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Metaethics from a First Person Standpoint

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Catherine Wilson

Suggestions for further study

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Enquiry I

1John Locke presents a catalogue of startling human practices in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. P.H. Nidditch, Oxford: Clarendon, 1975, Bk I, Ch.  III, § 9, pp. 70–71 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1093/​actrade/​9780198243861.book.1]. For a classic anthropological defence of moral relativism, see Edward Westermarck, Ethical Relativity, New York: Littlefield, Adams & Company, 1932. For contemporary discussion and defence see Gilbert Harman, ‘Moral Relativism Defended,’ The Philosophical Review, 84.1 (Jan. 1975), pp. 3–22 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.2307/​2184078], and Jesse Prinz, The Emotional Construction of Morals, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, esp. pp. 173–214 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1093/​acprof:oso/​9780199571543.001.0001]. On moral scepticism see also Gilbert Harman, The Nature of Morality: An Introduction to Ethics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977, and Richard Joyce, The Myth of Morality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, esp. Chs. I-II [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1017/​cbo9780511487101]. On the peculiarities of our moral judgements, see Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan, ‘The Weirdest People in the World?,’ Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33 (2010), pp. 61–83 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1017/​s0140525x0999152x].

Enquiry II

2Humans are judgemental: Adam Smith develops this point in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), ed. Ryan Patrick Hanley, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2009, esp. Chs. I-IV; an updated treatment of the moral sentiments is to be found in Jonathan Haidt, ‘The Moral Emotions,’ in R.J. Davidson, K.R. Scherer, and H.H. Goldsmith (eds.), Handbook of Affective Sciences, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 852– 870. Historically, the view that values are perceived in and attributed to actions, situations, events, and persons that do not and cannot literally possess them is associated with Hobbes, Spinoza, and Hume. See Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651), ed. Richard Tuck, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 39; Baruch Spinoza, Ethics (1677), tr. and ed. E. Curley, Princeton: Princeton University Press, Bk III, Prop. 9; Prop. 39; and David Hume, Enquiry, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), ed. T. Beauchamp, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, esp. Pt. II, Chs. V-VIII and Appendix 1, p. 163. For the 20th-century version of ‘error theory,’ see J.L. Mackie, Ethics. Inventing Right and Wrong, New York: Penguin, 1977, Ch. I, and Richard Joyce, The Myth of Morality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1017/​CBO9780511487101].

Enquiry III

3For discussion of the fact-value, description-evaluation distinction, see Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, Part 1, §1. See further Charles Stevenson, ‘The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms,’ in Facts and Values, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963, pp. 10–70 and for criticism Hilary Putnam, ‘The Entanglement of Fact and Value,’ in The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and Other Essays, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002, esp. pp. 34–48. For further discussion of ‘thick’ concepts that are both descriptive and evaluative, see Allan Gibbard and Simon Blackburn, ‘Morality and Thick Concepts,’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume, 66 (1992), pp. 267–283, 285–299. For an eloquent defence of the ineliminability of values from experience, see John McDowell, ‘Values and Secondary Qualities,’ in Morality and Objectivity, ed. T. Honderich, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985, pp. 110–129. For an opposing view, see Simon Blackburn, ‘Errors and the Phenomenology of Value,’ in Morality and Objectivity: A Tribute to J. L. Mackie, ed. Ted Honderich, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985, pp. 1–22. See further David Copp, ‘Realist-Expressivism: A Neglected Option for Moral Realism,’ Social Philosophy and Policy, 18 (2001), pp. 1–43 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1017/​s0265052500002880], and David Morrow, ‘Moral Psychology and the “Mencian Creature”,’ Philosophical Psychology, 22 (2009), pp. 281–304 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1080/​09515080902970657].

Enquiry IV

4On moral decisions, see Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, tr. Hazel E. Barnes, 2nd edn, London: Routledge, 2003, esp. Pt. I, Ch. II, § 1–2. More recently, the connection between normativity and planning has been emphasised by Allan Gibbard, Meaning and Normativity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, esp. Ch. II [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1093/​acprof:oso/​9780199646074.001.0001]. On the relevance for ethics of the notion of an ‘Ideal Observer’ who knows exactly what they ought to know and cares about exactly what they ought to care about to precisely the degree that they ought to, see Roderick Firth, ‘Ethical Absolutism and the Ideal Observer,’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 12 (1952), pp. 317–345 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.2307/​2103988] and the response of Richard Brandt, ‘The Definition of an “Ideal Observer” Theory in Ethics,’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 15 (1955), pp. 407–413 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.2307/​2103510].

5For an important contribution to the understanding of prudential decisions, see Sharon Street, ‘Constructivism about Reasons,’ Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 3, ed. Russ Shafer-Landau, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2008, pp. 207–245. There is a vast literature on ‘vagueness’—the problem of how much, exactly?—that is relevant to planning decisions. For a start, one might begin with the ‘sorities paradox’ or ‘problem of the heap,’ see http://plato.stanford.edu/​entries/​sorites-paradox. For a celebrated discussion of risk and reward in decisions of moral significance, see Bernard Williams, ‘Moral Luck,’ in Moral Luck, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981, pp. 20–39 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1017/​CBO9781139165860].

Enquiry V

6On the relations between morality and manners, see Philippa Foot, ‘Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives,’ The Philosophical Review, 81 (1972), pp. 305–316 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.2307/​2184328]. On knowing how to do things, see Gilbert Ryle, ‘Knowing How and Knowing That,’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 46 (1945–1946), pp. 1–16. Ludwig Wittgenstein discussed ‘language games’ and the allied notion of ‘forms of life’ in his Philosophical Investigations, 4th edn, ed. P.M.S. Hacker, Oxford: Blackwell, 2009. The latter notion has wide application in anthropology and sociology as well as in philosophy. See, for example, Peter Winch, The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy, London: Routledge, 2007 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.4324/​9780203820766]. On social roles, see Erving Goffman, The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, Garden City, NJ: Doubleday Anchor, 1959. The problem of the Arrogant Great Man—a central problem in ancient Greek society—is extensively discussed by Plato, most notably in his dialogue Gorgias where Callicles presents his case at 832 ff. and 488b ff.; and in Republic, Bk I, 338b, where Thrasymachus presents his. See Plato, Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper and D.M. Hutchinson, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997.

Enquiry VI

7On morality as a relation between Person 1 and Person 2, see Tim Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998; Catherine Wilson, Moral Animals, Ideals and Constraints in Moral Theory, Oxford: Clarendon, 2004, passim [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1093/​0199267677.001.0001]; and Stephen Darwall, The Second-Person Standpoint, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009. For an influential view of the components of human well-being that is controversial but important, see Martha Nussbaum, ‘Human Functioning and Social Justice: In Defense of Aristotelian Essentialism,’ Political Theory, 20 (1992), pp. 202–246 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1177/​0090591792020002002]. On the intentional factor in human actions and accidental harms, see G.E.M. Anscombe, Intention, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

8For discussion of whether free will is necessary for moral responsibility and whether psychopaths are morally responsible for their deeds, see Robert D. Hare, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopath, New York: The Guildford Press, 1999, and R. Jay Wallace, Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

9On the human being as a social animal, see Chares Darwin, The Descent of Man (1879), repr. London: Penguin, 2004, and more recently Robert Wright, The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are, New York: Vintage, 1994. On the proto-moral behaviour of apes, see Jessica C. Flack and Frans B.M. de Waal, ‘Any Animal Whatever’: Darwinian Building Blocks of Morality in Monkeys and Apes,’ in Leonard D. Katz, ed., Evolutionary Origins of Morality: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7 (Nos. 1 and 2), repr. Upton Pyne UK: Imprint Academic, 2000, pp. 1–29. Adam Smith in the Theory of Moral Sentiments calls attention to our spontaneous sympathy for others in Chs. I-IV. On the evolution of altruism, see Robert Trivers, ‘The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism,’ Quarterly Review of Biology, 46 (1971), pp. 35–57 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1086/​406755], and Philip Kitcher, ‘Between Fragile Altruism and Morality: Evolution and the Emergence of Normative Guidance,’ in Evolutionary Ethics and Contemporary Biology, ed. Giovanni Boniolo and Gabriele de Anna, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp. 159–177 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1017/​cbo9780511498428.011].

Enquiry VII

10The problems posed by the existence and demands of the Future Self are extensively discussed by Derek Parfit in Reasons and Persons, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986, esp. Pt. III, ‘Personal Identity’ [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1093/​019824908x.001.0001]; also Bernard Williams, ‘The Self and the Future,’ The Philosophical Review, 79 (1970), pp. 161–180 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.2307/​2183946]. The analogy between prudence and morality was first noted by Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, 5th edn, London: Macmillan, 1893, p. 418, and is pursued by Thomas Nagel in The Possibility of Altruism, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.

11The extension of concern to larger and larger units was a theme of the Stoics. See Marcus Tullius Cicero, On Ends, 2nd edn, tr. H. Rackham, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931, Bk V, § 22. See also Peter Singer, The Expanding Circle; Ethics, Evolution and Moral Progress Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011. On our natural partiality to kith and kin, see Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, Pt. VI, §II, Ch. I, and on the limits of concern, Susan Wolf, ‘Moral Saints,’ Journal of Philosophy, 79 (1982), pp. 419–439 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.2307/​2026228]. On the claim that moral indifference is sometimes justified, see Hallvard Lillehammer, The Ethics of Indifference, London: Routledge, 2013. Familial conflict is prominent in the dramas of the ancient playwright Euripides and is stock in modern situation comedy.

Enquiry VIII

12A defence of ‘emotivism,’ the view that moral claims express the speaker’s emotional stance, was presented by A.J. Ayer, ‘Critique of Ethics and Theology,’ in Language, Truth and Logic, New York: Dover, 1936, esp. pp. 105–112, and developed by Charles Stevenson, op. cit. On ‘expressivism,’ the doctrine that evaluative terms are, as Hume maintained, perceptual projections of speakers and that moral utterances express their attitudes towards states of affairs, see R.M. Hare, The Language of Morals, (1952) Oxford: Clarendon, 2015 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1093/​0198810776.001.0001] and Simon Blackburn, Spreading the Word, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984. See also David Wiggins, ‘A Sensible Subjectivism?’ in David Wiggins, Needs, Values, Truth, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987, pp. 185–211.

13For Plato’s answer to the question, ‘why be moral?’ phrased in terms of the intrinsic rewards available to the subject who enjoys a well-ordered moral constitution, see Plato, Republic, IX, 571a-592b, in Collected Works. For a challenging treatment of the question of whether I can opt out of morality, see Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, Abingdon: Routledge, 2006, esp. Ch. X. On the important role of resentment in human moral life, see P.F. Strawson, ‘Freedom and Resentment,’ in Freedom and Resentment and Other Essays, London: Methuen, 2008, pp. 1–28 and also Allan Gibbard, Wise Choices, Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgment, Oxford: Clarendon, 1992, pp. 47–48. For resentment as a marker of wrongdoing, see Peter Railton, ‘Moral Realism,’ The Philosophical Review, 95 (1986), pp. 163–207 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.2307/​2185589].

Enquiry IX

14Unconscious biases relevant to moral judgement, plans, and decisions are discussed by Richard E. Nisbett and Lee Ross, Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings in Human Judgement, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1980, and by Virginia Valian, Why So Slow?, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

15Utilitarianism is classically ascribed to Jeremy Bentham, The Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789) and to J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism (1863); see also J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams, Utilitarianism; For and Against, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1017/​cbo9780511840852], and Samuel Scheffler, The Rejection of Consequentialism: A Philosophical Investigation of the Considerations Underlying Rival Moral Conceptions, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1093/​0198235119.001.0001]. The Universalization criterion is presented by Immanuel Kant in his Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), tr. James W. Ellington, 3rd edn, Indianapolis: Hackett (1993), p. 30. For an updated Kantianism, see Christine Korsgaard, The Sources of Normativity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1017/​cbo9780511554476], and Barbara Herman, ‘The Practice of Moral Judgment,’ The Journal of Philosophy, 82 (1985), pp. 414–436 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.2307/​2026397]. For Virtue Theory, see Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, tr. Terence Irwin, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1999, esp. pp. 40–66. A recent exposition is that of Rosalind Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1093/​0199247994.001.0001].

16For an argument to the effect that moral claims represent conditions of the world that obtain or fail to obtain, see Peter Geach, ‘Assertion,’ The Philosophical Review, 74 (1965), pp. 449–465 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.2307/​2183123]. On the validation of moral claims, see John Mikhail, ‘Universal Moral Grammar: Theory, Evidence and the Future,Trends in Cognitive Science, 11 (2007), pp. 143–152 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1016/​j.tics.2006.12.007]. For scepticism about the adequacy of theories and a defence of ‘moral particularism,’ see Jonathan Dancy. Ethics Without Principles, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1093/​0199270023.001.0001].

17On the concept of moral progress, see Ruth Macklin, ‘Moral Progress,’ Ethics, 87 (1977), pp. 370–382 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1086/​292049]; Catherine Wilson, ‘Moral Progress without Moral Realism,’ Philosophical Papers, 39 (2010), pp. 97–116 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1080/​05568641003669508]; and Dale Jamieson, Morality’s Progress, London: Oxford University Press, 2002. For defences of ‘Moral Realism,’ the doctrine that moral truths exist independently of human mental states and await our discovery, see Nicholas Sturgeon, ‘Moral Explanations,’ in Morality, Reason and Truth, ed. David Copp and David Zimmerman, Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Allanheld, 1985, pp. 49–78, and Russ Shafer-Landau, Moral Realism: A Defense, Oxford: Clarendon, 2003 [http://dx.doi.org/​10.1093/​0199259755.001.0001]. For critical discussion see Alex Miller, An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics, Oxford: Polity, 2003, pp. 143–179.

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