Monday, February 16, 2015

Cancelling Schroeder's "Implicature" Response to Parfit's Trivality Objection

According to Parfit's Triviality Objection, metaethical naturalism can't adequately capture our ability to make substantive positive normative claims.  For example, suppose a subjectivist naturalist wants to hold both:

Normative Subjectivism: You have reasons for action just when that act would fulfill one of your desires; and

Reductive Thesis: What it is to have a reason for action just is for that action to be such as to fulfill one of your desires.

Parfit responds that, if the Reductive Thesis were true, Normative Subjectivism could no longer state a positive substantive normative fact, since it would not be attributing any further normative property to acts that fulfill one of your desires.  It would just be to re-attribute that same property under another guise, and so the only real normative fact in the vicinity would be the negative one that there is no further normative property of being a reason that acts may have when they have the property of being such as to fulfill your desires (or whatever).

Schroeder responds, in 'What Matters about Metaethics' (forthcoming, pp.7-8), that on his view positive normative claims are still possible because the attribution of reasons pragmatically implicates that the reasons in question are relatively weighty ones.  And the property of being a weighty reason is a further normative property, just as Parfit asked for.

I have a couple of worries about this response.  Firstly, Schroeder is relying on pragmatic implicatures from normative claims in order to explain their status as positive substantive normative claims, but implicature is cancellable.  So consider the following putatively positive substantive normative claim:

Friday, February 13, 2015

Thoughts on 'Non-Consequentialism Demystified'

'Non-Consequentialism Demystified' is a really interesting new paper in Phil Imprint by Nye, Plunkett & Ku.  It makes two moves, in particular, that I want to focus on in this post.

First, it proposes an interesting analysis of distinctively moral normativity (something that has puzzled me before) in terms of the fittingness of feelings of obligation.  While there's clearly an intimate connection here, it's natural to wonder about the direction of explanation: If you are morally obligated to Φ, that would provide a straightforward explanation of why it's fitting to feel obligated thus. On the other hand, if the distinctive phenomenology is meant to explain what it is to be morally obligated, we might feel that some other explanation is needed of when and why such phenomenology is fitting.  Insofar as emotions (like fear) have fittingness conditions, these seem derivable from their cognitive content: the implicit claim being made by the emotion in question (e.g. that you're in danger).  But what is the cognitive content of a feeling of obligation?  Surely not just the vacuous reflexive thought that this very feeling is fitting.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Information and Parfit's Fact Stating Argument

In Chapter 26 of On What Matters (vol 2), Parfit sets out his (comparatively neglected) 'Fact-Stating Argument' against non-analytical moral naturalism.  This begins by distinguishing the referential and informational senses of "same fact".  Consider the following three claims:

(J) Shakespeare is Shakespeare
(K) Shakespeare and the writer of Hamlet are one and the same person.
(L) Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.

Parfit explains:
In the referential sense, (J) and (K) state the same fact, since both claims refer to Shakespeare and tell us that Shakespeare has the property of being numerically identical to himself.  In the informational sense, however, (J) and (K) state different facts. Unlike (J), (K) refers to Shakespeare in a way that also tells us that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. In the informational sense, it is (K) and (L) that state the same fact.

Parfit then goes on to consider the moral naturalist's thesis:
(Q) moral rightness is the same as some particular natural property

Are "Internal Reasons" Normative?

Bernard Williams, in his 'Internal and External Reasons', introduces the internal interpretation of 'A has a reason to ϕ' as "impl[ying], very roughly, that A has some motive which will be served or furthered by his ϕ-ing, and if this turns out not to be so then sentence is false: there is a condition relating to the agent's aims, and if this is not satisfied it is not true to say, on this interpretation, that he has a reason to ϕ."  On the external interpretation of the reasons-claim, by contrast, "there is no such condition."