According to epistemic instrumentalists the normativity of evidence for belief is best explained in terms of the practical utility of forming evidentially supported beliefs. Traditional arguments for instrumentalism—arguments based on naturalism and motivation—lack suasive force against opponents. A new argument for the view—the Argument from Coincidence—is presented. The argument shows that only instrumentalists can avoid positing an embarrassing coincidence between the practical value of believing in accordance with one’s evidence, and the existence of reasons so to believe. Responses are considered (...) and shown to be inadequate. (shrink)
Moral error theories are often rejected by appeal to ‘companions in guilt’ arguments. The most popular form of companions in guilt argument takes epistemic reasons for belief as a ‘companion’ and proceeds by analogy. I show that this strategy fails. I claim that the companions in guilt theorist must understand epistemic reasons as evidential support relations if her argument is to be dialectically effective. I then present a dilemma. Either epistemic reasons are evidential support relations or they are not. If (...) they are not, then the companions in guilt argument fails. If they are, then a reduction of epistemic reasons to evidential support relations becomes available and, consequently, epistemic reasons cease to be a viable ‘companion’ for moral reasons. I recommend this structure of argument over existing strategies within the literature and defend my claims against recent objections from companions in guilt theorists. (shrink)
Moral judgments attempt to describe a reality that does not exist, so they are all false. This troubling view is known as the moral error theory. Christopher Cowie defends it against the most compelling counter-argument, the argument from analogy: Cowie shows that moral error theory does not compromise the practice of making epistemic judgments.
Traditional arguments for moral error theory are based on identifying a problem with the metaphysics of moral properties. I provide a new argument that is based on the inconsistency of first‐order moral judgments. I illustrate this using impossibility results in population axiology.
Arguments for some controversial positions in metaethics—typically moral scepticism or the moral error theory—are sometimes thought to overreach. They appear to entail sceptical or error‐theoretic views about non‐moral branches of thought in a sense that is costly or implausible. If this is true, those metaethical arguments should be rejected. This is the companions in guilt strategy in metaethics. In this article, the contemporary use of the companions in guilt strategy is explored and assessed. The methodology of the strategy is discussed, (...) and criteria for assessing specific instances of its use are identified. Prominent instances of its use in the contemporary literature are then examined. The focus is on those that take (a) epistemic judgment, (b) prudential judgment, and (c) mathematical judgment as “companions,” with a view to undermining the moral error theory and moral scepticism, respectively. (shrink)
Moral error theory has many troubling and counterintuitive consequences. It entails, for example, that actions we ordinarily think of as obviously wrong are not wrong at all. This simple observation is at the heart of much opposition to error theory. I provide a new defense against it. The defense is based on the impossibility of finding satisfying solutions to a wide range of puzzles and paradoxes in moral philosophy. It is a consequence of this that if any moral claims are (...) true, then a lot of highly troubling and counterintuitive moral claims must be in their number. This means that troubling and counterintuitive moral claims are everybody’s problem—not just error theorists’, but also their opponents’. Indeed, there is a sense in which this shared problem is worse for the opponents of error theory than for error theorists themselves. (shrink)
According to some contemporary nonnaturalists about normativity (e.g., Parfit, Scanlon, Dworkin), normative facts exist in an ontologically non-committing sense. These nonnaturalists face an explanatory burden. They must explain their claim that normative facts exist in such a sense. I identify criteria for an adequate explanation, and extract five distinct candidate explanations from the writings of these authors (based on causal efficacy, analogy with modality, fundamentality, domain-relativity and first-order considerations respectively). I assess each. None is both (a) informative and (b) recognizable (...) as a version of contemporary nonnaturalism. In light of this, I assess the best options for proponents of this view. (shrink)
The search for extraterrestrial life centres on the search for ‘biosignatures’. Yet there is little agreement within the scientific community with respect to what exactly it is for something to be a biosignature. Existing accounts are presented and criticised. An alternative is provided that resolves problems with existing accounts by distinguishing clearly between types and tokens.
In this article I assess the prospects for a particular kind of resolution to Moore’s Paradox. It is that Moore’s Paradox is explained by the existence of a constitutive norm on belief. I focus on a constitutive norm relates that relates belief to knowledge. I develop this explanation. I then present a challenge to it. Norm-based explanations of Moore’s Paradox must appeal to a ‘linking principle’ that explains what is wrong with violating the constitutive norm. But it is difficult to (...) articulate a plausible candidate linking-principle. I show this by canvassing the obvious candidates and articulating the problems with each. (shrink)
The Repugnant Conclusion is a controversial theorem about population size. It states that a sufficiently large population of lives that are barely worth living is better than a smaller population of high quality lives. This is highly counter-intuitive. It implies that we can improve the world by trading quality of life for quantity of lives. Can it be defended? Christopher Cowie explores these questions and unpacks the controversies surrounding the Repugnant Conclusion. He focuses on whether the truth of the Repugnant (...) Conclusion turns - as some have claimed - on the uncomfortable claim that many people's lives are actually bad for them and that even privileged people lead lives that are only just worth living. Highly recommended for those interested in ethics, applied ethics and population studies The Repugnant Conclusion will also be of interest to those in related disciplines such as economics, development studies, politics and international relations. (shrink)
Comparisons between morality and other 'companion' disciplines - such as mathematics, religion, or aesthetics - are commonly used in philosophy, often in the context of arguing for the objectivity of morality. This is known as the 'companions in guilt' strategy. It has been the subject of much debate in contemporary ethics and metaethics. This volume, the first full length examination of companions in guilt arguments, comprises an introduction by the editors and a dozen new chapters by leading authors in the (...) field. They examine the methodology of companions in guilt arguments and their use in responding to the moral error theory, as well as specific arguments that take mathematics, epistemic norms, or aesthetics as a 'companion', and the use of the companions in guilt strategy to vindicate claims to moral knowledge. Companions in Guilt Arguments in Metaethics is essential reading for advanced students and researchers working in moral theory and metaethics, as well as those in epistemology and philosophy of mathematics concerned with the intersection of these subjects with ethics. (shrink)
Metaethicists typically develop and assess their theories—in part—on the basis of the consistency of those theories with “ordinary” first-order normative judgment. They are, in this sense, “methodologically conservative.” This article shows that this methodologically conservative approach obstructs a proper assessment of the debate between internalists and externalists. Specifically, it obstructs one of the most promising readings of internalism. This is a reading—owed to Bernard Williams—in which internalism is part of a practically and politically motivated revision of the assessment of action. (...) The article uses this case study to highlight the role of methodological conservatism in contemporary metaethics more generally. (shrink)
It is often thought that the correct metaphysics and epistemology of reasons will be broadly unified across different kinds of reason: reasons for belief, and reasons for action. This approach is sometimes thought to be undermined by the contrasting natures of belief and of action: whereas belief appears to have the ‘constitutive aim’ of truth (or knowledge), action does not appear to have any such constitutive aim. I develop this disanalogy into a novel challenge to metanormative approaches by thinking about (...) disagreement. The constitutive aim of belief can play a role in adjudicating epistemic disagreements for which there is no analogue in practical disagreements. Consequently, we have more reason, all else being equal, to expect convergence in epistemic judgment than in practical judgment. This represents a prima facie challenge to the metanormative theorist because the extent of (suitably specified) disagreement in an area of thought is of prima facie significance for the metaphysics of that area of thought. (shrink)
We respond to Conor McHugh's claim that an evaluative account of the normative relation between belief and truth is preferable to a prescriptive account. We claim that his arguments fail to establish this. We then draw a more general sceptical conclusion: we take our arguments to put pressure on any attempt to show that an evaluative account will fare better than a prescriptive account. We briefly express scepticism about whether McHugh's more recent ‘fitting attitude’ account fares better.
Some subjectivist views of practical reasons entail that some people, in some cases, lack sufficient reasons to act as morality requires of them. This is often thought to form the basis of an objection to these subjectivist views: ‘the amoralism objection’. This objection has been developed at length by Julia Markovits in her recent book Moral Reason. But Markovits—alongside many other proponents of this objection—does not explicitly consider that her objection is premised on a claim that her opponents deny on (...) first-order grounds, often as part of a socially and politically motivated revisionism about the assessment of agents and their actions. As such, the amoralism objection as she presents it misses its dialectical mark. This has interesting consequences for subjectivism—and the methodology behind it—more generally. (shrink)
According to a standard view, paradoxes are arguments with plausible premises that entail an implausible conclusion. This is false. In many paradoxes the premises are not plausibleprecisely becausethey entail an implausible conclusion. Obvious responses to this problem—including that the premises are individually plausible and that they are plausible setting aside the fact that they entail an implausible conclusion—are shown to be inadequate. A very different view of paradox is then introduced. This is a functionalist view according to which paradoxes are (...) the kinds of things that puzzle people in characteristic ways. It is claimed that this view, too, fails and for the very same reason. The result is a new puzzle about the nature of paradoxes. (shrink)
Avi Loeb has defended the hypothesis that the interstellar object, ‘Oumuamua, detected in 2017, is in fact an extraterrestrial artefact. His hypothesis has been widely rejected by the scientific community. On examination however it is not clear why. The puzzle is at the level of argument structure. The scientific community's responses to Loeb's hypothesis appear to point to explanations of ‘Oumuamua's properties that are mere possibilities. Yet this is something that Loeb does not contest. I appeal to broadly philosophical considerations (...) to understand and bolster the response to Loeb. These considerations concern the structure of his argument, the role of prior confidences within it, and the presence of ‘unconceived alternative’ explanations. I then generalise. ‘Oumuamua will surely not be the last object that does not admit of straightforward natural explanation and that is claimed to be evidence of an extraterrestrial artefact. I use the preceding discussion of Loeb's argument and the scientific community's response to make some general remarks for future debate about similar cases. (shrink)
In engaging with the repugnant conclusion many contemporary philosophers, economists and social scientists make claims about what a minimally good life is like. For example, some claim that such a life is quite good by contemporary standards, and use this to defend classical utilitarianism, whereas others claim that it is not, and use this to uphold the challenge that the repugnant conclusion poses to classical utilitarianism. I argue that many of these claims—by both sides—are not well-founded. We have no sufficiently (...) clear sense of what a minimally good life is like. It is a result of this that the repugnant conclusion doesn’t license us in drawing any interesting conclusions. (shrink)