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Metaethics Notes

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Definitions Natural properties are those that feature in, or are amenable to study by, the empirical science. They have causal powers and are instantiated in time and space.

Types of normative theory Deontic (from the Greek for 'what is appropriate to do'): concerned with the rightness and wrongness of actions. Axiological (from the Greek for 'value', 'price'): concerned with goodness and badness of actions.

Supervenience We can distinguish between individual and global supervenience. In either case the thought is that supervening properties do not have a life completely of their own: Individual supervenience: A-properties supervene on B-properties if no two things can differ with regard to their A-properties without also differing in their B-properties. Global supervenience: A-properties globally supervene on B-properties if no two worlds can in their distribution of A-properties without also differing in the distribution of B-properties. Examples: temperature supervenes on mean molecular energy; colour supervenes on wavelength. Moral supervenience is that no two actions can differ in their moral properties without differing in their natural properties. Conversely, two actions with identical natural properties have the same moral properties. The global version of this thesis is that two worlds with the same natural facts contain the same moral facts. Michael Smith introduces what he calls the supervenience constraint for a moral theory: Supervenience constraint: acts equivalent in all naturalistic features are morally equivalent.

Naturalist explanation A naturalist explains supervenience by claiming that, since moral properties are natural properties, they supervene on themselves (and hence on natural properties).

Non-naturalist explanation The non-naturalist struggles to explain supervenience. Their claim appears to be that moral properties behave independently of natural properties, but are not 'chained' to them. Schafer-Landau explanation According to this non-naturalist view,

1 ?Moral properties are distinct from natural properties. Each instantiation of moral properties is fully constituted by a conjunction of natural properties.

Hence, the same natural properties cause an instantiation of the same moral properties. Conversely, if another moral property is instantiated, there must be a difference in natural properties. For example: the permissibility of stroking a cat in the street is constituted by creating pleasure, not having negative effects on anyone else's wellbeing, and being in accordance with all the promises you have made. Thus, any other action that also meets these three criteria will also be permissible. This view is a metaphysical claim, and is therefore subject to metaphysical objections beyond the realm of metaethics, for example about the ontological status of property instances.

Metaethics Core metaethical subjects:??

Moral psychology: what kind of mental state are moral judgements?
Moral semantics: what are the meanings and truth-conditions of moral terms and sentences?
Moral metaphysics: what kinds of facts and properties are moral facts and properties?
Moral epistemology: is moral knowledge possible, and if so, how, and what is its nature?

The moral problem Michael Smith presents the moral problem as the triad of inconsistent, and yet each seemingly plausible, claims: Internalism: moral judgements necessarily motivate. Humean theory of motivation: no belief necessarily motivates. Cognitivism: moral judgements are beliefs.

Cognitivism Cognitivism is the view that moral judgements are beliefs. Cognitivism is motivated by the observation that moral judgements behave like beliefs. For example, it appears that applications of modus ponens can apply in moral reasoning. Therefore cognitivism makes sense of the belief-like behaviour of moral judgements. Cognitivism also makes sense of the descriptive form of moral claims. For example, we might say 'snow is white', 'it is not the case that snow is white', 'is snow white?' and so on. In each case it seems we can swap 'lying' for 'snow' and 'wrong' for 'white' and still get a meaningful utterance. The view initially supported by our intuitions seems to be: 2

Naturalist realist cognitivism We might characterise this kind of 'full-blown' cognitivism as the following, moral realist position:??

Moral judgements are beliefs - cognitivism. Moral sentences have descriptive meaning, and are truth-apt - realism 1. Moral facts and properties exist - realism 2. We have moral knowledge or, at least, justified moral beliefs - naturalism.

The core questions for this full-blown cognitivist view are

1. What kind of properties are moral properties? Are rightness and wrongness natural or non-natural properties?

2. If moral properties are non-natural, how can we know moral facts?

3. What kinds of facts are moral facts, and how is it possible to know them?

4. How can moral judgements motivate if they are beliefs?

Internalism Internalism is the view that moral judgements necessarily motivate, by nature of what they are. The judgement that you ought to do X directly causes motivation to do X, so long as your motivational capacities are intact. Michael Smith dubs the truth of internalism the internalism constraint: that absent some explanation (depression, weakness of will,...) if A believes it is right to do X, A cannot be entirely indifferent to doing X. The final clause is intended to rule out cases such as someone being depressed, where an unrestricted version of the theory would imply depressed people lose their moral judgements, and regain them when they're better. Such a view would seem to be false: instead, the moral beliefs are the same; they just seem not to matter when one is depressed. Internalism is motivated by the idea that there is something strange about sincerely agreeing to a moral statement - for example, that I ought to give money to charity - but at the same time not seeing any reason to do so. The intuition is that if you are not motivated to act on your moral judgement, you are not being truly sincere; you are only paying lip-service to the judgement.

Weak and strong internalism Warning: internalism is sometimes stated in terms of reasons. But this can be ambiguous. Better to stick with talking about necessarily motivating. Strong internalism: necessarily, if you judge that you ought to do X, and your motivational capacities are intact then you have an overriding motivation to do X. But this claim is obviously false. We can think of occasions where weakness of will or one's cowardly nature override the motivation to act morally. 3

Weak internalism: necessarily, if you judge that you ought to do X and your motivational capacities are intact, then you have some motivation to do X. This motivation may be overridden by other motivations.

Practical rationality internalism Another approach is to appeal to a notion of practical rationality: Practically rational: an agent is practically rational if they comply with all the true principles of rationality. Care must be taken, however, not to allow the internalist argument to become circular: practical rationality must be defended independently of internalism. According to this view, then, Practical rationality internalism: in practically rational agents, moral judgements directly cause moral motivation all by themselves.

Reason internalism Another approach is to argue that there is a normative or conceptual connection between moral claims (or their truth) and the reasons one has to act. This could be taken in two directions:

1. A person may fail to be motivated appropriately by sincerely-held moral claims, but this failure counts as irrational.

2. A person may fail to be motivated appropriately by sincerely-held moral claims, but the fact she embraces the moral claims (or their truth) provide reasons for her to act in certain ways. This view, then, rejects a straightforward internalist account according to which one can sincerely embrace a moral claim only if one is motivated to act, but holds on to a conceptual connection between moral claims (or their truth) and motivation to act. There is a necessary connection between moral claims and action, but this is through the claims and reason or rationality.

Externalism Externalism blocks the non-cognitivist response to the moral problem by denying one of its premises: Externalism: no moral judgement causes motivation by itself. Moral motivation requires some additional factor, such as a desire to do what is right. For example, one might have a standing desire to do what is right - perhaps explicable naturally via mirror neurons/ notion of intrinsic empathy? - which is overridden when one is depressed.

4 The externalist can consistently accept externalism, the Humean theory of motivation, and cognitivism.

Michael Smith's moral fetishism objection Objection: for externalists, the motivation to do X is derived from a more fundamental desire to do what is right. Thus, you only care about your actions in so far as they are right: this is being fetishistic about rightness. By contrast, good people care about right actions in virtue of the natural features that makes them right. Note the internalist is immune to this objection: they are directly motivated by the moral judgement at hand, for example by the observation that someone needs help. Reply: the good agent does not have a standing motivation to do whatever is right. Instead, he has a second-order attitude; he wants a non-derivative motivation to perform an action just in case it is right. He wants to be the sort of person whose non-derivative moral motivations track moral rightness. So if he has a non-derivative motivation to so X and comes to realise X is not morally right, his second-order attitude will lead him to try and stop being motivated to do X. For example, suppose I care deeply and non-derivatively about someone but it comes to my attention that they are deeply immoral. Then my second-order attitude will lead me to try and stop caring about that person.

Second-order desire externalism The reply to Smith's objection leads us to Second-order desire externalism: no moral judgement causes motivation all by itself. Moral motivation always requires a second-order desire to have a non-derivative motivation to perform an action just in case it is morally right. So we have three cases: Judging that X is right (wrong) + second-order desire leads to non-fetishistic motivation to do (not do) X. Judging that X is right but no second-order desire leads to no motivation to do X.

Non-cognitivism Non-cognitivism is the view that moral mental states are not beliefs but attitudes (for example, disapproval or approval). The non-cognitivist responds to the moral problem by arguing that moral judgements necessarily motivates, but no belief do so, and concludes that moral judgements are not beliefs.

Non-cognitivist expressivism We might characterise a 'full-blooded' non-cognitivist expressivism as follows: 5

??Moral judgements are not beliefs. Instead, they are non-cognitive mental states, such as desires, intentions, or (dis)approval. Moral sentences express our attitudes. They are not truth-apt. There are no moral facts or properties. We cannot have justified moral beliefs. We cannot have moral knowledge.

Michael Smith articulates what he calls the expressivist challenge for a moral theory: Expressivist challenge: why can't the belief that X is right coexist with the aversion to do X? What is about the belief that makes us want to do X?
Of course, the expressivist answer is simple: moral propositions are not truth-apt. They do not express beliefs but attitudes. The core challenge to this full-blooded version of non-cognitivism is

1. How does moral reasoning work if moral judgements are not beliefs?

Basic expressivism (subjectivism) is the (non-cognitive) view that moral judgements are merely expressions of our feelings. This explains why we have moral disagreements: each proponent is merely expressing their own opinion. The most basic version of subjectivism claims that claims of moral value simply amount to (dis)approval. So to say that something is morally right/good/acceptable is simply to mean that you approve of that thing. Likewise, saying something is morally wrong/bad/unacceptable means the same as saying you disapprove of that thing. Objections to basic expressivism James Rachels presents three objections to basic expressivism: 1

2 3

Infallibility: so long as we are sincerely expressing our moral opinions, our moral judgements are infallible. And yet we do sometimes make mistakes of moral judgment. Disagreement: according to the basic expressivist, moral arguments are not true disagreements. Each proponent is merely expressing their own opinion. If A claims an act is bad and B claims it is good, A should agree with B - A agrees that B thinks the act is unacceptable. Hence, there is no room in basic expressivism for genuine moral disagreements. Self-contradictory: suppose A asserts his view that an act is right, and B asserts his view that the act is in fact wrong. Then so long as A and B are sincere, they are unassailably right. So the act is right and wrong, which is a contradiction.

The basic expressivist can take some of the force out of these arguments. He can claim that we realise we have made an error of moral judgement on proper appraisal of the facts in hand, and of our feelings. While I initially felt that based on the facts available an act was right, I now realise, with new facts available and after more sincere introspection, that it was in fact wrong. 6

He can also reject the charge of inconsistency by rejecting the strong notion of right and wrong that is being appealed to. For the simple subjectivist, right and wrong consists solely in (dis)approval, and there is nothing more to it. As such it is perfectly possible that an act should both be right and wrong, because rightness and wrongness consist solely in people's reactions to the act. A more serious objection for the basic expressivist is how to go about drawing a distinction between moral disapproval - which we might take to have special force - and more mundane disapproval. I might disapprove of people coming late to meetings, and sincerely state that this is bad, but this is certainly not a moral claim. Learning from basic expressivism According to Rachels, it is a mistake to assume that either

1. There are moral facts in the same way there are facts about stars and planets, or

2. Our values are nothing more than the expression of our subjective feelings Without accounting for the idea that

3. Moral truths are truths of reason; a moral judgement is true if it is backed by better reasons than the alternatives. For Rachels, morality is independent of what we might want or think: reason (and so morality) says what it says, whether we like it or not, and whether or not we are always right about what reason commends. If we follow Rachels in taking moral thinking to be a matter of weighing reasons, we can agree with him that basic expressivism, with its sidestepping of moral reasons, is going in the wrong direction.

Emotivism (expressivism) is a more sophisticated version of subjectivism (basic expressivism), developed chiefly by Charles L. Stevenson. Emotivism distinguishes carefully between different usages of language, in particular the distinction between reporting an attitude ('I don't like X') and expressing an attitude ('Down with X!'). For the emotivist, moral judgements are implicit commands that express the speaker's attitude: to say X is wrong is to say something like 'would that X did not happen'. The emotivist survives the objections to subjectivism. According to him, moral judgements are not truth-apt - they are not capable of being assigned a truth-value - and so are certainly not infallible. Moreover, the emotivist can explain how we can agree on our attitudes ('you think X is bad') while disagreeing in our attitudes ('I think X is good').

Strengths of expressivism An argument for expressivism: speech-acts and imperative uses Moral sentences are often used to express emotions or to recommend or command actions. This suggests the following argument:

1. Assuming that moral sentences describe supposed moral facts is theoretically problematic. 7

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