I am pleased to introduce this month's featured philosopher: me. Please join me in welcoming me.
[Added Monday morning 18 November by Shoemaker: Because of some random spamming difficulties, all comments will now be moderated. Please be patient, as comments must now be read and approved prior to being published.]
Well, thanks, it's nice to be here at PEA Soup, and to be the second consecutive JLD featured in as many months.
Once I was a metaethicist. I wanted to understand what is at issue when people (including professional moral philosophers) seem to disagree in their fundamental judgments, and try to figure out what the truth is, or act as if there were a truth to find. Back in the day I defended a kind of contextualist relativism (not knowing its proper name at the time I called it “Speaker Relativism”). I did a bunch of work on expressivism, largely defending it from objections. Eventually I became convinced that expressivism had the advantages of relativism without a main cost. But then I changed my mind again and decided there isn’t much difference between the views once each side has done its best to minimize its own costs. So that’s one reason I am now a metametaethicist: I’m trying to figure out how to understand what is at issue when metaethicists seem to disagree about fundamental things.
Outside of metaethics, I’ve been interested in the foundations of decision theory, and also in the way decision theory and other methods of economics can be used in philosophical ethics. In the same vein, I have defended the (apparently — I didn't expect it to be) provocative claim that any moderately plausible ethical view can be reconstructed as a practically equivalent consequentialist view. I think one reason some people don’t like this idea is that they think it’s supposed to show that consequentialism is in some way superior to its rivals. But that’s not what I meant. The reason it’s useful, if indeed it is, is that ‘consequentializing’ a theory (that is, reformulating it as a consequentialist theory with the same deontic verdicts) exposes the interesting differences among theories, abstracting away from superficial differences.
I’m happy to discuss any of this. (I have also been thinking about a new tool for consequentializers, suggested by Doug Portmore in his book, namely: centering value on worlds. But I’m still a little confused about this so I might just post something about it separately later.) To provide a little focus, let me say what I’ve written recently and what I’m interested in right now.
First, some things about the new quietist non-naturalism bother me. One is that this sort of view has nothing good to say about how practical normative judgment is related to choice and action. One needn’t be a stark, raving internalist to think that judgments about what you have reason to do or what you ought to do have some special relation to your practical decisions. What is that relation? I think the new non-naturalists want to say that it is a relation of rationality: it is irrational for you to judge that you ought to do something and then have no tendency at all to do it. Right. But why is this irrational? Kantians have an excellent answer. (Their answer is false, but I mean it would be a great answer if true.) So do Humean constructivists. Some kinds of Aristotelians. Expressivists. Even reductive naturalists! But non-naturalists, whether quietist or loudist, don’t seem to have anything to say at all.
Glad I got that off my chest.
Second, I’ve become worried that a certain kind of problem that besets non-naturalist realists will also be a problem for quasi-realists. In “Metaethics and the problem of creeping minimalism” I endorsed the idea that what makes a quasi-realist quasi is the absence of ethical (or other normative) material in the explanation of what it is to make an ethical judgment or assert an ethical proposition. Suppose (as I’m still inclined to do) this is right. Now there’s a new problem. How is the quasi-realist going to explain the Cosmic Coincidence between our normative judgments and the normative truth? We are not infallible, by any means, but we are remarkable accurate. What explains our accuracy? Quasi-realists accept that we are accurate, so it seems they accept something that needs an explanation… but they don’t have one. (By the way, this is obviously related to a complaint of Sharon Street’s, but I only mean to be picking up one element of her challenge, and not the overtly epistemic part – epistemology is hard.) Why not? Does it have to do with the fact that normative beliefs are not explained by the elements of their contents? And about the same issue arises for the explanation of supervenience, I think. The idea that expressivists have a good explanation of supervenience was an illusion.
Okay, that's probably already longer than the ideal PEA Soup posting, so I'll stop, and welcome comments and discussion.