In his book The Moral Problem and in a recent issue of this journal, Michael Smith claims to refute any theory which construes the relationship between moral judgements and motivation as contingent and rationally optional. Smith’s argument fails. In showing how it fails, I shall make three claims. First, a concern for what is right, where this is read de dicto, does not amount to moral fetishism. Second, it is not always morally preferable to care about what is right, where (...) this is read de re. Third, the externalist can account for why a good and strong-willed person is reliably motivated in accordance with her moral judgements without appealing to a basic moral motive to do what is right, where this is read de dicto. (shrink)
The aims of this paper are fourfold. The first aim is to characterize two distinct forms of circumstantial moral luck and illustrate how they are implicitly recognized in pre-theoretical moral thought. The second aim is to identify a significant difference between the ways in which these two kinds of circumstantial luck are morally relevant. The third aim is to show how the acceptance of circumstantial moral luck relates to the acceptance of resultant moral luck. The fourth aim is to defuse (...) a legitimate concern about accepting the existence of circumstantial moral luck, namely the fact that its existence implies substantial moral risks. (shrink)
According to some, taking moral testimony is a potentially decent way to exercise one's moral agency. According to others, it amounts to a failure to live up to minimal standards of moral worth. What's the issue? Is it conceptual or empirical? Is it epistemological or moral? Is there a ‘puzzle’ of moral testimony; or are there many, or none? I argue that there is no distinctive puzzle of moral testimony. The question of its legitimacy is as much a moral or (...) political as an epistemological question. Its answer is as much a matter of contingent empirical fact as a matter of a priori necessity. In the background is a mixture of normative and descriptive issues, including the value of autonomy, the nature of legitimate authority, and who to trust. (shrink)
Bart Streumer argues that it is not possible for us to believe the error theory, where by ‘error theory’ he means the claim that our normative beliefs are committed to the existence of normative properties even though such properties do not exist. In this paper, we argue that it is indeed possible to believe the error theory. First, we suggest a critical improvement to Streumer’s argument. As it stands, one crucial premise of that argument—that we cannot have a belief while (...) believing that there is no reason to have it—is implausibly strong. We argue that for his purposes, Streumer’s argument only requires a weaker premise, namely that we cannot rationally have a belief while believing that there is no reason to have it. Secondly, we go on to refute the improved argument. Even in its weaker form, Streumer’s argument is either invalid or the crucial premise should be rejected. (shrink)
Indifference is sometimes said to be a virtue. Perhaps more frequently it is said to be a vice. Yet who is indifferent; to what; and in what way is poorly understood, and frequently subject to controversy and confusion. This paper presents a framework for the interpretation and analysis of ethically significant forms of indifference in terms of how subjects of indifference are variously related to their objects in different circumstances; and how an indifferent orientation can be either more or less (...) dynamic, or more or less sensitive to the nature and state of its object. The resulting analysis is located in a wider context of moral psychology and ethical theory; in particular with respect to work on the virtues of care, empathy and other forms of affective engagement. During the course of this discussion, a number of recent claims associated with the ethics of care and empathy are shown to be either misleading or implausible. (shrink)
The paper distinguishes three strategies by means of which empirical discoveries about the nature of morality can be used to undermine moral judgements. On the first strategy, moral judgements are shown to be unjustified in virtue of being shown to rest on ignorance or false belief. On the second strategy, moral judgements are shown to be false by being shown to entail claims inconsistent with the relevant empirical discoveries. On the third strategy, moral judgements are shown to be false in (...) virtue of being shown to be unjustified; truth having been defined epistemologically in terms of justification. By interpreting three recent error theoretical arguments in light of these strategies, the paper evaluates the epistemological and metaphysical relevance of empirical discoveries about morality as a naturally evolved phenomenon. (shrink)
According to one influential view, requirements to elicit consent for medical interventions and other interactions gain their rationale from the respect we owe to each other as autonomous, or self-governing, rational agents. Yet the popular presumption that consent has a central role to play in legitimate intervention extends beyond the domain of cases where autonomous agency is present to cases where far from fully autonomous agents make choices that, as likely as not, are going to be against their own best (...) interest. The question how we should understand the rationale for eliciting consent in this range of ‘non-ideal’ cases is comparatively ill understood. In this paper, I explore the prospects of accounting for consent requirements in such ‘non-ideal’ cases by appealing to a set of agency-based interests; including an interest in playing a meaningful part in joint decisions affecting ourselves and others. (shrink)
The paper explores the consequences of adopting a moral error theory targeted at the notion of reasonable convergence. I examine the prospects of two ways of combining acceptance of such a theory with continued acceptance of moral judgements in some form. On the first model, moral judgements are accepted as a pragmatically intelligible fiction. On the second model, moral judgements are made relative to a framework of assumptions with no claim to reasonable convergence on their behalf. I argue that the (...) latter model shows greater promise for an error theorist whose commitment to moral thought is initially serious. (shrink)
This paper is about the relationship between two widely accepted and apparently conflicting claims about how we should understand the notion of ‘reason giving’ invoked in theorising about reasons for action. According to the first claim, reasons are given by facts about the situation of agents. According to the second claim, reasons are given by ends. I argue that the apparent conflict between these two claims is less deep than is generally recognised.
In this paper, I do three things. First, I say what I mean by a ‘companions in guilt’ argument in meta-ethics. Second, I distinguish between two kinds of argument within this family, which I call ‘arguments by entailment’ and ‘arguments by analogy’. Third, I explore the prospects for companions in guilt arguments by analogy. During the course of this discussion, I identify a distinctive variety of argument, which I call ‘arguments by absorption’. I argue that this variety of argument inherits (...) some of the weaknesses of standard arguments by analogy and entailment without obviously adding to their strength. (shrink)
Darwin’s treatment of morality in The Descent of Man has generated a wide variety of responses among moral philosophers. Among these is the dismissal of evolution as irrelevant to ethics by Darwin’s contemporary Henry Sidgwick; the last, and arguably the greatest, of the Nineteenth Century British Utilitarians. This paper offers a re-examination of Sidgwick’s response to evolutionary considerations as irrelevant to ethics and the absence of any engagement with Darwin’s work in Sidgwick’s main ethical treatise, The Methods of Ethics . (...) This assessment of Sidgwick’s response to Darwin’s work is shown to have significance for a number of ongoing controversies in contemporary metaethics. (shrink)
This paper explores the claim that someone can reasonably consider themselves to be under a duty to respect the autonomy of a person who does not have the capacities normally associated with substantial self-governance.
Intuitions are widely assumed to play an important evidential role in ethical inquiry. In this paper I critically discuss a recently influential claim that the epistemological credentials of ethical intuitions are undermined by their causal pedigree and functional role. I argue that this claim is exaggerated. In the course of doing so I argue that the challenge to ethical intuitions embodied in this claim should be understood not only as a narrowly epistemological challenge, but also as a substantially ethical one. (...) I argue that this fact illuminates the epistemology of ethical intuitions. (shrink)
This paper concerns a prima facie tension between the claims that (a) agents have normative reasons obtaining in virtue of the nature of the options that confront them, and (b) there is a non-trivial connection between the grounds of normative reasons and the upshots of sound practical reasoning. Joint commitment to these claims is shown to give rise to a dilemma. I argue that the dilemma is avoidable on a response dependent account of normative reasons accommodating both (a) and (b) (...) by yielding (a) as a substantial constraint on sound practical reasoning. This fact is shown to have significance for the contemporary dialectic between moral realists and their opponents. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to identify and evaluate some of the most serious objections to the view that morality is a social construction. Among the objections considered are the claims that this view is incoherent; that it over-generates moral truths; that it under-generates moral truths; that it fails to capture the modal status of some moral truths; and that it fails to account for the phenomenology of moral experience. In each case, the objections are found wanting. During the (...) course of the paper, the social constructivist view is critically compared with a range of other metaethical views, including moral realism and other forms of constructivism. (shrink)
Recent years have seen the emergence of a new brand of moral philosopher. Straddling the gap between academia on the one hand, and the world of law, medicine, and politics on the other, bioethicists have appeared, offering advice on ethical issues to a wider public than the philosophy classroom. Some bioethicists, like Peter Singer, have achieved wide notoriety in the public realm with provocative arguments that challenge widely held beliefs about the relative moral status of animals, human foetuses and newborn (...) babies. Other bioethicists practice their trade with greater protection from public scrutiny, confining their thoughts to committees in government circles, universities, charitable institutions, or hospitals. But what exactly is it that bioethicists have to offer in such contexts? What sort of expertise do bioethicists have that justifies their employment on these committees, or the time and space accorded to their views on television and the radio, or in newspapers and magazines? In spite of being an expanding group of professionals who attract large sums of private and public funding, bioethicists are sometimes met with suspicion or even hostility, both inside and outside academia. One common criticism is that the presence of bioethicists is unproductive in practical bioethical debate. In light of this criticism one might wonder why the relevant funding bodies have not spotted the hoax and withdrawn their funding. Certainly, if bioethicists.. (shrink)
It is a popular view thatpractical deliberation excludes foreknowledge of one's choice. Wolfgang Spohn and Isaac Levi have argued that not even a purely probabilistic self-predictionis available to thedeliberator, if one takes subjective probabilities to be conceptually linked to betting rates. It makes no sense to have a betting rate for an option, for one's willingness to bet on the option depends on the net gain from the bet, in combination with the option's antecedent utility, rather than on the offered (...) odds. And even apart from this consideration, assigning probabilities to the options among which one is choosing is futile since such probabilities could be of no possible use in choice. The paper subjects these arguments to critical examination and suggests that, appearances notwithstanding, practical deliberation need not crowd outself-prediction. (shrink)
Does the ethical value of a work of art ever contribute to its aesthetic value? I argue that when conventionally interpreted as a request for a conceptual analysis the answer to this question is indeterminate. I then propose a different interpretation of the question on which it is understood as a substantial and normative question internal to the practice of aesthetic criticism.
Abstract The paper explicates a set of criteria the joint satisfaction of which is taken to qualify moral judgements as cognitive. The paper examines evidence that some moral judgements meet these criteria, and relates the resulting conception of moral judgements to ongoing controversies about cognitivism in ethics.
_Real Metaphysics_ brings together new articles by leading metaphysicians to honour Hugh Mellor's outstanding contribution to metaphysics. Some of the most outstanding minds of current times shed new light on all the main topics in metaphysics: truth, causation, dispositions and properties, explanation, and time. At the end of the book, Hugh Mellor responds to the issues raised by each of the thirteen contributors and gives us new insight into his own highly influential work on metaphysics.
Real Metaphysics brings together new articles by leading metaphysicians to honour Hugh Mellor's outstanding contribution to metaphysics. Some of the most outstanding minds of current times shed new light on all the main topics in metaphysics: truth, causation, dispositions and properties, explanation, and time. At the end of the book, Hugh Mellor responds to the issues raised by each of the thirteen contributors and gives us new insight into his own highly influential work on metaphysics.
Indifference is often described as a vice. Yet who is indifferent; to what; and in what way is poorly understood, and frequently subject to controversy and confusion. This paper proposes a framework for the interpretation and analysis of ethically problematic forms of indifference in terms of how different states of indifference can be either more or less dynamic, or more or less sensitive to the nature and state of their object.
According to one version of objectivism about value, ethical and other evaluative claims have a fixed truth-value independently of who makes them or the society in which they happen to live (c.f. Davidson 2004, 42). Subjectivists about value deny this claim. According to subjectivism so understood, ethical and other evaluative claims have no fixed truth-value, either because their truth-value is dependent on who makes them, or because they have no truth-value at all.
This issue of The Monist was edited in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. As the submissions came in, millions of people across the globe were infecting each other with the coronavirus ‘Covid-19’ in buses and on trains; in bars and in hotels; in airports and hospitals; in homes and universities. During parts of 2020, the presence of this deadly virus made national governments ‘lock down’ their economies and ‘lock up’ their citizens in a manner that has not previously been (...) seen in modern peacetime. Long after this extraordinary event, people will still be asking themselves what really happened. (shrink)
This paper explores the prospects of different forms of moral error theory. It is argued that only a suitably local error theory would make good sense of the fact that it is possible to give and receive genuinely good moral advice.
The paper examines the plausibility of analytical dispositionalism about practical reason, according to which the following claims are conceptual truths about common sense ethical discourse: i) Ethics: agents have reasons to act in some ways rather than others, and ii) Metaphysical Modesty: there is no such thing as a response independent normative reality. By elucidating two uncontroversial assumptions which are fundamental to the common sense commitment to ethics, I argue that common sense ethical discourse is most plausibly construed as committed (...) to the denial of metaphysical modesty, and thereby as committed to the existence of a response independent normative reality. (shrink)
The Cambridge philosopher Frank Ramsey died tragically young, but had already established himself as one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century. Besides groundbreaking work in philosophy, particularly in logic, language, and metaphysics, he created modern decision theory and made substantial contributions to mathematics and economics. In these original essays, written to commemorate the centenary of Ramsey's birth, a distinguished international team of contributors offer fresh perspectives on his work and show how relevant it is to present-day concerns.Each (...) of the ten essays addresses fundamental and contentious issues, including success semantics, propositions, infinity, conditionals, conceptual analysis, decision theory, and intergenerational justice. They also shed light on the intellectual context in which Ramsey developed his thought, including his relationship with such leading thinkers as John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The volume will be indispensable reading for anyone interested in the recent history of philosophy and economics, as well as for practitioners and students of logic, metaphysics, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, decision theory, and welfare economics. (shrink)
Recent work in English speaking moral philosophy has seen the rise to prominence of the idea of a normative reason1. By ‘normative reasons’ I mean the reasons agents appeal to in making rational claims on each other. Normative reasons are good reasons on which agents ought to act, even if they are not actually motivated accordingly2. To this extent, normative reasons are distinguishable from the motivating reasons agents appeal to in reason explanations. Even agents who fail to act on their (...) normative reasons can be said to act on reasons insofar as their actions are rationally intelligible. Thus, when it is said that agents may never use violence in self-defence, this is naturally interpreted to mean that there are powerful normative reasons not to use violence even in selfdefence, even though some agents would use violence in selfdefence. Normative reasons are reasons to pursue ends, where by ends I mean a subset of objects of possible desire, such as taking a stroll or giving all your money to charity. The set of objects of possible desire might include items that are not straightforwardly ends of action. For example, you might want the world to be a better place, or want a secure basis in knowledge of relevant facts to be assigned the highest priority in the assessment of people’s preferences. Objects of possible desire are a subset of objects of possible response, where by ‘response’ I mean the whole range of prepositional attitudes, including desires, preferences, beliefs, commitments and so on. I use the term ‘option’ to refer to objects of possible response in this wider sense. Recent philosophical claims about the grounds of normative reasons can be divided into two strands. Each strand takes as its starting point what is perceived to be a fundamental constraint embodied in normative reason attributions.. (shrink)
Indifference is sometimes described as a virtue. Yet who is indifferent; to what; and in what way is poorly understood, and frequently subject to controversy and confusion. This paper proposes a framework for the interpretation and analysis of ethically acceptable forms of indifference in terms of how different states of indifference can be either more or less dynamic, or more or less sensitive to the nature and state of their object.
According to moral error theory, morality is something invented, constructed or made; but mistakenly presents itself to us as if it were an independent object of discovery. According to moral constructivism, morality is something invented, constructed or made. In this paper I argue that constructivism is both compatible with, and in certain cases explanatory of, some of the allegedly mistaken commitments to which arguments for moral skepticism appeal. I focus on two particular allegations that are sometimes associated with moral skepticism. (...) The first is the suspicion that in making moral claims we are merely projecting our attitudes onto the world. The second is the suspicion that in arguing for and against moral views we are merely attempting to influence each other to give similar answers to questions that have no determinate answer. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to trace the development of a particular current of thought known under the label ‘pragmatism’ in the last part of the Twentieth century and the beginning of the Twenty-first. I address three questions about this current of thought. First, what is its actual historical development? Second, does it constitute a single, coherent, philosophical outlook? Third, in what form, if any, does it constitute an attractive philosophical outlook. In the course of addressing these questions I (...) identify a potential tension between the two main proponents of this current of thought (Huw Price and Simon Blackburn), namely the attitude they take to what I refer to as their ‘naturalist master narrative’. (shrink)
In this chapter I critically discuss the dismissal of the philosophical significance of facts about human evolution and historical development in the work of W. D Ross. I address Ross’s views about the philosophical significance of the emerging human sciences of his time in two of his main works, namely The Right and the Good and The Foundations of Ethics. I argue that the debate between Ross and his chosen interlocutors (Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim and Lucien Levy-Bruhl) shows striking similarities (...) with parallel debates in contemporary moral philosophy. (shrink)
In recent years there has been a growing interest among mainstream Anglophone moral philosophers in the empirical study of human morality, including its evolution and historical development. This chapter compares these developments with an earlier point of contact between moral philosophy and the moral sciences in the early decades of the Twentieth century, as manifested in some of the less frequently discussed arguments of G. E. Moore and W. D. Ross. It is argued that a critical appreciation of Moore and (...) Ross’s response to the emerging moral sciences of their day has significant implications for contemporary moral epistemology. The chapter also offers a novel interpretation of G. E. Moore’s ‘open question argument’. (shrink)
Book synopsis: Assisted reproduction challenges and reinforces traditional understandings of family, kinship and identity. Sperm, egg and embryo donation and surrogacy raise questions about relatedness for parents, children and others involved in creating and raising a child. How socially, morally or psychologically significant is a genetic link between a donor-conceived child and their donor? What should children born through assisted reproduction be told about their origins? Does it matter if a parent is genetically unrelated to their child? How do experiences (...) differ for men and women using collaborative reproduction in heterosexual or same-sex couples, single parent families or co-parenting arrangements? What impact does the wider cultural, socio-legal and regulatory context have? In this multidisciplinary book, an international team of academics and clinicians bring together new empirical research and social science, legal and bioethical perspectives to explore the key issue of relatedness in assisted reproduction. (shrink)