"Double Review" of On What Matters Volume Three by Derek Parfit and Does Anything Really Matter? Essays on Parfit on Objectivity edited by Peter Singer
[published draft to be posted] [penultimate draft]
Abstract: Does Anything Really Matter? Essays on Parfit on Objectivity is a collection of articles edited by Peter Singer on Derek Parfit's On What Matters Volume One and Two. Parfit comments on these articles in Volume Three. I suggest a way to understand what makes Volume Three a book instead of an unusually long Author-Meets-Critics exchange. Volume Three advances the metametaethical thesis that it is rational to be optimistic about the possibility of progress in moral philosophy, because there is more agreement concerning the nature of normativity than has been previously recognized. I then argue that Parfit does not secure the kind of agreement he takes himself to secure with Naturalists, as represented by Peter Railton, and Expressivists, as represented by Alan Gibbard.
Abstract: Many prominent ethicists, including Shelly Kagan, John Rawls, and Thomas Scanlon, accept a kind of epistemic modesty thesis concerning our capacity to carry out the project of ethical theorizing. But it is a thesis that has received surprisingly little explicit and focused attention, despite its widespread acceptance. After explaining why the thesis is true, I argue that it has several implications in metaethics, including, especially, implications that should lead us to rethink our understanding of Reductive Realism. In particular, the thesis of epistemic modesty in ethics implies a kind of epistemic modesty about the metaphysical nature of ethics, if Reductive Realism about the metaphysical nature of ethics is true, and it implies that normative concepts are indispensable to practical deliberation in a way that answers an influential objection to Reductive Realism from Jonathan Dancy, David Enoch, William FitzPatrick, and Derek Parfit.
Conceptual Analysis in Metaethics (Joint work with Stephen Finlay)
Routledge Handbook of Metaethics, edited. Tristram McPherson and David Plunkett (Forthcoming)
Abstract: A critical survey of various positions on the nature, use, possession, and analysis of normative concepts. We frame our treatment around G.E. Moore’s Open Question Argument, and the ways metaethicists have responded by departing from a Classical Theory of concepts. In addition to the Classical Theory, we discuss synthetic naturalism, noncognitivism (expressivist and inferentialist), prototype theory, network theory, and empirical linguistic approaches. Although written for a general philosophical audience, we attempt to provide a new perspective and highlight some underappreciated problems about normative concepts.
Non-Analytical Naturalism and the Nature of Normative Thought: A Reply to Parfit
Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy (2015)
Abstract: Metaethical non-analytical naturalism consists in the metaphysical thesis that normative properties are identical with or reducible to natural properties and the epistemological thesis that we cannot come to a complete understanding of the nature of normative properties via conceptual analysis alone. In On What Matters, Derek Parfit (2011) argues that non-analytical naturalism is either false or incoherent. In § 1, I show that his argument for this claim is unsuccessful, by showing that it rests on a tacit assumption about the nature of normative thought that non-analytical naturalists need not accept. In § 2, I show that escaping Parfit’s argument in this way is no ad hoc maneuver; as I demonstrate, the idea that non-analytical naturalists can exploit to escape Parfit’s argument is a familiar one.
Abstract: Analytic reductivism in metaethics has long been out of philosophical vogue. In Confusion of Tongues: A Theory of Normativity (2014), Stephen Finlay tries to resuscitate it by developing an analytic metaethical reductive naturalistic semantics for ‘good.’ He argues that an end-relational semantics is the simplest account that can explain all of the data concerning the term, and hence the most plausible theory of it. I argue that there are several assumptions that a reductive naturalist would need to make about contextual parameter completion to derive reductive naturalism from an end-relational semantics—assumptions that nonnaturalists might forcefully resist. I also argue for the claim that an end-relational semantics could provide surprising resources for nonnaturalists to address semantic worries about their views—the upshot of which paints the way for a new and sophisticated nonnaturalism about the semantics of moral discourse. Nonnaturalists have long suspected that they need not worry about semantics and this paper lends support to that suspicion.
Terence Cuneo's Speech and Morality: On the Metaethical Implications of Speaking
Journal of Moral Philosophy (Forthcoming)