By In Metaethics Comments (6)

The Embedding Objection: Part I, “What is Expressivism?”

Many people think that the problem of embedding ethical sentences like (1)

(1) Intentionally flying airplanes into tall buildings is wrong

within more complex sentences like (2)

(2) If intentionally flying airplanes into tall buildings is wrong, then I won’t do it

is one of the most challenging difficulties facing expressivists. This difficulty is often called “The Embedding Objection” or “The Frege-Geach Problem.” I also think The Embedding Objection is one of the most challenging difficulties facing expressivists, though I think the difficulties are not often fully understood as well as they might be. One reason, I think, is that ‘The Embedding Objection’ is an exceedingly misleading definite description: despite the occurrence of the definite article, there are, as far as I can tell, at least eight different problems that fall under the label ‘The Embedding Objection’; despite the occurrence of ‘objection’, not all of these problems are intended by those who mention them to be objections (for example, Dreier’s (1996) insistence that expressivist theories must account for compositionality is not an objection that they cannot); and despite the occurrence of ’embedding’, some of the problems have nothing fundamentally to do with embedding (for example, Sinnott Armstrong’s (2000) “Deepest Problem of Embedding”). Another reason is that there are several different kinds of expressivism, and so it is not always clear toward which kind of expressivism each of the eight problems is most forcefully directed. So, in a series of entries, I’ll try to make more transparent the different problems falling under the label ‘The Embedding Objection’ and toward which kind of expressivism each problem is most forcefully directed.

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By In Normative Ethics Comments (4)

Consequentializing: Part II

This entry is the second installment of a three-part series on consequentializing non-consequentialist moral theories. As noted in Part I, a number of philosophers accept what’s called Dreier’s Conjecture: For any moral theory M, there is some conceivable theory of the good that, when combined with the consequentialist principle “φ-ing is morally permissible iff φ-ing would produce the best available state of affairs,” yields moral verdicts that are, in every instance, identical to those of M. In her forthcoming article, Jennie Louise concludes from this conjecture that all moral theories are consequentialist (forthcoming, pp. 2 & 33). In this installment, I argue that this can’t be right since analogues of Dreier’s Conjecture are true of most moral theories, including Kantianism, contractualism, virtue ethics, and divine command theory. Thus, if Dreier’s Conjecture establishes that we’re all consequentialists, then these analogues establish that we’re all Kantians, contractualists, virtue ethicists, and divine command theorists as well, and this is just absurd.

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By In Normative Ethics Comments (15)

Consequentializing: Part I

A number of philosophers (e.g., Brown 2004, Dreier 1993, and Louise forthcoming) have hypothesized that most, if not all, non-consequentialist theories can be “consequentialized.” More precisely, the conjecture is this (paraphrasing Brown 2004): For any moral theory M, there is some conceivable theory of the good that, when combined with the consequentialist principle “φ-ing is morally permissible iff φ-ing would produce the best available state of affairs,” yields moral verdicts that are, in every instance, identical to those of M. For example, suppose that M includes an agent-centered constraint against the commission of murder, such that agents are prohibited from committing murder even for the sake of minimizing the number of murders committed overall. To accommodate such a constraint, the consequentialist need only adopt a theory of the good that holds (1) the value of a state of affairs in which a murder has been committed is agent-relative such that its value varies according to whether or not the evaluator is the murderer, and (2) the disvalue in an agent committing murder herself is, from her position (that of the agent), greater than the disvalue in numerous others committing comparable murders. What’s more, if M prohibits an agent from committing murder for the sake of minimizing the number of murders she herself commits, then the consequentialist need only adopt a theory of the good that holds (3) the value of a state of affairs in which a murder has been committed is temporally-relative such that its value varies according to whether or not the murder in question would take place in the present or the future, and (4) the disvalue in an agent committing murder now is, from her present position, greater than the disvalue in her committing numerous other comparable murders in the future. Thus, by incorporating certain agent-relative and temporally-relative values in its theory of the good, the consequentialist can, it would seem, yield moral verdicts identical to those of any other moral theory.

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By In Uncategorized Comments Off on Welcome!

Welcome!

Thanks for visiting PEA Soup, a blog dedicated to philosophy, ethics, and academia (the focus being on ethics). The principals involved are Dan Boisvert (California State University, Bakersfield), Josh Glasgow (Occidental College), Dave Shoemaker (Bowling Green State University), and myself, Doug Portmore (California State University, Northridge). Along with issues in moral philosophy (including metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics), we’ll address ethical issues relating to academia and the philosophical profession. Please check back periodically, as we expect to post new entries on a regular basis.

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