I argue that Jonas Olson’s argument from irreducible normativity is not a secure basis for an argument for error theory (section 1) and that a better basis is provided by the argument from supervenience, which has more bite against non-naturalist moral realism than Olson is willing to allow (section 2). I suggest there may be a view which can allow for the existence of irreducibly normative facts while remaining unaffected by the kinds of arguments that work against non-naturalist realism. This view is expressivism. Interestingly, James Dreier has recently suggested that expressivism may not escape these arguments. I very briefly outline (but do not pursue) possible response strategies for expressivists (section 3). I close by discussing Olson’s argument against expressivism. Olson suggests, somewhat surprisingly, that expressivism is a bad fit with a plausible evolutionary explanation of our moral thought. I argue that Olson’s argument does not succeed (section 4).
StreetSharon. 2011. ‘
Mind-Independence without the Mystery: Why Quasi-Realists Can’t Have it Both Ways’ in R.Shafer-Landau (ed.) Oxford Studies in Metaethics Volume 6. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Einar Tegen‘The Basic Problem in the Theory of Value,’Theoria10 (1944) pp. 28–52; Bertrand Russell ‘Is there an Absolute Good?’ in C. Pigden (ed.) Russell on Ethics (London: Routledge 1999) pp. 119–124.
See Frank JacksonFrom Metaphysics to Ethics: A Defence of Conceptual Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press1998) pp. 125–128 and Bart Streumer ‘Are There Really No Irreducibly Normative Properties?’ in D. Bakhurst (ed.) Thinking about Reasons: Essays in Honour of Jonathan Dancy (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2013).
McPherson‘Ethical Non-Naturalism’ p. 217. McPherson writes of discontinuous properties instead of distinct properties. This is not entirely insignificant but I shall ignore the relevant complications here. (McPherson’s argument can perhaps be made even stronger by taking these complications into account.)
McPherson‘Ethical Non-Naturalism’ pp. 228–229n. 67 seems to make this point – or at least something much like it – in a footnote commenting on Shafer-Landau’s (Moral Realism p. 96) claim to the effect that explanatory burdens between the non-naturalist and the naturalist are on a par in this context.
See e.g. GibbardWise Choices Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgment (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press1990) chs. 4 6–7; Joyce The Evolution of Morality; Street ‘Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value’ Philosophical Studies 127 (2006) pp. 109–166; Philip Kitcher The Ethical Project (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press 2011).
See e.g. BlackburnRuling Passions: A Theory of Practical Reasoning (Oxford: Oxford University Press1998); Gibbard Thinking How to Live; Michael Ridge Impassioned Belief (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2014).