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Recently, some philosophers have attempted to escape familiar challenges to orthodox nonnaturalist normative realism by abandoning the robust metaphysical commitments of the orthodox view. One such view is the ‘Non-Metaphysical Non-Naturalism’ or ‘Non-Realist Cognitivism’ proposed by Derek Parfit and a few others. The trouble is that, as it stands, Non-Realist Cognitivism seems unable to provide a substantive non-trivial account of the meaning and truth conditions of moral claims. The paper considers various strategies one might use to address the challenge. There is a rich field of views that are cognitivist and non-realist. But the paper is skeptical of the prospects of Non-Realist Cognitivism.
This chapter develops the version of indirect epistemic teleology (IET) that is supported by pluralist teleology, and explores how it might answer at least some of the more important objections. It lays out the basic ideas of pluralist teleology. The chapter explains that IET is the view that results from applying pluralist teleology to the field of epistemic normativity. It explores IET in relation to both meta-epistemic issues and issues in normative epistemology. IET is structurally analogous to a kind of rule-consequentialism in ethics. The chapter discusses the concept of justified belief and other epistemic evaluative concepts. It evaluates the epistemic practices in all possible worlds, considered as hypothetical or counterfactual possibilities, relative to the actually optimal set of norms. The chapter considers objections to IET and briefly explores the ability of the theory to respond to the objections.
This chapter considers five arguments against naturalism that have recently been proposed by Derek Parfit, and, following Parfit, by David McNaughton and Piers Rawling and Jonathan Dancy. It first explains that the debate between naturalists and non-naturalists is of philosophical interest chiefly because of the important background issue of explaining what it is for a property or fact to be normative. The author's account of the nature of normative moral facts and facts about practical reasons can be generalized to provide an account of all kinds of normative fact. He calls the generalized view pluralist-teleology. Pluralist-teleology is an example of non-analytic normative naturalism. The Normativity Objection seems to be Parfit's chief objection. The goal is to show that no natural fact can be normative in the reason-implying sense. Parfit offers three closely related arguments that turn on the idea of triviality, so this is really a family of arguments.
ABSTRACT: David Braybrooke argues that the core of the natural law theory of Thomas Aquinas survived in the work of Hobbes, Locke, Hume, and Rousseau. Much to my surprise, Braybrooke argues as well that David Copp’s society-centered moral theory is a secular version of this same natural law theory. Braybrooke makes a good case that there is an important idea about morality that is shared by the great philosophers in his group and that this idea is also found in Copp’s work. The idea is captured by the Functionalist Thesis, the thesis that moral propositions are made true by facts about what, given the nature of human beings and their circumstances, enables people to live together in thriving communities. I argue that Copp can accept Braybrooke’s suggestion and use it to improve his formulation of the basic idea of the society-centered theory.
Ethical naturalism is the doctrine that moral properties, such as moral goodness, justice, rightness, and wrongness, are among the ‘natural’ properties that things can have. It is the doctrine that moral properties are ‘natural’ and that morality is in this sense an aspect of ‘nature.’ Accordingly, it is a view about the semantics and metaphysics of moral discourse. For example, a utilitarian naturalist might propose that wrongness is the property an action could have of being such as to undermine overall happiness, where happiness is taken to be a psychological property. Unfortunately, it is unclear what the naturalist means by a ‘natural’ property. For my purposes in this chapter, I shall assume that natural properties are such that our knowledge of them is fundamentally empirical, grounded in observation. More precisely, a property is ‘natural’ just in case any synthetic proposition about its instantiation can be known only a posteriori, or with the aid of experience. Ethical naturalism is, in short, the doctrine that there are moral properties and that they are natural properties. It implies that moral knowledge is fundamentally empirical. It is committed to a broadly ‘empiricist’ moral epistemology.
This chapter springs from the fact that certain unsurprising commonsense first-personal observations about our moral thinking can appear to undermine ethical naturalism by undermining the plausibility of the idea that our moral knowledge is empirical.
Let “moral naturalism” be the view that (1) the central semantic function of moral terms such as “right” and “wrong” is to ascribe moral properties, properties such as rightness and wrongness, and that (2) each of these properties is a ‘natural’ property. Let “synthetic moral naturalism” be the view, in addition, that (3) each moral property could, at least in principle, be ascribed by a predicate couched in nonmoral naturalistic vocabulary, where (4) the corresponding identity claim is synthetic. That is, where “M” is a moral predicate that ascribes a moral property Mness, and “N” is a distinct (perhaps very complex) predicate couched in nonmoral vocabulary that ascribes a natural property Nness, if a version of synthetic naturalism implies that Mness is identical to Nness, then it also implies that this is not a conceptual truth.
A fully developed version of synthetic moral naturalism would include a semantics for moral predicates. It would explain what it is that determines which specific natural property is ascribed by a given moral predicate. To avoid being objectionably ad hoc, moreover, synthetic moral naturalism must take on board a general semantic theory of the relation between predicates and properties and apply this theory to the case of moral predicates. Taken together with relevant nonsemantic facts, the resulting moral semantics should determine (nontrivially) which natural property it is that a given moral predicate is used to ascribe in standard literal assertoric uses.
Terence Horgan and Mark Timmons have argued, however, that this strategy cannot work.
Is moral naturalism ruled out by the fact that morality is normative? I want to consider this question in a systematic way, explaining the central thesis of moral naturalism as I understand it, and then clarifying the idea of normativity. The chief point that I want to make is that the issue raised by this question is much more complex than it might seem to be, mainly because of complexity in what philosophers have in mind when they speak of morality as “normative.” There are several dimensions to the complexity, but the dimension I will stress is that philosophers disagree about what we might call the ‘stringency’ of moral normativity. I will distinguish three ‘grades of normativity.’ I will investigate, for each of these grades, the plausibility of the idea that morality has that grade of normativity, and the viability of naturalistic accounts of it. My conclusion will be tentative, but it will be optimistic for moral naturalism.
Moral naturalism holds that in thinking of things as morally right or wrong, good or bad, we ascribe moral properties to these things – properties such as moral rightness and wrongness, goodness and evil. It holds that there are such properties, and it adds that these properties are ordinary garden-variety natural properties – properties that have the same basic metaphysical and epistemological status as the properties a tree can have of being deciduous, and the property a piece of paper can have of being an Australian twenty-dollar bill.
Our thoughts about our moral thinking are Janus-faced. On the one hand, we intuitively and pre-theoretically think as moral ‘realists’ – we take our moral convictions to be beliefs in just the way that our convictions about the weather are beliefs, and of course we take our convictions to be true. Indeed, we take some of them to be self-evidently true. On the other hand, we find ourselves facing intuitively significant challenges that can make moral realism seem problematic or even completely implausible. Ordinary reflection tells us that our moral convictions are different in nature from most other beliefs, such as our beliefs about the weather. Moral judgments are directly relevant to decisions and choices in a way that differs from the way that beliefs about the weather might be relevant to decisions and choices. Intuitively, moreover, a moral judgment speaks to what ‘ought to be the case’ rather than to what ‘is the case.’ We can introduce a term to talk about this. We can say that, unlike judgments about the likelihood of rainfall or the like, moral judgments are ‘normative.’ Unfortunately, however, it can easily seem dubious that there could be something in the world as it is that makes true a judgment about what ought to be the case. There is an obvious tension between these two sides to our thinking.
The central philosophical challenge of metaethics is to account for the normativity of moral judgment without abandoning or seriously compromising moral realism. In Morality in a Natural World, David Copp defends a version of naturalistic moral realism that can accommodate the normativity of morality. Moral naturalism is often thought to face special metaphysical, epistemological, and semantic problems as well as the difficulty in accounting for normativity. In the ten essays included in this volume, Copp defends solutions to these problems. Three of the essays are new, while seven have previously been published. All of them are concerned with the viability of naturalistic and realistic accounts of the nature of morality, or, more generally, with the viability of naturalistic accounts of reasons.
This volume brings together ten essays in metaethics that I have written over the past decade. Three are previously unpublished. All of them aim in one way or another to defend the viability of a naturalistic and realistic account of the nature of morality. They discuss problems for naturalism, chiefly the problem of explaining the normativity of moral judgment, and they suggest or defend solutions to the problems.
The point of reprinting the articles is that, taken together, and with the addition of the three new essays, they develop a systematic defense of moral naturalism. Moreover, some of them initially appeared in out-of-the-way places. I see difficulties in each of them, certainly in the previously published essays, difficulties that I wish I had noticed much earlier. I have largely resisted the temptation to make substantive changes, however, because some people will have read the original versions of the essays and I did not want to cause confusion about my views. For this reason, the seven previously published essays in the book are reproduced largely without alteration, except for minor changes. I have changed the style of the notes, and I have added a few substantive notes. Because of this, the notes have been renumbered in some cases. When I wrote the essays, I intended them to be read individually, which means that some points are repeated in more than one, but the result is that each of the chapters in the book can be understood without reading any of the others.
Moral naturalism is the view that moral properties, such as rightness and goodness, are in some important sense ‘natural’ properties. Some naturalists have sought to make good on this idea by deploying a kind of semantics proposed by Hilary Putnam and others. Putnam himself suggested this strategy, and Richard Boyd has pursued it. The kind of semantics proposed by Putnam allows for true synthetic property identity statements, such as that water is H2O. If this approach can be applied to moral predicates, it therefore opens the door to a kind of ‘synthetic semantic moral naturalism’ according to which, for any moral property, there is a synthetic truth to the effect that the property is identical to a certain natural property. This strategy has come under attack, however, in an argument by Terence Horgan and Mark Timmons known as the “Moral Twin Earth argument.” On the one hand, Horgan and Timmons argue, G. E. Moore's “open question argument” defeated the idea that there are any analytically true sentences to the effect that a given moral property is identical to a natural property. On the other hand, they argue, the Moral Twin Earth argument undermines the idea that there are any synthetic truths to the effect that a given moral property is identical to a natural property. If they are correct, naturalism is in trouble.
Are they correct? I will argue that they are not. A close look shows that the Moral Twin Earth argument poses no threat to moral naturalism.
It is intuitively plausible that there are substantive moral propositions that are ‘self-evident.’ It is plausible, for example, that, “other things equal, it is wrong to take pleasure in another's pain, to taunt and threaten the vulnerable, to prosecute and punish those known to be innocent, … to sell another's secrets solely for personal gain,” and “to torture others just for fun.” It is plausible that these propositions are true, and it is plausible that they are self-evident. In what follows, I refer to them as “the common sense principles.” And I will call the thesis that some such propositions are self-evident “the self-evidence thesis.”
It is not entirely clear how to understand the idea of a self-evident proposition. Intuitively, a self-evident proposition is one that is obviously true without the need for any proof or argument. But the term “self-evident” is used as a technical term in philosophy, and philosophers have meant different things by it. Russ Shafer-Landau, who gives the common sense principles as examples, proposes a stipulative definition. Expressed informally, his idea is that “once one really understands” the common sense principles, “(including the ceteris paribus clause),” one is justified in believing them. Robert Audi proposes a somewhat different definition. He suggests that a self-evident proposition is such that anyone who “adequately understands” it would be justified in believing it and would know it if he believed it on the basis of this understanding.