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Wednesday, June 15, 2011


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Hi Bill -
Nice explication of the metaethical landscape; and I think your strategy of "neutralizing" objections to objectivism gets things exactly right. Metaphysical doubts about objective moral facts usually apply with about equal force to objective medium-sized dry goods.

Thanks, Bob. Few arguments in philosophy are definitively refutable; most, however, can be neutralized.

Thanks for this Bill! I like that terminological explications of yours very much. They are of the best ones in the meta-ethical area.

As for the argument from queerness, I need to give it some more thought. A couple of years ago, I read a nice critique of this argument of J. L. Mackie in Q. Smith's Ethical and Religious Thought in Analytic Philosophy of Language (Yale UP 1997). I'll look at it.

On a sociological point, as I wrote to you, I've been said many times moral objectivism is dead (indeed, refuted!) since a long time ago. BUT: according to the PhilPapers Survey, most Anglo-American philosophers are moral realists. So there seems to be some chance many of them are moral objectivists. Anyway, there are moral objectivists known by name, like R. Shafer-Landau, R. Adams, Q. Smith, T. Hurka, D. Brink, John F. Post, W. L. Craig, M. Huemer, R. Swinburne, + some Aristotelian and virtue ethicists, and maybe even some Neo-Kantian moral philosophers (like C. Korsgaard).

I'll be back.


First an introspective, phenomenological question: do you take your own persistence in time as perceived by you or evident to you? Consider, e.g., the proposition "I exist now and an the time before". Do you perceive this or is it evidently true to you?

Or suppose at time t1 you have an impression I1, thought T1 and wish W1, at a (near) time t2 you have I2, T2 and W2, at t3 you have I3, T3 and W3. Do you perceive or is it evident to you that I1, T1 and W1 belong to an entity E1; I2, T2 and W2 to E2; and similarly for E3? And do you perceive or is it evident to you that E1=E2=E3=you (or, rather, E1=E2=E3=I, viewed from your own perspective)?

Presumably, Hume would deny any of these relations is perceived or evident. What about you? I'm asking this for I want to understand better the rationale of your intriguing critique of Mackie's argument.

Just for the record, it seems I found another defender of moral objectivism, under the head of "moral realism". Matthew Kramer, from Cambridge, has a book called Moral Realism as a Moral Doctrine (Wiley-Blackwell 2009).

"This book seeks to establish two main conclusions. On the one hand, moral requirements and other elements of ethics are strongly objective in a number of senses that will be expounded in Chapters 2–8. On the other hand, the objectivity of ethics is itself an ethical matter that rests primarily on ethical considerations. It is not something that can adequately be contested or confirmed through non-ethical reasoning. Efforts to ground the objectivity of ethics on non-ethical foundations are misconceived and counterproductive. Moral realism – the doctrine that morality is indeed objective in the various respects to be elaborated here – is a moral doctrine." (p. 1)


On the question of the self, see http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/03/can-the-chariot-take-us-to-the-land-of-no-self.html

Thanks for the info about Kramer.

Hey Bill,

My undergrad mentor and I often spar over just this issue. There are two reasons I don't follow Mackie here. First, along the lines of what you've already said, everywhere I look I see queerness. Consider the following list: objective moral truths, propositions, qualia, minds, abstract objects, time, motion, intentionality, quantum properties. All of these things are strange and puzzling on reflection. One of the pleasures of philosophy I think is discovering new puzzles, paradoxes and elements of strangeness in more and more things. To assert that anything queer must be non-existent seems intellectually stultifying to me.

Second, a point you didn't make here, is that the argument from queerness appears to be straightforwardly question-begging. Why is normativity queer? Because it's inconsistent with naturalism of the sort that Mackie endorses. If you don't accept Mackie's ontology from the outset, I don't see how the argument from queerness has any thrust whatsoever.

Glad we agree, Spencer.

The very use of 'queer' is objectionable, as if certain classes of entity could be shamed out of existence!

Also objectionable is the way homosexuals have hijacked the word -- but that's a separate topic! Same with 'gay,' et al.

Dr. Vallicella and Mr.* Case,

On "queerness" as an objection in philosophy, see here.

I completely agree as regards the corruption of "queer" in our day. No other word has quite the same meaning and tone. "Q" is one of my favourite letters, too...


*I recall that you are serving (served) in Afghanistan, but I do not recall your rank.

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