The ethics–mathematics analogy

Philosophy Compass 15 (1):e12641 (2019)
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Abstract

Ethics and mathematics have long invited comparisons. On the one hand, both ethical and mathematical propositions can appear to be knowable a priori, if knowable at all. On the other hand, mathematical propositions seem to admit of proof, and to enter into empirical scientific theories, in a way that ethical propositions do not. In this article, I discuss apparent similarities and differences between ethical (i.e., moral) and mathematical knowledge, realistically construed -- i.e., construed as independent of human mind and languages. I argue that some are are merely apparent, while others are of little consequence. There is a difference between the cases. But it is not an epistemological difference per se. The difference, surprisingly, is that ethical knowledge, if it is practical, cannot fail to be objective in a way that mathematical knowledge can. One upshot of the discussion is radicalization of Moore’s Open Question Argument. Another is that the concepts of realism and objectivity, which are widely identified, are actually in tension.

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Justin Clarke-Doane
Columbia University

References found in this work

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A Darwinian dilemma for realist theories of value.Sharon Street - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 127 (1):109-166.
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Realism, Mathematics, and Modality.Hartry Field - 1988 - Philosophical Topics 16 (1):57-107.

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