Is Irreducible Normativity Impossibly Queer?

in Journal of Moral Philosophy
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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).

Is Irreducible Normativity Impossibly Queer?

in Journal of Moral Philosophy

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References

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1

Jonas OlsonMoral Error Theory: History Critique Defence (Oxford: Oxford University Press2014). In what follows the chapter and page references in the main text will all be to this book.

3

Einar Tegen‘The Basic Problem in the Theory of Value,’ Theoria 10 (1944) pp. 28–52; Bertrand Russell ‘Is there an Absolute Good?’ in C. Pigden (ed.) Russell on Ethics (London: Routledge 1999) pp. 119–124.

4

Terence CuneoThe Normative Web: An Argument for Moral Realism (Oxford: Oxford University Press2007).

5

David EnochTaking Morality Seriously: A Defense of Robust Realism (New York: Oxford University Press2011) ch. 3.

6

Bart Streumer‘Can We Believe the Error Theory,’ Journal of Philosophy 110 (2013) pp. 194–212.

18

 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).

19

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.)

20

 See e.g. EnochTaking Morality Seriously pp. 143–148 and Scanlon Being Realistic about Reasons (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2014) pp. 143–148.

21

McPherson‘Ethical Non-Naturalism’ pp. 228–229 n. 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.

22

Shafer-LandauMoral Realism pp. 96–97; Enoch Taking Morality Seriously pp. 147–148; Olson Moral Error Theory p. 98.

27

GibbardThinking How to Live pp. 94–95 (for example) and Meaning and Normativity (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2012) pp. 31–35 (for example).

31

 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).

34

 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).

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