This is a paper about the problem of realism in meta-ethics (and, I hope, also in other areas, but that hope is so far pretty speculative). But it is not about the problem of whether realism is true. It is about the problem of what realism is. More specifically, it is about the question of what divides meta-ethical realists from irrealists. I start with a potted history of the Good Old Days.
The meta-ethical commitments of folk respondents – specifically their commitment to the objectivity of moral claims – have recently become subject to empirical scrutiny. Experimental findings suggest that people are meta-ethical pluralists: There is both inter- and intrapersonal variation with regard to people’s objectivist commitments. What meta-ethical implications, if any, do these findings have? I point out that current research does not directly address traditional meta-ethical questions: The methods used and distinctions drawn by experimenters do not (...) perfectly match those of meta-ethicists. However, I go on to argue that, in spite of this mismatch, the research findings should be of interest to moral philosophers, including meta-ethicists. Not only do these findings extend the field of moral psychology with new data and hypotheses, but they also provide tentative evidence that touches on the adequacy of theses in moral semantics and moral metaphysics. Specifically, they put pressure on argum... (shrink)
Meta-ethics without normative ethics is empty. In the current climate this hardly needs emphasis: since 1960 or so philosophers in the English-speaking world have put away their earlier reluctance to think about substantive moral issues. For a while, in fact, it seemed that normative ethics would completely dominate the scene in the way metaethics once did, but, happily, this situation has begun to change with the appearance of a stimulating and illuminating body of work on the (...) rational basis of morality. Even those philosophers most intent on solving first-order moral problems have begun to realize that, in the last analysis, normative ethics without meta-ethics is blind. (shrink)
Recent scholarship (Goodwin & Darley, 2008) on the meta-ethical debate between objectivism and relativism has found people to be mixed: they are objectivists about some issues, but relativists about others. The studies discussed here sought to explore this further. Study 1 explored whether giving people the ability to identify moral issues for themselves would reveal them to be more globally objectivist. Study 2 explored people's meta-ethical commitments more deeply, asking them to provide verbal explanations for their judgments. This (...) revealed that while people think they are relativists, this may not always be the case. The explanations people gave were sometimes rated by outside (blind) coders as being objective, even when given a relativist response. Nonetheless, people remained meta-ethical pluralists. Why this might be is discussed. (shrink)
Ludwig Wittgenstein has often been called a quietist. His work has inspired a rich and varied array of theories in moral philosophy. Some prominent meta-ethicists have also been called quietists, or ‘relaxed’ as opposed to ‘robust’ realists, sometimes with explicit reference to Wittgenstein in attempts to clarify their views. In this chapter, I compare and contrast these groups of theories and draw out their importance for contemporary meta-ethical debate. They represent countercultures to contemporary meta-ethics. That is, (...) they reject in different ways one or more of the common assumptions that, whilst not universally shared, shape how to understand and engage in contemporary meta-ethical debate. Despite striking similarities, I argue that the ‘quietist’ label has obscured the views it is used to describe, the crucial differences between them, and the challenge that they offer to the predominant culture of meta-ethical enquiry. That challenge is this: there are plausible different ways of understanding and doing meta-ethics to those of the meta-ethical orthodoxy. We ignore such heterodoxy at our own peril. (shrink)
A meta-ethical analysis demonstrates that care ethics is a grounded in a distinct mode of moral reasoning. This is comprised primarily of the rejection of principles such as impartiality, and the endorsement of emotional or moral virtues such as compassion, as well as the notion that the preservation of relations may override the interests of the individuals involved in them. The main conclusion of such a meta-ethical analysis is that such meta-ethical foundations of care ethics (...) are not sound. Reasonable alternatives for care ethics may be its formulation as an additional principle within an established principlist framework, or the move to a dialogical ethics, where the good to be acted upon is not decided in advance but rather critically discussed and established within the encounter of the parties involved. (shrink)
The morality of virtual representations and the enactment of prohibited activities within single-player gamespace continues to be debated and, to date, a consensus is not forthcoming. Various moral arguments have been presented to support the moral prohibition of virtual enactments, but their applicability to gamespace is questioned. In this paper, I adopt a meta-ethical approach to moral utterances about virtual representations, and ask what it means when one declares that a virtual interaction ‘is morally wrong’. In response, I present (...) constructive ecumenical expressivism to explain what moral utterances should be taken to mean, argue that they mean the same when referring to virtual and non-virtual interactions and, given, explain why consensus with regard to virtual murder, rape and paedophilia is not forthcoming even though such consensus is readily found with regard to their non-virtual equivalents. (shrink)
In the mid-20th century, descriptive meta-ethics addressed a number of central questions, such as whether there is a necessary connection between moral judgment and motivation, whether moral reasons are absolute or relative, and whether moral judgments express attitudes or describe states of affairs. I maintain that much of this work in mid-20th century meta-ethics proceeded on an assumption that there is good reason to question. The assumption was that our ordinary discourse is uniform and determinate enough (...) to vindicate one side or the other of these meta-ethical debates. I suggest that ordinary moral discourse may be much less uniform and determinate than 20th century meta-ethics assumed. (shrink)
In this paper I argue for the importance of pursuing Buddhist Meta-Ethics. Most contemporary studies of the nature of Buddhist Ethics proceed in isolation from the highly sophisticated epistemological theories developed within the Buddhist tradition. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate that an intimate relationship holds between ethics and epistemology in Buddhism. To show this, I focus on Damien Keown's influential virtue ethical theorisation of Buddhist Ethics and demonstrate the conflicts that arise when (...) it is brought into dialogue with a contemporary exposition of two prominent Buddhist epistemological theories; namely, Dunne´s exposition of the views of Dharmakīrti and Candrakīrti. I highlight certain points of conflict between these ethical and epistemological theories and will argue that the resolution of this conflict requires revision (either in interpretation of theories or in the theories themselves) by all parties. I shall conclude by arguing for substantive revision to these theories via an engagement with this conflict and, in so doing, hope to exemplify some of the virtues of engaging with a meta-ethical methodology for the advancement of the respective domains of inquiry. (shrink)
It has been argued that ethically correct robots should be able to reason about right and wrong. In order to do so, they must have a set of do’s and don’ts at their disposal. However, such a list may be inconsistent, incomplete or otherwise unsatisfactory, depending on the reasoning principles that one employs. For this reason, it might be desirable if robots were to some extent able to reason about their own reasoning—in other words, if they had some meta-ethical (...) capacities. In this paper, we sketch how one might go about designing robots that have such capacities. We show that the field of computational meta-ethics can profit from the same tools as have been used in computational metaphysics. (shrink)
The main purpose of this paper is to defend traditional ethical theory (utilitarianism and deontology) for its application in business against a more recent model consisting of utility, rights, and justice. This is done in three parts: First, we provide a conceptual argument for the superiority of the traditional model; second, we demonstrate these points through an examination of three short cases; and third, we argue for the capability of the traditional model to account for universals and particulars in (...) class='Hi'>ethics. (shrink)
In recent decades, several attempts have been made to characterize Buddhism as a systematically unified and consistent normative ethical theory. This has given rise to a growing interest in meta-ethical questions. Meta-ethics can be broadly or narrowly defined. Defined broadly, it is a domain of inquiry concerned with the nature and status of the fundamental or framing presuppositions of normative ethical theories, where this includes the cognitive and epistemic requirements of presupposed conceptions of ethical agency.1 Defined narrowly, (...) it concerns the justificatory status of fundamental moral claims or judgments, i.e., claims or judgments of the form ‘x is good, right, virtuous’ and ‘x is bad, wrong, vicious.’.. (shrink)
Although much of the growing literature on organizational identity implicitly recognizes the normative nature of identity, the ethical implications of organizational identity work and talk have not yet been explored in depth. Working from a meta-ethical perspective, we claim that the dynamic, processual, and temporal activities recently associated with organizational identity always have an ethical dimension, whether "good" or "bad." In order to describe the ethical dimensions of organizational identity, we introduce the balance theory of practical wisdom as a (...) theoretical framework, and connect this theory to existing organizational identity concepts. We present an empirical case focused on an international paint company to illustrate the relevance of this theory for empirical organizational identity research. Our intention is to expand existing theory by bringing an aspect of organizational identity that has been tangentially acknowledged to the forefront, and by identifying it as a fruitful avenue for future theory development as well as empirical research. (shrink)
The author takes up three metaphysical conceptions of morality — realism, projectivism, constructivism — and the account of justification or reason that makes these pictures possible. It is argued that the right meta-ethical conception should be the one that entails the most plausible conception of reason-giving, rather than by any other consideration. Realism and projectivism, when understood in ways consistent with their fundamental commitments, generate unsatisfactory models of justification; constructivism alone does not. The author also argues for a particular (...) interpretation of how “objective moral obligation” is to be understood within constructivism. (shrink)
A common starting point for ‘going hybrid’ is the thought that moral discourse somehow combines belief and desire-like aspects, or is both descriptive and expressive. Hybrid meta-ethical theories aim to give an account of moral discourse that is sufficiently sensitive to both its cognitive and its affective, or descriptive and expressive, dimensions. They hold at least one of the following: moral thought: moral judgements have belief and desire-like aspects or elements; moral language: moral utterances both ascribe properties and express (...) desire-like attitudes. This entry concerns hybrid theories of moral language. The main division within such theories is between those treating the expression of desire-like attitudes as semantic and those treating it as pragmatic. This entry exclusively focuses on pragmatic forms of and examines the prospects for treating moral attitude expression as working via certain standard pragmatic mechanisms. I explain these mechanisms, outline the properties that standardly define them, and test to see whether moral attitude expression matches them. At the end, I briefly explain a more minimal pragmatic alternative. The main conclusions are that we should disregard presupposition and conventional implicature views and that the most plausible options for a pragmatic hybrid view are a generalised conversational implicature view and a more minimal pragmatic view. (shrink)
Call the following claim Asymmetry: rationality often requires a more steadfast response to pure moral disagreement than it does to otherwise analogous non-moral disagreement. This paper briefly motivates Asymmetry and explores its implications for meta-ethics. Some philosophers have thought that anti-realists are better-placed than realists to explain Asymmetry because, if anti-realism is true, disagreement cannot provide evidence against the reliability of one's thinking about objective moral facts. This paper argues that this simple diagnosis fails to support otherwise plausible (...) anti-realisms. It closes by discussing an alternative explanation for Asymmetry, which appeals to the moral importance of steadfastness. (shrink)
Moral cognitivists hold that in ordinary thought and language moral terms are used to make factual claims and express propositions. Moral non-cognitivists hold that in ordinary thought and language moral terms are not used to make factual claims or express propositions. What cognitivists and non-cognitivists seem to agree about, however, is that there is something in ordinary thought and language that can vindicate one side of their debate or the other. Don Loeb raises the possibility — which I will call (...) “the variability thesis” — that ordinary moral thought and language contains both cognitivist and non-cognitivist elements, and that there is no principled reason for thinking that either the cognitivist or non-cognitivist elements are conceptually more primary or aberrant than the other. According to the variability thesis, cognitivists accurately capture some aspects of what we think and say when we use moral terms and non-cognitivists capture other aspects, but neither side provides a correct analysis of ordinary moral thought and language as a whole. (shrink)
Meta-ethical pluralism gives us additional insight into how moral communities become cohesive and why this can be problematic – and in this way provides support for the worries raised by the target article. At the same time, it offers several reasons to be concerned about the proposed initiative, the most important of which is that it could seriously backfire.
The Queen's College, Oxford, UK In his article `Facts and Principles', G.A. Cohen attempts to refute constructivist approaches to justification by showing that, contrary to what their proponents claim, fundamental normative principles are fact- in sensitive. We argue that Cohen's `fact-insensitivity thesis' does not provide a successful refutation of constructivism because it pertains to an area of meta-ethics which differs from the one tackled by constructivists. While Cohen's thesis concerns the logical structure of normative principles, constructivists ask how (...) normative principles should be justified . In particular, their claim that justified fundamental normative principles are fact-sensitive follows from a commitment to agnosticism about the existence of objective moral facts. We therefore conclude that, in order to refute constructivism, Cohen would have to address questions of justification, and take a stand on those long-standing meta-ethical debates about the ontological status of moral notions (for example, realism versus anti-realism) with respect to which he himself wants to remain agnostic. Key Words: John Rawls normative justification realism versus anti-realism methodological versus substantive principles. (shrink)
I argue that lying has many dimensions, hence, some putativecases of lying may not match our intuitions or acceptedmeanings of lying. The moral lesson we should teach must be that lying is not a simple principle or feature, buta cluster of features or spectrum of shades, where anythingin the spectrum or cluster is considered lying. I argue thatthe view regarding lying as a single principle or featurehas problematic meta-ethical implications. I do a meta-ethicalanalysis of the meaning of lying, (...) not only to indicatesuch problems, but also the need to teach the act ofrational discussion and meta-ethical analysis. I arguethat the process of meta-ethical analysis and rationaldiscussion should be part of moral education, in that itmay help to develop critical thought about the abilityand practice of making good and rational moral judgments. (shrink)
This thesis is comprised of four papers that explore the nature and practical implications of moral doubt. It starts from the observation that the appropriate way to understand and handle moral doubt will depend on the nature of our moral judgements themselves. The first and second papers take a cognitivist view of moral judgements and analyse moral doubt in terms of partial degrees of belief in moral propositions. The first, The Relevance of Belief: Subjective Norms Under Empirical and Moral Uncertainty, (...) argues that this form of moral uncertainty is relevant to our choices and that the norms most directly relevant to choice under moral uncertainty are the action-guiding subjective norms of instrumental rationality. The second, Preference and Commitment Under Moral Uncertainty, proposes a particular way of accommodating moral uncertainty within a decision theoretic model of rational choice, and shows that this has substantial advantages over existing alternatives. The third paper, Attitudinal Ambivalence: Moral Uncertainty for Non-cognitivists, provides an account of moral doubt that is consistent with non-cognitivism, by analysing the phenomenon in terms of ambivalence in one’s moral attitudes. The fourth and final paper, The Balance and Weight of Reasons, draws out some implications of ambivalence, by exploring the way in which the overall weight of reasons are reflected in the preferences of rational agents. (shrink)
This work defends an interrelated set of theses in value-theory, normative ethics and meta-ethics. The three Parts correspond to these three areas.Part One defends a biocentric theory of moral standing, and then the coherence and objectivity of belief in intrinsic value, despite recent objections. Intrinsic value is located in the flourishing of living creatures; specifically, a neo-Aristotelian, species-relative account is supplied of wellbeing or flourishing, in terms of the development of the essential capacities of one's species. There (...) follows a theory of priorities, or of relative intrinsic value, in which the satisfaction of basic needs takes priority over other needs and over wants, and the interests of complex and sophisticated creatures over those of others, where they are at stake.Part Two defends a practice-consequentialist theory of the criteria of rightness and of obligation, which leaves room for supererogation, underpins our intuitions about justice, commends population growth only where it is genuinely desirable, and responds better than act-consequentialism to objections like that concerned with the separateness of persons. Part Three sifts meta-ethical theories, rejects moral relativism, and defends a cognitivist and naturalist meta-ethic. In defending analytical naturalism, it takes into account the latest literature on supervenience.By responding to recent discussions, this study supersedes my Theory of Value and Obligation . It is equipped with detailed end-notes and an ample bibliography, which could prove a research tool of itself. (shrink)
James Dreier (Philos Perspect 18: 23-44, 2004) states what he calls the "Problem of Creeping Minimalism": that metaethical Expressivists can accept a series of claims about meaning, under which all of the sentences that Realists can accept are consistent with Expressivism. This would allow Expressivists to accept all of the Realist's sentences, and as Dreier points out, make it difficult to say what the difference between the two views is. That Expressivists can accept these claims about meaning has been suggested (...) by Simon Blackburn on behalf of his "quasirealist". I argue against the assumption that there is a way to interpret the Realist's sentences in a way that renders them consistent with Expressivism. (shrink)
Michael Ruse, in Taking Darwin Seriously seeks to establish that taking Darwin seriously requires us to treat morality as subjective and naturalistic. I argue that, if morality is not objective, then we have no good reason for being moral if we can avoid detection and punishment. As a consequence, we will only continue to behave morally as long as we remain ignorant of Ruse''s theory, that is, as long as the cat is not let out of the bag. Ruse offers (...) a number of arguments to show that his theory can overcome such problems. I argue that they all fail. Ruse also argues that he can offer a naturalistic account of ethics which steps around the naturalistic fallacy and avoids the confusion of reasons with causes. His principal argument for this view is an analogy between spiritualism and morality. I argue that this analogy fails. (shrink)
My topic is the old debate between moral realists and moral expressivists. Although I will eventually adopt a Pyrrhonian position, as usual, my main goal is neither to argue for this position nor to resolve this debate but only to explore some new options that mix together realism and expressivism in various ways. Nothing that I say will be conclusive, but I hope that some of it will be suggestive.
Our shared moral framework is negotiated as part of the social contract. Some elements of that framework are established (tell the truth under oath), but other elements lack an overlapping consensus (just when can an individual lie to protect his or her privacy?). The tidy bits of our accepted moral framework have been codified, becoming the subject of legal rather than ethical consideration. Those elements remaining in the realm of ethics seem fragmented and inconsistent. Yet, our engineering students will (...) need to navigate the broken ground of this complex moral landscape. A minimalist approach would leave our students with formulated dogma—principles of right and wrong such as the National Society for Professional Engineers (NSPE) Code of Ethics for Engineers—but without any insight into the genesis of these principles. A slightly deeper, micro-ethics approach would teach our students to solve ethical problems by applying heuristics—giving our students a rational process to manipulate ethical dilemmas using the same principles simply referenced a priori by dogma. A macro-ethics approach—helping students to inductively construct a posteriori principles from case studies—goes beyond the simple statement or manipulation of principles, but falls short of linking personal moral principles to the larger, social context. Ultimately, it is this social context that requires both the application of ethical principles, and the negotiation of moral values—from an understanding of meta-ethics. (shrink)
There is a difference between an object's being good simpliciter and an object's being good of its kind, and the vast majority of philosophers have supposed that it is the former variety of goodness that is relevant to ethics. I argue that one may be a meta-ethical realist while employing the notion of good of a kind to the exclusion of good simpliciter; I call such a view kindism. I distinguish between two varieties of kindism, explicate the details (...) of one of those varieties, and defend kindism against possible objections. (shrink)
Bertrand Russell was a meta-ethical pioneer, the original inventor of both emotivism and the error theory. Why, having abandoned emotivism for the error theory, did he switch back to emotivism in the 1920s? Perhaps he did not relish the thought that as a moralist he was a professional hypocrite. In addition, Russell's version of the error theory suffers from severe defects. He commits the naturalistic fallacy and runs afoul of his own and Moore's arguments against subjectivism. These defects could (...) be repaired, but only by abandoning Russell's semantics.Russell preferred to revert to emotivism. (shrink)
The relationship between God and morality has been a topic of philosophical discussion since Socrates engaged Euthyphro in the agora. In recent years, it has received a lot of attention, as theistic philosophers have attempted to show that divine command theory and other theistic meta‐ethical accounts are defensible. Whether metaphysical naturalism is compatible with moral realism is a related topic. This essay surveys the main issues in these debates.
In addition to complexity deriving from the notion of the possibility of a ‘better world,’ the anti-theist argument from evils may possess the appearance of greater effectiveness than critical analysis should recognize it. If the moral language employed in the argument is accepted according to some forms of emotive, intuitive or theonomous interpretations, the so-called problem will vanish - and the question of the existence or nonexistence of God (so far as it is thought to depend on this argument) will (...) be found to be settled, or at least appear settled, on the grounds simply of the usages involved. If it is stated in utilitarian language, on the other hand, the problem of evil has the logical status of a genuine problem. Since we are to affirm that the question: Is it evil that there are evils? is a legitimate question, we shall do best, I believe, to interpret the question in utilitarian language. So interpreted, the problem is such that both the theist and anti-theist should have to work at proving their respective claims regarding the evils in the world. Whether either should ever succeed, it seems that the meta-ethician will profit by analyzing the language in which the attempt (more strenuous for the theist, I should think) will be made. (shrink)
In his review of Bernard Williams' Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, Hart eloquently formulated an apprehension that still haunts much of contemporary jurisprudence: if the moral 'I must' has to be 'seen as coming not from outside, but from what is most deeply inside us? the fear is that this will not be enough'. I argue that this fear is the byproduct of the dualist outlook within which Hart—and a significant part of contemporary legal theory—is confined: because of (...) his bald naturalist premise, Hart could not conceive of moral objectivity except in terms presupposing an order of Reason resolutely distinct from the 'natural' world. This paper seeks to debunk this dualist outlook by engaging with the kind of 'non-bald' naturalism advocated in different ways by both McDowell and Blackburn. In considering contemporary efforts to draw a middle way between ethical scepticism and metaphysical rationalism, the paper draws on the pragmatic elements emerging from the confrontation between Habermas and Rawls. (shrink)