Dichotomies in Metaethics

There are two types of people in this world: those who like dichotomies, and those who don’t. This post is for the former. Metaethics is riddled with dichotomies. And, unhelpfully, they often cut across each other in unpredictable ways. On top of that, not every metaethicist employs the terms in Read more…

Moral Dynamics

One of the privileges of being a philosopher is you can create new terms, define them how you please, and damn be to any conventions that would have the term used otherwise. So, I’ve created a few new terms – well, at lease one is new. Here they are, in Read more…

Moral Meltdown

When Scott Stephens invited me to pen something on the ethics of nuclear power, I must admit I winced. I mean, I’ve written for the ABC about morality after god, about the muddle of multiculturalism and about how moral nihilism can actually be a good thing (no pun intended), but Read more…

Why Moral Subjectivism Doesn’t Imply Moral Relativism

I seem to spend an awful lot of time defending my moral anti-realism from claims that without objective moral values, then morality is merely subjective.

However, this equivocates over two possible senses of ‘subjective.’

Given I don’t believe there are objective moral values, I do subscribe to a subjectivism of sorts. However, it’s not the subjectivism that says ‘what is right and wrong is entirely down to what I believe is right and wrong at the time.’ This kind of subjectivism slides easily into mad-dog moral relativism, a kind of free-for-all where the justification for any moral norm is that I believe it to be so.

That’s not the kind of subjectivism I’m in to.


Of Metaethics, Error Theory and What Morality Really Is

I’ll say it again: doing metaethics is a dreadful way to spend one’s time. Yet, here I am. Doing metaethics. For, like doing tax returns and scrubbing the bathroom, there are some unsavoury endeavours that are necessitated by our chosen course of life. And as my chosen course involves walking the paths of ethical theory, I’m forced to wade through the swamps of metaethics from time to time. So, don your galoshes and on with the show.

I stated recently that Sam Harris ought to be a moral anti-realist, and in shifting to such a stance, he’d lose little and gain much. Namely, he’d lose the mad-dog moral naturalist realism that insists that science can determine human values – and in doing so, evaporate the ire of the manifold philosophers who’ve criticised this aspect of his approach.

What he’d gain is an ability to talk about moral facts, or facts that pertain to making a moral judgement. This has got me into some metaethical strife, according to Richard Wein. Why? Because I’m getting all error theorist on Harris’ realism, yet I’m still talking about moral facts. But, if error theory and anti-realism are to be taken seriously, then moral statements are all false. The only point in continuing to talk about them as if they’re real is to pretend they’re real, a la moral fictionalism.

Let me elaborate. And brace yourself, this is going to get metaethical.


Morality, Health and Sam Harris

There’s a lot to like about Sam Harris‘ views on morality. In fact, I suspect that even his most vocal critics agree with him on a vast majority of what he has to say. His advocacy for a scientific engagement with morality is warmly welcome, as is his commitment to go beyond the old God versus no-God debate to suggest a positive agenda to build a secular morality devoid of supernatural meddling.

But there’s one sticking point  – one to which Harris continues to apply glue – and one against which people like myself and Russell Blackford continue to rebound. That is Harris’ commitment that science can describe morality all the way down.

Harris suggests that science doesn’t stop at the descriptive waters edge, but that it extends as far as being able to establish our fundamental values. His brand of bald naturalistic realism is not only extreme but, in my opinion, overshoots his objective. And in doing so receives criticism that distracts from the merits of his view.


Moral Rules or Moral Strategies

I’ve been struggling to articulate an aspect of my unfolding story of morality as shaped by evolution, and one of my key criticisms of moral realism. And I think I might have stumbled on a metaphor that expresses this point. Moral realists often talk about the reality/objectivity of moral facts. Read more…

Sam Harris Doesn’t Get Morality

It’s all in Russell Blackford’s illuminating and comprehensive review of Sam Harris’ latest book, The Moral Landscape. Harris’ big mistake is his utter contempt for metaethics. Now, I’m on record as stating that doing metaethics is a dreadful way to spend one’s time. And so is doing your tax. But, Read more…