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 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)
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 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)
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)
This article argues for a systemic conception of freedom as non-domination. It does so by engaging with the debate on the so-called coalition problem. The coalition problem arises because non-domination holds that groups can be agents of power, while also insisting that freedom be robust. Consequently, it seems to entail that everyone is in a constant state of domination at the hands of potential groups. However, the problem can be dissolved by rejecting a ‘strict possibility’ standard for interpreting non-domination’s robustness (...) requirement. Frank Lovett and Philip Pettit propose to restrict the relevant domain of possible worlds by reference to two epistemic conditions pertaining to potential group members. I argue that this strategy unduly limits non-domination’s critical potential. I then argue that a suitably systemic conception of domination avoids this problem. By placing explanatory emphasis on social institutions, and how these bear on the feasibility of individual and collective action, a systemic conception of non-domination avoids the coalition problem in a way that retains its critical potential. The article clarifies the relationship between the rule of law and the social norms and objects to the claim that non-domination is bound to deem the latter irrelevant from the point of view of freedom. (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)
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.
We argue that thoughts are structures of concepts, and that concepts should be individuated by their origins, rather than in terms of their semantic or epistemic properties. Many features of cognition turn on the vehicles of content, thoughts, rather than on the nature of the contents they express. Originalism makes concepts available to explain, with no threat of circularity, puzzling cases concerning thought. In this paper, we mention Hesperus/Phosphorus puzzles, the Evans-Perry example of the ship seen through different windows, and (...) Mates cases, and we believe that there are many additional applications. (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.
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)
_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.
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.
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)
If I say “we are now living in England” or “grass is green in summer’ or ‘the cat is on the mat’ what I say will normally be true or false—the statements are true if they correctly report how things are, or correspond to the facts; and if they do not do these things, they are false. Such a statement will only fail to have a truth-value if its referring expressions fail to refer ; or if the statement lies on (...) the border between truth and falsity so that it is as true to say that the statement is true as to say that it is false. Are moral judgments normally true or false in the way in which the above statements are true or false? I will term the view that they are objectivism and the view that they are not subjectivism. The objectivist maintains that it is as much a fact about an action that it is right or wrong as that it causes pain or takes a long time to perform. The subjectivist maintains that saying than an action is right or wrong is not stating a fact about it but merely expressing approval of it or commending it or doing some such similar thing. I wish in this paper, first, to show that all arguments for subjectivism manifestly fail, and secondly to produce a strong argument for objectivism. But, to start with, some preliminaries. (shrink)
Online news sites have become an internet ‘staple’, but we know little of the forces driving the popularity of such sites in relation to what could be understood as the latest iteration of the web – social media services. This research in brief article discusses empirical results regarding the uses of Twitter for news sharing. Specifically, we present a comparative analysis of links emanating from the service at hand to a series of media outlets over a six-month period in two (...) countries; Sweden and Norway. Focusing on linking practices among highly active Twitter accounts, we problematize the assumption that online communication involves two or more humans by directing attention to more or less automated ‘bot’ accounts. In sum, it is suggested that such automated accounts need to be dealt with more explicitly by researchers as well as practitioners interested in the popularity of online news as expressed through social media activity. (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)
In late January of 1987, the State Treasurer of Pennsylvania, R. Budd Dwyer, shot himself to death in front of a dozen reporters and camera crews during a news conference in his office. Much was subsequently made in the popular press, and within the profession, about the difficult ethical decision television journalists were faced with in determining how much of the very graphic suicide tape to air. A review of the literature in this area suggests, however, that journalists have established (...) a set of relatively detailed conventions for dealing with events involving graphic depictions of death. Analysis of the Dwyer tape and interviews conducted with Pennsylvania television news directors show that eighteen of the twenty stations in the state that carry news used basically the same type and amount of footage in their evening newscasts. One decided to use no tape. One showed the moment of death. When the story broke around noon, two additional stations showed the moment of suicide, but they revised their story for the evening program. In addition, the wide majority of news directors interviewed said they had little difficulty in deciding how to edit the tape. The processing of the Dwyer story suggests that any ethical dilemmas faced by journalists during decision making were put aside for later consideration. The material was edited quickly and according to similar patterns, or conventions, around the state. The study suggests greater attention be given to the definition and interaction of personal professional values, in the ethical sense, and norms of news processing, in the sociological sense. (shrink)
Abstract In this article, which is the first of two to examine the ideas of R. S. Peters on moral education, consideration is given to his justificatory arguments found in Ethics and Education. Here he employs presupposition arguments to show to what anyone engaging in moral discourse is committed. The result is a group of procedural principles which are recommended to be employed in moral education. This article is an attempt to examine the presupposition arguments Peters employs, to comment on (...) the procedural principles he believes are presupposed, and to consider the strength of the presupposition argument. My conclusion is that Peters's arguments fail to establish the conclusion he arrives at, and that any gains from the form of argument he uses are hollow. (shrink)
Plato's philosophical dialogues can be seen as his creation of a new genre. Plato borrows from, as well as rejects, earlier and contemporary authors, and he is constantly in conversation with established genres, such as tragedy, comedy, lyric poetry, and rhetoric in a variety of ways. This intertextuality reinforces the relevance of material from other types of literary works, as well as a general knowledge of classical culture in Plato's time, and the political and moral environment that Plato addressed, when (...) reading his dramatic dialogues. The authors of Philosophy as Drama show that any interpretation of these works must include the literary and narrative dimensions of each text, as much as serious the attention given to the progression of the argument in each piece. Each dialogue is read on its own merit, and critical comparisons of several dialogues explore the differences and likenesses between them on a dramatic as well as on a logical level. This collection of essays moves debates in Plato scholarship forward when it comes to understanding both particular aspects of Plato's dialogues and the approach itself. Containing 11 chapters of close readings of individual dialogues, with 2 chapters discussing specific themes running through them, such as music and sensuousness, pleasure, perception, and images, this book displays the range and diversity within Plato's corpus. (shrink)
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)
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)
On what grounds will the rational man become a Christian? It is often assumed by many, especially non-Christians, that he will become a Christian if and only if he judges that the evidence available to him shows that it is more likely than not that the Christian theological system is true, that, in mathematical terms, on the evidence available to him, the probability of its truth is greater than half. It is the purpose of this paper to investigate whether or (...) not this is a necessary and sufficient condition for the rational man to adopt Christianity. (shrink)
… the supreme end, the happiness of all mankind. The law concerning punishment is a Categorical Imperative; and woe to him who rummages around in the winding paths of a theory of happiness, looking for some advantage to be gained by releasing the criminal from punishment or by reducing the amount of it.
R.G. Collingwood defined historical knowledge as essentially ‘scientific’, and saw the historian's task as the ‘re-enactment of past thoughts’. The author argues the need to go beyond Collingwood, first by demonstrating the authenticity of available evidence, and secondly, using Namier as an example, by considering methodology as well as epistemology, and the need to relate past thoughts to their present context. The ‘law of the consumption of time’ encourages historians to focus on landmark events, theories and generalisations, thus breaking from (...) Collingwood's emphasis on fidelity to past ideas and interpreting the past from the concepts of the present. This conflict can only be reconciled by the study of historiography. (shrink)