In this article I consider the recent revival of moral intuitionism and focus on its prospects, especially by thinking about what it means to understand a moral claim. From this I consider the implications for both generalists and particularists in normative ethical theory, or at least those who are also intuitionists. I conclude that the prospects for both theoretical families are bleak, and hence that intuitionism itself is in trouble and has some work to do.
The descriptions 'good' and 'bad' are examples of thin concepts, as opposed to 'kind' or 'cruel' which are thick concepts. SimonKirchin provides one of the first full-length studies of the crucial distinction between 'thin' and 'thick' concepts, which is fundamental to many debates in ethics, aesthetics and epistemology.
_Arguing about Metaethics_ collects together some of the most exciting contemporary work in metaethics in one handy volume. In it, many of the most influential philosophers in the field discuss key questions in metaethics: Do moral properties exist? If they do, how do they fit into the world as science conceives it? If they don’t exist, then how should we understand moral thought and language? What is the relation between moral judgement and motivation? As well as these questions, this volume (...) discusses a wide range of issues including moral objectivity, truth and moral judgements, moral psychology, thick evaluative concepts and moral relativism. The editors provide lucid introductions to each of the eleven themed sections in which they show how the debate lies and outline the arguments of the papers. _Arguing about Metaethics_ is an ideal resource text for students at upper undergraduate or postgraduate level. (shrink)
In a recent collection of papers –Moral Particularism 1– some writers argue against a particularist explanation of thick ethical features, particularist in the sense developed by Jonathan Dancy. In this piece I argue that particularists can tackle what I regard as the most interesting argument put forward by these writers, an argument I call the Counting Argument. My aim is twofold. First, I wish to make clear exactly what the debate between particularists and their opponents about the thick rests on. (...) Secondly, I do not wish to provide a ‘knock‐down’ argument to show particularism as true, but merely to push the onus back onto particularism's opponents and show that far more needs to be said.One last introductory comment. After some necessary scene‐setting in the first section, where I explain how the philosophical ground is carved up and introduce some terminology, I indicate why this debate is fundamental in ethical theory although I don’t pursue the idea here. (shrink)
This book, designed for high-level undergraduates, postgraduates and fellow researchers, introduces the reader to the main areas of metaethical work today. As we as introducing familiar positions and arguments, Kirchin argues clearly and engagingly for a set of distinctive and arresting views.
This paper is a reply to Simon Blackburn's 'Is Objective Moral Justification Possible on a Quasi-realist Foundation?' Inquiry 42, pp. 213-28. Blackburn attempts to show how his version of non-cognitivism - quasi-realist projectivism - can evade the threat of ethical relativism, the thought that all ways of living are as ethically good as each other and every ethical judgment is as ethically true as any other. He further attempts to show that his position is superior in this respect to, (...) amongst other accounts, sensibility theory. According to Blackburn, sensibility theory succumbs easily to the relativistic challenge because it depends on some 'substantive' notion of truth. It is agreed with Blackburn that the threat of relativism is less of a threat to him than at first appears, although I think that it retains some menace, but not agreed that sensibility theorists cannot also counter the threat of relativism. The point is that the threat of ethical relativism depends less on truth than Blackburn supposes. Thus sensibility theorists can counter ethical relativism in much the same way that quasi-realist projectivists can. (shrink)
What can reason do for us and what can't it do? This is the question examined by Herbert A. Simon, who received the 1978 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences "for his pioneering work on decision-making processes in economic organizations." The ability to apply reason to the choice of actions is supposed to be one of the defining characteristics of our species. In the first two chapters, the author explores the nature and limits of human reason, comparing and evaluating the (...) major theoretical frameworks that have been erected to explain reasoning processes. He also discusses the interaction of thinking and emotion in the choice of our actions. In the third and final chapter, the author applies the theory of bounded rationality to social institutions and human behavior, and points out the problems created by limited attention span human inability to deal with more than one difficult problem at a time. He concludes that we must recognize the limitations on our capabilities for rational choice and pursue goals that, in their tentativeness and flexibility, are compatible with those limits. (shrink)
This volume of twelve papers explores the phenomenon of thin and thick concepts. Very general evaluative concepts are referred to as thin concepts, whilst more specific ones are termed thick concepts. An international team of experts explores a number of questions that arise from this distinction. How do the descriptive and evaluative functions or elements of thick concepts combine with each other? Are these functions or elements separable in the first place? Can we mark interesting further distinctions between how thick (...) ethical concepts work and how other thick concepts work, such as those found in aesthetics and epistemology? These questions, and others, touch on some of the deepest philosophical issues about the evaluative and normative. They force us to think hard about the place of the evaluative in a nonevaluative world, and raise fascinating issues about how language works. (shrink)
In this article I compare Ryle's notion of a thick description with Williams' notion of a thick concept so as to illuminate our understanding of both. In doing so I suggest lines of thought that show us that the notion of 'evaluation' in play in many people's writings should be broadened. Doing so will help to lessen the credibility of separationist notions of thick concepts.
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 ...
In this paper I discuss the shapelessnesss hypothesis, which is often referred to and relied on by certain sorts of ethical and evaluative cognitivist, and which they use primarily in arguing against a certain, influential form of noncognitivism. I aim to (i) set out exactly what the hypothesis is; (ii) show that its original and traditional use is left wanting; and (iii) show that there is some rehabilitation on offer that might have a chance of convincing neutrals.
I consider the ‘normative relevance’ argument and the idea of grounding. I diagnose why there appears to be a tension between the conclusion that we are tempted to reach and the intuition that the normative is grounded in or by the non‐normative. Much of what I say turns on the idea of the normative itself. In short, I think that concentrating on this idea can help us see how the tension arises. My aim is to encourage people to reconceptualize the (...) debate so as to begin to offer additional insight. To that end, I spend some time contrasting normativity with evaluation, and then think how the debate may alter if we run it with the latter. I doubt that doing so will solve any problem, and I suspect that what I say will be controversial anyway. But there is some value to changing matters nonetheless. The idea that runs through this paper is that the whole issue is so complex and deep that we should not narrowly construe it with reference only to normativity. (shrink)
In recent times, comments have been made and arguments advanced in support of metaethical positions based on the phenomenology of ethical experience – in other words, the feel that accompanies our ethical experiences. In this paper I cast doubt on whether ethical phenomenology supports metaethical positions to any great extent and try to tease out what is involved in giving a phenomenological argument. I consider three such positions: independent moral realism (IMR), another type of moral realism – sensibility theory – (...) and noncognitivism. Phenomenological arguments have been used in support of the first two positions, but my general claim is that ethical phenomenology supports no metaethical position over any other.I discuss two types of phenomenological argument that might be offered in support of different types of moral realism, although I couch my debate in terms of IMR. The first argument asserts that ethical properties are not experienced in the way that rivals to IMR say we experience them. Against this I claim that it is odd to think that one could experience ethical properties as any metaethical theory characterizes them. The second argument is more complicated: the general thought is that an adequate metaethical theory should not distort our ethical experience unduly. I consider one aspect of our ethical experience – that there is some ethical authority to which our judgements answer – in order to illustrate this idea. I discuss why IMRealists might think that this phenomenon supports their position. Against them I claim that other metaethical positions might be able to accommodate the phenomenon of ethical authority. Even if they cannot, then, secondly, I argue that there are other aspects of our ethical experience that sit more naturally with other metaethical positions. Hence, one cannot argue that ethical phenomenology as a whole supports one theory over any others. (shrink)
Moral particularism is a contentious position at present and seems likely to be so for the foreseeable future. In this Introduction, I outline and detail its essential claim, which I take to be, roughly, that what can be a reason that helps to make one action right need not be a reason that always helps to make actions right. This claim challenges a central assumption on which most, if not all, normative ethical theories are supposedly based. We owe this way (...) of characterizing moral particularism to Jonathan Dancy, around whose writings much of the present debate revolves. Key Words: ethics generalism particularism reasons valency. (shrink)
I highlight a tension within the moral error theoretic stance. Although I do not show that it is fatal, I believe the tension is problematic. In stating the tension I outline a conception of the common moral background against which it arises. I also discuss aspects of the similar error theories developed by John Mackie and Richard Joyce in order to show the tension at work.
This paper examines the advantages and disadvantages of ethical intuitionism and is an extended critical discussion of an edited collection Rethinking Intutionism (ed.) Stratton-Lake (OUP) that has been much discussed. (My piece is one of the first discussions of it.) Along other matters, I argue for the original and fairly controversial claim that in order for intuitionism to hold water, we must allow that what is involved in full moral understanding can differ from person to person, rather than thinking that (...) if a claim can be intuited rather than proved, everyone who intuits it understands it in the same way. (shrink)
In this paper I argue for a particularist understanding of thick evaluative features, something that is rarely done and is fairly controversial. That is, I argue that sometimes that the fact that an act is just, say, could, in certain situations, provide one with a reason against performing the action. Similarly, selfishness could be right-making. To show this, I take on anti-particularist ideas from two much-cited pieces (by Crisp, and by McNaughton and Rawling), in the influential Moral Particularism anthology (eds.) (...) Hooker and Little (OUP). My paper has already been cited by other people working in the field. (shrink)
In this excellent, clearly written, and clear sighted book, Terence Cuneo defends moral realism from a variety of different attacks. Cuneo is particularly interested in the charge that the moral facts that realists posit are suspect because they are unnatural and queer. He addresses a number of arguments against realism, not least Mackie's Argument from Queerness. What makes the book distinctive is its strategy. Cuneo is keen to show that moral facts and epistemic facts are very similar, if not inseparably (...) intertwined in many cases, and to argue that we should not find moral realism odd since we do not find epistemic realism odd. Indeed, towards the start he begins with a number of quotations from those who have cast doubt on moral realism, including Mackie, who themselves point out that there could be parallels between the moral and epistemic cases, but who do not pursue those parallels to any great degree. Cuneo aims to fill this gap, and to do so in favour of the realist. I agree entirely with Cuneo's conclusions and …. (shrink)
In this paper, I concentrate on the notion of default valency, drawing on some of the distinctions made and thoughts given in my Introduction. I motivate why the notion is important for particularists to have up their sleeves by outlining a recent debate between particularists and generalists. I then move to the main aim of the piece which is to discuss how anyone, particularist and generalist alike, might seek to distinguish reason-generating features into different types. My main aim is not (...) to argue for a specific way of dividing such features into types but to present various taxonomical options. Key Words: ethics • features • generalism • particularism • valency. (shrink)
Derek Parfit was one of the world’s leading philosophers. His _On What Matters_ was the most eagerly awaited book in philosophy for many years. _Reading Parfit: On What Matters _is an essential overview and assessment of volumes 1 and 2 of Parfit’s monumental work by a team of international contributors, and includes responses by Parfit himself. It discusses central features of Parfit’s book, including the structure and nature of reasons; the ideas underlying moral principles; Parfit’s discussions of consequentialism, contractualism and (...) Kantian deontology; and his metaethical ideas and arguments. Reading Parfit will be central reading for students of ethics and anyone seeking a deeper understanding of one of the most important works of philosophy published in the last fifty years. (shrink)
What kind of properties are moral qualities, such as rightness, badness, etc? Some ethicists doubt that there are any such properties; they maintain that thinking that something is morally wrong (for example) is comparable to thinking that something is a unicorn or a ghost. These "moral error theorists" argue that the world simply does not contain the kind of properties or objects necessary to render our moral judgments true. This radical form of moral skepticism was championed by the philosopher John (...) Mackie (1917-1981). This anthology is a collection of philosophical essays critically examining Mackie’s view. (shrink)
At the forefront of international concerns about global legislation and regulation, a host of noted environmentalists and business ethicists examine ethical issues in consumption from the points of view of environmental sustainability, economic development, and free enterprise.
This article treats the political thought of Simón Bolívar, a leading figure in South America's struggle for independence. It describes Bolívar's ideas by reference to both their broadly Atlantic origins and their specifically American concerns, arguing that they comprise a theory of `republican imperialism', paradoxically proposing an essentially imperial project as a means of winning and consolidating independence from European rule. This basic tension is traced through Bolívar's discussions of revolution, constitutions, and territorial unification, and then used to frame a (...) comparison with the founders of the United States. It suggests, in closing, that contextual similarities amongst the American revolutions make them particularly apt subjects for comparative study of the history of political thought. (shrink)
Acquaintance with the Absolute is the first collected volume of essays devoted to the thought of Yves r. Simon, a thinker widely regarded as one of the great teachers and philosophers of our time. Each piece in this collection of essays thoughtfully complements the others to offer a qualifiedly panoramic look at the work and thought of philosopher Yves R. Simon. The six essays presented not only treat some major areas of Simon’s thought, pointing out their lucidity (...) and originality, but also his underpinning metaphysics, so central to his thought. Rather than attempt to present all aspects of this patient, careful, and penetrating thinker, these essays select enough to situate Simon’s philosophical excavations – especially his moral, political and action theory – among contemporary Thomistic philosophy. In defending philosophy as a valid way of knowing, Simon gives us an approach we can use to avoid contemporary dilemmas in the philosophy of science. Simon holds that philosophical truths both justify scientific method as a way of knowing the real and provide a basis for distinguishing what is ontologically significant in a scientific theory from what is not. This view allows us to avoid the apparently irrational conclusions of quantum mechanics without reducing scientific theories to being mere projections of our conceptual systems. Though aspects of some of the essays are suited for students of Simon’s thought, the essays as a whole introduce the less familiar reader to this great thinking and, further, invite him or her to pursue Simon’s own texts. The volume is enhanced by the inclusion of a definitive Yves R. Simon bibliography 1923-1996. The annotated bibliography is cross-reference in detail, revealing the astonishing variety of topics Simon treated. (shrink)