Internalists Beware—we Might all be Amoralists!

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91 (1):1 - 14 (2013)


Standard motivational internalism is the claim that by a priori or conceptual necessity, a psychological state is a moral opinion only if it is suitably related to moral motivation. Many philosophers, the authors of this paper included, have assumed that this claim is supported by intuitions to the effect that amoralists?people not suitably related to such motivation?lack moral opinions proper. In this paper we argue that this assumption is mistaken, seeming plausible only because defenders of standard internalism have failed to consider the possibility that our own actual moral practice as a whole is one where moral opinions fail to motivate in the relevant way. To show this, we present a cynical hypothesis according to which the tendency for people to act in accordance with their moral opinions ultimately stems from a desire to appear moral. This hypothesis is most likely false, but we argue, on both intuitive and methodological grounds, that it is conceptually possible that it correctly describes our actual moral opinions. If correct, this refutes standard motivational internalism. Further, we propose an explanation of why many have seemingly internalist intuitions. Such intuitions, we argue, stem from the fact that standard amoralist cases allow (or even suggest) that we apprehend the putative moral opinions of amoralists as radically different from how we understand actual paradigmatic moral opinions. Given this, it is reasonable to understand them as not being moral opinions proper. However, since these intuitions rest on substantial a posteriori assumptions about actual moral opinions, they provide no substantial a priori constraints on theories of moral judgment


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Author Profiles

Gunnar Björnsson
Stockholm University
Ragnar Francén
University of Gothenburg (PhD)

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