Moral Philosophy and the 'Ethical Turn' in Anthropology
Abstract: Moral philosophy continues to be enriched by an ongoing empirical turn, mainly through contributions from neuroscience, biology, and psychology. Thus far, cultural anthropology has largely been missing. A recent and rapidly growing ‘ethical turn’ within cultural anthropology now explicitly and systematically studies morality. This research report aims to introduce to an audience in moral philosophy several notable works within the ethical turn. It does so by critically discussing the ethical turn’s contributions to four topics: the definition of morality, the nature of moral change and progress, the truth of moral relativism, and attempts to debunk morality. The ethical turn uncovers a richer picture of moral phenomena on the intersubjective level, one akin to a virtue theoretic focus on moral character, with striking similarities of moral phenomena across cultures. Perennial debates are not settled but the ethical turn strengthens moral philosophy’s empirical turn and it rewards serious attention from philosophers.
Objectivist conditions for defeat and evolutionary debunking arguments
Abstract: I make a case for distinguishing clearly between subjective and objective accounts of undercutting defeat and for rejecting a hybrid view that takes both subjective and objective elements to be relevant for whether or not a belief is defeated. Moderate subjectivists claim that taking a belief
to be defeated is sufficient for the belief to be defeated;
subjectivist idealists add that if an idealised agent takes a
belief to be defeated then the belief is defeated.
Subjectivist idealism evades some of the objections levelled
against moderate subjectivism but can be shown to
yield inconsistent results in some cases. Both subjectivisms
should be rejected. We should be objectivists regarding
undercutting defeat. This requirement, however, is
likely to be problematic for a popular interpretation of
evolutionary debunking arguments in metaethics as it can
be shown that existing objectivist accounts of defeat do
not support such arguments. I end by discussing the constraints
of developing such an account.
Evolution and Moral Disagreement
Abstract: Several philosophers have recently argued that evolutionary considerations undermine the justification of all objectivist moral beliefs by implying a hypothetical disagreement: had our evolutionary history been different, our moral beliefs would conflict with the moral beliefs of our counterfactual selves. This paper aims at showing that evolutionary considerations do not imply epistemically relevant moral disagreement. In nearby scenarios, evolutionary considerations imply tremendous moral agreement. In remote scenarios, evolutionary considerations do not entail relevant disagreement with our epistemic peers, neither on a narrow nor on a broad conception of peerhood. In conclusion, evolutionary considerations do not reveal epistemically troubling kinds of disagreement. Anti-objectivists need to look elsewhere to fuel their sceptical argument.
Third factor explanations and disagreement in metaethics
Abstract: Several moral objectivists try to explain the reliability of moral beliefs by appealing to a third factor, a substantive moral claim that explains, first, why we have the moral beliefs that we have and, second, why these beliefs are true.
Folke Tersman has recently suggested that moral disagreement constrains the epistemic legitimacy of third-factor explanations.
Apart from constraining third-factor explanations, Tersman’s challenge could support the view that the epistemic significance of debunking explanations depends on the epistemic significance of disagreement.
I aim at showing that disagreement does not constrain the epistemic legitimacy of third-factor explanations in metaethics, and suggest a way forward in addressing the view that debunking depends on disagreement.
Can Moral Realists deflect defeat due to evolutionary explanations of morality?
Abstract: I address Andrew Moon's recent discussion of the question whether third-factor accounts are valid responses to debunking arguments against moral realism. Moon argues that third-factor responses are valid under certain conditions but leaves open whether moral realists can use his interpretation of the third-factor response to defuse the evolutionary debunking challenge. I rebut Moon's claim and answer his question. Moon's third-factor reply is valid only if we accept externalism about epistemic defeaters. However, even if we do, I argue, the conditions Moon identifies for a valid third-factor response are not met in the case of moral realism.
Old Wine in New Bottles. Evolutionary Debunking Arguments and the Benacerraf-Field Challenge
Abstract: I argue that evolutionary, causal explanations do not play an essential role Street's epistemological evolutionary debunking argument. Street’s argument depends on the Benacerraf-Field challenge, which is the challenge to explain the reliability of our moral beliefs about causally inert moral properties. The Benacerraf-Field challenge relies on metaphysically necessary facts about realist moral properties, rather than on contingent Darwinian facts about the origin of our moral beliefs. Attempting to include an essential causal empirical premise yet avoiding recourse to the Benacerraf-Field problem yields an argument that is either self-defeating or of limited scope. Ultimately, evolutionary, causal explanations of our moral beliefs and their consequences do not present the strongest case against robust moral realism.
Measuring Moral Development
Abstract: In the aftermath of the financial crisis, heightened awareness of ethical issues sparked increased efforts within universities and businesses to educate people in moral matters. Sometimes, psychological tests are used to measure whether moral development occurred. If moral development is understood as a synonym of moral progress, then this might seem like a good sign: it seems as if we have a handle on making moral progress. Alas, moral development and moral progress are two very different things. And although we know a lot about moral development, what we know has little to do with moral progress. Let’s untangle both concepts.
Evolution and Ethics
Abstract: We often follow what are considered basic moral rules: don’t steal, don’t lie, help others when we can. But why do we follow these rules, or any rules understood as “moral rules”? Does evolution explain why? If so, does evolution have implications for which rules we should follow, and whether we genuinely know this? This essay explores the relations between evolution and morality, including evolution’s potential implications for whether morality or ethics exists at all.
Survival of Defeat - Evolution, Moral Objectivity, and Undercutting
Abstract: Evidence from biology and psychology suggests that our moral views depend on our evolutionary history. For example, if we humans would have evolved to live like hive bees, we would probably think very differently about moral questions such as whether we have a duty to care for our children. The findings from biology and psychology threaten to ‘debunk’ the justification of judgements about objective moral truths. Objective moral truths are always the same and they do not vary with our contingent evolutionary history, whereas our moral judgements do. It has been argued that we, therefore, cannot tell right from wrong. In my thesis, I investigate the epistemology behind the evolutionary debunking of morality. Evolutionary explanations of morality, I argue, do not imply that our moral judgements are false. This leaves the possibility that evolution undercuts our (alleged) evidence for our moral judgements. Our evolutionarily influenced moral judgements might turn out to be unreliable guides to the moral truth, just like sight is a lousy guide to the external world in bad lighting conditions. However, I show that as long as we have reason to initially trust our moral beliefs, evolution does not provide us with reason to give up our moral beliefs. If evolution undercuts our moral beliefs, evolutionary considerations must show that true moral judgements do not qualify as knowledge because moral judgements are not cognitive achievements but comparable to lucky guesses. The thesis thus answers how empirical investigations of morality might have justificatory implications and the findings are relevant for deciding whether new factual information can alter how we think about right and wrong.