By In Metaethics Comments (21)

Metaethics Flowchart

I am teaching a graduate-level metaethics survey course this semester and would like to give my students a flowchart to help them keep track of the field. I've seen a couple around but none were quite what I was looking for. So I'm making my own. I'm posting it here in the hopes that (selfishly) I get feedback and (somewhat less selfishly) others will be able to make use of it. The current draft is here:

http://filebox.vt.edu/users/faraci/metaethics.pdf

A couple of notes: I distinguish between possible and actual views, the former being ones I'm not aware of anyone discussing in the literature. Please let me know if you're aware of something I've missed.

Also, the way I map out various forms of naturalism may seem unusual, since it's informed by somewhat idiosyncratic views I have about how these things should be carved up. I'm happy to discuss this further if it tickles anyone's fancy (and I hope to post separately about these issues at some point).

Love this idea? Nominate it for the Annual PEA Soup Awards!

21 Responses to Metaethics Flowchart

  1. Mark Friedman says:

    Thanks! This is very helpful to this amateur. Pardon the possibly dumb question, but where does Kant’s moral theory fit on this chart?

  2. christian lee says:

    for two other charts see huemer’s “ethical intuitionism” and oddie’s “value, reality, and desire”.
    i suspect you should have a node for causal networking too.
    the chart gives the impression that the existence of moral truth suffices for realism. but i don’t think that can be right because subjectivism is not a form of realism.

  3. Rachel says:

    I like the idea of distinguishing between epistemic, semantic, and metaphysical questions/positions. However, I find the way this chart categorizes positions somewhat confusing. I would expect the positions to be categorized according to the questions they answer, but that’s not the case for a lot of the positions as you have them on your chart. It ends up being kind of confusing why error theory is metaphysical but non-cognitivism is semantic, or why analytic naturalism is epistemic/metaphysical while synthetic naturalism is just metaphysical even though they are distinguished by a semantic question.
    Another thought: what if you started out with ‘Do moral claims express beliefs?’ rather than ‘Is there moral truth?’? Then you could include quasi-realism under non-cogntivism, which (to me) seems important.

  4. Mike Ridge says:

    A few suggestions: Quasi-Realism denies that moral truth fundamentally depends on our attitudes. It is controversial whether the quasi-realist can make good on that claim in a fully satisfying way without collapsing into realism, but that is the view. So I think that view is on the wrong node. Also, hybrid theories seem to be absent from the chart (I admit they are dear to my heart so there is perhaps some bias there!). That also bears on the placement of quasi-realism. For example, my Ecumenical Expressivism is at the same time meant to be a species of quasi-realism. While it denies that moral judgments are beliefs (in a Humean sense), it holds that they are necessarily partly constituted by Humean beliefs. The same is true of Schroeder’s “relational expressivism,” e.g. So perhaps more fineness of grain in the psychological taxonomy would be useful.

  5. Martin says:

    Thanks, useful! For comparison, here is Miller 2003 An Introd. to Contemp. Metaethics, p. 8
    http://imgur.com/I99aM

  6. Steve Finlay says:

    Since other charts are being mentioned, in the (self) interests of completeness I’ll add that I tried my hand at a chart in a paper in Philosophy Compass, here. I’m not claiming my attempt has any special merit; it’s a lot simpler than David’s, which I find very impressive.

  7. Steve Finlay says:

    …so I’m no good at html. The url is http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1747-9991.2007.00100.x

  8. wilder says:

    This is neat. Curious, what software did you use to create the chart?

  9. Adam says:

    Thank you so much for this! I’ve been scoping out mind mapping software the last few days with the intention of making a meta-ethics mind map to help me keep track of things during the seminar I’m taking this fall, and this is a marvelous model. Thanks again!

  10. I am confused… Where do views like that of Korsgaard, Gauthier or other “constructivists” fit? (You know, views that claim that our (moral) reasons for acting depend on what rational agents would agree to in an ideal situation or views that claim that our (moral) reasons depend on what an agent would ‘endorse’ given her ‘practical identity’. Or are these not “metaethical” views?
    Just asking…

  11. Oh and Mike Ridge is absolutely right: hybrid theories are absent…

  12. David Faraci says:

    Thanks for all the feedback (and the other charts)! I’ll be trying to incorporate as much as possible over the next few days (the original link will reflect all edits, if you’re curious). To address a few comments/questions (in the order they were posted):

    • Mark: I would have thought Kant fit most naturally under synthetic naturalism. I don’t know his metaphysics well enough to say whether he would consider the view reductive or not. Since is his view is (primarily?) normative, I didn’t include it as its own node. Note that it is entirely possible that everything I just said is false; I haven’t done much Kant lately.
    • Christian: “Realism” is obviously a contested term, and my temptation in such cases is to treat the term as though it refers as broadly as is plausible.
    • Rachel: Error theory should probably be metaphysical/semantic, rather than just metaphysical. I have analytic naturalism as metaphysical/semantic because analyticity has important epistemological implications. Syntheticness does, too, but since it doesn’t as typically distinguish between the a priori and a posteriori, I didn’t want to assume that synthetic naturalism itself had any particular epistemological commitments (other than that moral knowledge isn’t analytic). I address this briefly in a footnote.
    • Rachel, Mike, Bruno: You are correct that I didn’t do a very good job with the non-cognitivist side of things. I’ll try to fix that. I do prefer, though, keeping things with the top-most question as is, since I think that students will find this guiding question more familiar and sensible than one about whether moral claims express beliefs.
    • Wilder: I did this all in MS Word 2010.
    • Bruno: Constructivism is tough, and I probably should have noted this explicitly (and will do so in the next draft). It is a metaethical view, insofar as it’s its own view at all. I tend to think that constructivists will all turn out either to be response-dependent theorists (up where I put subjectivism and (mistakenly) quasi-realism) or they will just turn out to hold particular versions of naturalism. David Enoch actually has a paper with his own flowchart that’s meant to show that constructivism is not really its own view, at least not in metanormative theory. You can check that out here (if you have access).
  13. There are a variety of views according to which moral truth fundamentally depends on our attitudes. There are your more direct “believing makes it so” versions of relativism and subjectivism. However, there is also the (doxastic?) constructivist view that for a moral judgment to be true is for it to be entailed (or supported) by the theory that best systematizes and predicts our intuitions. I have heard people attribute this view to Rawls. There are also (conative?) constructivist views according to which our (informed) pro-attitudes determine or fix what is really valuable. Various American pragmatists appear to accept this view. Also, I would not have thought that quasi-realists belong over with this group of relativists, subjectivists, and constructivists, as it is not clear to me that they think (a) that the moral truth depends on our attitudes, or (b) that moral knowledge is possible, or (c) that there is a moral truth – at least not in a “philosophical context.”
    I was surprised by the use of the question “Can the reference-fixing relation for any moral term be described wholly in non-moral terms?” to separate synthetic naturalists from non-naturalists. Perhaps you should say “natural” instead of non-moral? I would have guessed that non-naturalists believe that “good” refers to The Form of the Good in the same way that “equality” refers to The Form of Equality and “1” refers to The Form of One. This relation is presumably not going to be *moral* in the case of The Good as it is non-moral in these other cases. (The Good itself might have queer powers that Equality doesn’t, but why would this show up in the reference-fixing relation?) Perhaps the relation could even be causation, although how something non-natural could cause something natural is beyond me.
    I like how your flow chart separates the question of whether moral terms can be defined in non-moral terms from the question of whether moral properties just are natural properties. Another difference among naturalists concerns whether we ought to expect moral and non-moral terms to be co-referring. As I understand the Cornell Realists, they believe that moral properties can be roughly described in natural terms, but they think that moral and non-moral terms will never co-refer, as the usefulness of moral terms is that they mark slightly different clusterings of properties than natural terms from everyday life and the various social sciences (which clusterings that are important for certain explanatory projects).

  14. Eric says:

    Should moral nihilism be given a spot on the flow chart, or do you subsume it under moral skepticism?

  15. bennymay says:

    Sorry that this is only tangentially related. I’m seeking advice re. ethics and don’t know where to turn. I want to find someone to tell me if a Dr (and ethics lecturer; Rob Loblay) was acting ethically under oath. http://goo.gl/7kK2N Any suggestions?

  16. David Faraci says:

    I’ve posted a new version of the flowchart (same link, here). If you have a minute, take a look and see if I’ve adequately addressed your concerns and/or generated new ones. Please note that I’ve removed the epistemology aspect of the chart, as I think it was confusing things more than clarifying them. Thanks again for all the comments!

  17. For comparison, here’s a flowchart I made a few years ago when I was teaching at St Andrews:
    http://tcd.academia.edu/AnttiKauppinen/Teaching/38512/Metaethics_Flowchart
    My chart doesn’t go into as many subdivisions – undergrads would revolt otherwise – but I kinda like the basic structure. I also included some reasons for answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the questions. I’d change them a bit today.

  18. W says:

    This is only stylistic feedback, but I think the red corners may add complexity without adding clarity. They’re not especially easy to zero in on so they don’t really make it easier to find the views vs. the questions quickly, and once you’ve read the text it’s clear enough what is what. If you want the views to stand out perhaps they could be bolded or double bordered?

  19. martin says:

    Adding to W’s stylistic feedback:
    Remove the boxes around the questions. The semantic or metaphysical topic of the question is clear enough from its content. But if you insist on marking question topics visually then a an orange or blue dot before/after the question is less intrusive. Or even better, a small bold SE(mantic) or ME(taphysics).
    It would make more sense to position the quasi-realist area inbetween the realism and anti-realism areas.
    I prefer non-color charts. Easier to print and hand out with reliable quality. To go colorless you could replace green/red arrows with filled/dotted arrow lines to represent yes/no. The single “continue” relation on the chart could be a filled line without arrow or just a filled arrowed yes-line – there’s no risk of confusion with that I think.
    I’m also a bit skeptical towards your labelling of several of the views as (only) metaphysical. Isn’t non-naturalism in metaethics often taken as a label for a package with a descriptivist/cognitivism semantical view and a form of realist metaphysical view? In general, doesn’t all views in the chart represent both semantic and metaphysical claims?

  20. David Faraci says:

    W and Martin,
    Thanks for the suggestions. I understand the appeal of a colorless map, but given the length of most of the arrows, I’m not sure anything other than color will do the trick. However, I was careful to be consistent with “yes” going to the left and “no” going to the right, so the map should still be readable even when printed without color (obviously you’ll also lose the semantic/metaphysical distinctions, but that’s not the end of the world).
    I’ve also taken the suggestion of putting quasi-realism between realism and anti-realism. And I think trying to label the views, as opposed to just the questions, as semantic/metaphysical was a mistake. I’ve edited accordingly there, too.

  21. Nathan says:

    Nice chart. I know space is limited, but it might be useful, at least for some of the more prominent positions, to include examples of philosophers who defend the view. Just one or two last names in parentheses would suffice.