argument from metasemantic theories to normative ethical conclusions, and argue that it fails to transmit justification from premises to conclusion. We (...) give three reasons for this transmission failure, which together pose a serious challenge to such metasemantic arguments. (shrink)
In ‘Measuring the Consequences of Rules’, Holly Smith presents two problems involving the indeterminacy of compliance, which she takes to be fatal for all forms of rule-utilitarianism. In this reply, I attempt to dispel both problems.
We are less optimistic than Madole & Harden that family-based genome-wide association studies (GWASs) will lead to significant second-generation causal knowledge. Despite bearing some similarities, family-based GWASs and randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are not identical. Most RCTs assess a relatively homogenous causal stimulus as a treatment, whereas GWASs assess highly heterogeneous causal stimuli. Thus, GWAS results will not translate so easily into second-generation causal knowledge.
Debunking arguments in ethics contend that our moral beliefs have dubious evolutionary, cultural, or psychological origins—hence concluding that we should doubt such beliefs. Debates about debunking are often couched in coarse-grained terms—about whether our moral beliefs are justified or not, for instance. In this paper, I propose a more detailed Bayesian analysis of debunking arguments, which proceeds in the fine-grained framework of rational confidence. Such analysis promises several payoffs: it highlights how debunking arguments don’t affect all agents, but rather only (...) those agents who updated on their intuitions using a specific range of evidentiary weights; it underscores how the debunkers shouldn’t conclude that we should reduce confidence beyond some threshold, but rather only that we should reduce confidence by some amount; and it proposes a method of integrating different kinds of evidence—about the kinds of epistemic flaws at play, about the different possible origins of our moral beliefs, about the background normative assumptions we’re entitled to make—in order to arrive at a rational moral credence in light of debunking. (shrink)
A debunking argument contends that some target moral judgments were produced by unreliable processes and concludes that such judgments are unjustified. Debunking arguments face a regress challenge: to show that a process is unreliable at tracking the moral truth, we need to rely on other moral judgments. But we must show that these relied-upon judgments are also reliable, which requires yet a further set of judgments, whose reliability needs to be confirmed too, and so on. Some argue that the debunker (...) faces an insurmountable regress, which disables the debunking conclusion. In this paper, I explore and defuse this regress challenge. (shrink)
Suppose an agent is choosing between rescuing more people with a lower probability of success, and rescuing fewer with a higher probability of success. How should they choose? Our moral judgments about such cases are not well-studied, unlike the closely analogous non-moral preferences over monetary gambles. In this paper, I present an empirical study which aims to elicit the moral analogues of our risk preferences, and to assess whether one kind of evidence – concerning how they depend on outcome probabilities (...) – can debunk them. I find significant heterogeneity in our moral risk preferences – in particular, moral risk-seeking and risk-neutrality are surprisingly popular. I also find that subjects’ judgments aren’t probability-dependent, thus providing an empirical defence against debunking arguments from probability dependence. (shrink)
Debunking arguments use empirical evidence about our moral beliefs - in particular, about their causal origins, or about how they depend on various causes - in order to reach an epistemic conclusion about the trustworthiness of such beliefs. In this thesis, I investigate the scope and limits of debunking arguments, and their implications for what we should believe about morality. I argue that debunking arguments can in principle work - they are based on plausible epistemic premises, and at least some (...) of them avoid putative problems concerning regress and redundancy. However, I also argue that some debunking arguments fall short because they are insufficiently supported by the empirical evidence. By considering different objections, analyses, and a case study, I explore the conditions for a successful debunking argument. (shrink)