Advocates of moral dilemmas claim that there are possible cases in which no action open to an agent is morally permissible. If we translated this into Gibbard-speak, it would come out roughly, “Sometimes there’s nothing it is okay to do.” But such a claim cannot express a plan or system of plans for action; in every situation, you wind up doing something. So the moral dilemmatists’ claim is on Gibbard’s view something like analytically false (he calls it “inconsistent”), and anyone who made such a claim would be deeply confused. However, advocates of moral dilemmas seem to understand what they’re saying; they don’t seem to suffer from fundamental confusion, even if they are wrong. How should we explain this?
- Moral dilemmas are possible, and Gibbard’s semantics can’t account for them, so Gibbard’s semantics are wrong.
- Gibbard’s semantics shows that moral dilemmas are impossible, and those who have argued otherwise are in fact deeply confused.
- Gibbard’s “okay to do” and the moral dilemmatists’ “morally permissible” are predicates that don’t have much to do with one another; this is a pseudo-problem due to bad translation.
- The two predicates are in fact quite similar, but they are theoretical terms defined by their roles in substantive moral theories. What we learn is that Gibbard’s semantics is not theory-neutral but carries consequences for an adequate first-order moral theory.
The first two solutions don’t strike me as very plausible. The third and fourth have more merit.
In favor of the third solution, one might point out that advocates of moral dilemmas often appeal to the rightness of remorseful feelings no matter your choice of action in a dilemmatic situation. An expressivist might then construe their “…is (not) morally permissible” as expressing, not commitment to a plan of action, but commitment to norms for feeling remorse. On this view, the dilemmatists are construing moral theory as the study of what to feel remorseful for, not the study of what to do.
If this seems like an implausible construal of the dilemmatists’ views on moral theory, we have the fourth option to fall back on. If the fourth option is correct, then expressivist metaethics is not as purely “meta” as it is usually advertised. Thoughts? Other suggestions?