.. but this is just horrific. Feel free to share it if you have the same sense of disgust and distress in realizing that some fellow humans condone this barbarity.
In the last post, Joyce’s conception of moral inescapability was introduced, and moral imperatives were identified as strongly categorical. In this post, Joyce uses the insights gained to sketch an argument for a moral error theory. A theory of practical rationality is given, and used to refine the argument.
The Argument for Moral-Error Theory: First Pass
This brings us to our first sketch of Joyce’s argument:
1. If x morally ought to φ, then x ought to φ regardless of whether he cares to, regardless of whether φing satisfies any of his desires or furthers his interests.
2. If x morally ought to φ, then x has a reason for φing.
3. Therefore, if x morally ought to φ, then x has a reason for φing regardless of whether φing serves his desires or furthers his interests.
4. But there is no sense to be made of such reasons.
5. Therefore, x is never under a moral obligation.1 Continue reading
In the last post, we left off with a method of determining whether an error-theoretical stance should be taken toward moral discourse: first, find one or more non-negotiable propositions implied by the discourse; second, attempt to ascertain whether these non-negotiable propositions are true. In this post, Joyce begins to build his case for an error theory.
Moral Inescapability & Prudential Oughts
Joyce’s argument for error theory centers on what he calls ‘moral inescapability’. He views moral discourse in the tradition of J.L. Mackie, as being objectively prescriptive:
“..it is the idea that there are actions which we “have to do, regardless” that underlies the claims of objective prescriptivity. The problem of ordinary moral discourse is not a matter of what motivations accompany our moral judgments – it is, rather, that we think that people are “bound” even if they make no moral judgments at all. Even the person who has rejected that whole realm we still think of as being under the jurisdiction of morality.” ~ Joyce, p. 31. Continue reading
Lately, I’ve been reading Richard Joyce’s The Myth of Morality, and it’s impressive. As the title suggests, Joyce argues in favor of an error theory concerning moral discourse: he claims that rational inescapability is an ineliminable component of it, that this feature is unsatisfied by the world we find ourselves in, and that therefore moral discourse is hopelessly flawed. From there, he moves on to discuss why this error should be so widespread, finding an answer in natural selection. Lastly, Joyce speculates that moral discourse might, despite its flaws, nevertheless be worthwhile continuing on with – he advocates a fictionalist stance that purports to preserve some of the benefits of moral discourse (such as combating akrasia), without committing to belief in moral propositions. I’ll be blogging my way through the book, in this and upcoming posts.
Setting the Stage
The Myth of Morality opens with a discussion of the Polynesian concept of ‘tapu’, which is to be shown an appropriate subject of error theory. Tapu, we are told, “centrally implicates a kind of uncleanliness or pollution that may reside in objects, may pass to humans through contact, may be then transmitted to others like a contagion, and which may be canceled through certain ritual activities, usually involving washing“(p.1). But whilst primitive Polynesians have certainly thought this concept to have application, the modern Western mind denies this: the former assert some sentences of the form “Φ is tapu”, whereas the latter think that these sentences are false1. That is, the modern Westerner adopts an error theory concerning tapu-discourse. Continue reading
In the last post, I gave a brief and partial description of Desirism’s analysis of value, which led us to an account of moral value. There, it was given that a morally good desire-type is one which, based on certain considerations regarding how it relates to other desire-types, yields a net positive value. A morally bad or evil desire-type yields a net negative value. But so far this only explains the proper descriptive application of moral terms, whereas the point of such terms supposedly rests in their prescriptivity. For a fully satisfying moral theory, the Desirist has to explain how to parlay his description into statements with normative force. Or, to put this problem in a common expression, Desirism must explain how to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. Continue reading
There’s an ethical theory I’ve had interest in for some time, called ‘Desirism’ (or ‘Desire Utilitarianism’). Unfortunately, you won’t find it in any Ethics textbook, nor in any journal, nor even amongst the pages of Wikipedia. Nevertheless the theory has a substantial online presence, and is supported and elaborated by thinkers of quality (e.g. originator Alonzo Fyfe, Luke Muehlhauser) who make a strong case against more mainstream alternatives.
The theory has convinced myself and many others that a robust Moral Realism actually has a shot at being true, whereas prior to encountering it, a factual interpretation of moral statements seemed so absurd to me I assumed Realism couldn’t be true. On the other hand, the theory has never really crystallized in my head – some parts of the account seem to cohere with others, but the logical relations are not made explicit; and in still other parts the generality of the description is unsettlingly vague.
I begin with the briefest of explanations, one that will only get us so far as defining the moral good. But be warned: my explanation will be idiosyncratic, and I doubt the aforementioned thinkers will completely agree with my way of presenting it.