The Status of Morality

The Status of Morality

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My interest in the issues considered here arose out of my great frustration in trying to attack the all-pervasive relativism of my students in introductory ethics courses at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. I am grateful to my students for forcing me to take moral relativism and skepticism seriously and for compelling me to argue for my own dogmatically maintained version of moral objectivism. The result is before the reader. The conclusions reached here (which can be described either as a minimal objectivism or as a moderate verson of relativism) are considerably weaker than those that I had expected and would have liked to have defended. I have arrived at these views kicking and screaming and have resisted them to the best of my ability. The arguments of this book are directed at those who deny that moral judgments can ever be correct (in any sense that is opposed to mistaken) and who also deny that we are ever rationally com- pelled to accept one moral judgment as opposed to another. I have sought to take their views seriously and to fight them on their own grounds without making use of any assumptions that they would be unwilling to grant. My conclusion is that, while it is possible to refute the kind of extreme irrationalism that one often encounters, it is impossible to defend the kind of objectivist meta-ethical views that most of us want to hold, without begging the question against the non-objectivist.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 206 pages
  • 155 x 235 x 14.22mm | 1,130g
  • Kluwer Academic Publishers
  • Dordrecht, Netherlands
  • English
  • 1984 ed.
  • XXIV, 206 p.
  • 9027716919
  • 9789027716910

Table of contents

One: A Brentanist Theory of Moral Judgments.- 1.1. The Theory.- 1.1.1. Brentano's Analysis of the Meaning of Moral Judgments.- 1.1.2. My Own Revised Account - `The Brentanist Theory'.- 1.2. Grounds for Preferring the Brentanist Theory to the Standard Non-Cognitivist Theories.- 1.2.1. Cognitivism and Non-Cognitivism.- 1.2.2. Emotivism.- 1.2.3. Emotivism and Moral Disagreement.- 1.2.4. Can Emotivism Explain the Difference Between Moral Judgments and Non-Moral Judgments?.- 1.2.5. Emotivism Cannot Give a Satisfactory Account of What Happens When People Change Their Views About Moral Questions.- 1.2.6. According to Emotivism a Favorable (Unfavorable) Moral Judgment About Something Is Insincere Unless One Has a Favorable (Unfavorable) Attitude About It.- 1.2.7. Prescriptivism Denies the Possibility of Moral Weakness.- 1.2.8. Prescriptivism and Emotivism Are Unable to Account for the Fact that There Are People Who Are Completely Indifferent to Moral Considerations (Amoralists).- 1.2.9. Prescriptivism and Emotivism Are Unable to Account for the Fact that There Are People Who Are Moved by Anti-Moral Considerations (Immoralists).- 1.2.10. Non-Cognitivist Views Cannot Account for the Fact that Moral Judgments Purport to Be Objectively Correct.- 1.3. Grounds for Preferring the Brentanist Theory to the Standard Cognitivist Theories.- 1.3.1 Cognitivist Theories Avoid the Problems Discussed in Sections 1.2.3 and 1.2.4.- 1.3.2. Cognitivist Theories Cannot Account for the Practical and Emotive Force of Moral Judgments.- 1.3.3. Intuitionist Theories such as Moore's Are Unintelligible Unless Understood in Terms of Something Like the Brentanist Theory.- 1.3.4. The Brentanist Theory Implies that the Question `Is It Rational to Be Moral?' Makes No Sense.- 1.3.5. Some Criticisms of Foot's Version of Cognitivism.- 1.3.6. Reflection on the Question of What Would Constitute an Adequate Answer to Moral Skepticism Supports the Brentanist Theory.- 1.3.7. Conclusion of Sections 1.2 and 1.3.- 1.4. Answers to Some Objections to the Brentanist Theory.- 1.4.1. Can the Brentanist Theory Provide a Satisfactory Account of the Difference Between Moral and Non-Moral Judgments?.- 1.4.2. Can the Brentanist Theory Distinguish Between the Good and the Right, and the Bad and the Wrong?.- 1.4.3. Would It Be an Objection to the Brentanist Theory if Attitudes Cannot Be Objectively Correct?.- Two: The Ideal Observer Theory and Moral Objectivism.- 2.1. An Argument for Accepting the Ideal Observer Theory as a Standard for Determining the Correctness of Moral Judgments.- 2.1.1. There Do Not Seem to Be Any Moral Facts in the Sense Allowed by the Brentanist Theory.- 2.1.2. Together, the Brentanist Theory and the (Apparent) Fact that There Are No Moral Facts Commit Us to a Version of the Ideal Observer Theory.- 2.2. Firth's Version of the Ideal Observer Theory.- 2.2.1. Firth's Theory.- 2.2.2. Firth's Theory Contrasted with Brandt's Version of the lOT.- 2.2.3. Ideal Observers Might Disagree in Their Views or Attitudes About Certain Moral Issues; Therefore, Firth's Theory Fails to Support a Strong Version of Moral Objectivism.- 2.2.4. Duncker's Attempt to Show that All Disagreements About Moral Questions Are Dependent on Disagreements About Matters of Fact.- 2.2.5. Firth's Ideal Observers Would Not All Agree in Their Attitudes About Any Moral Questions; Therefore, Firth Is Committed to an Extreme Version of Relativism.- 2.3. My Characterization of the Ideal Observer.- 2.3.1. An Ideal Observer Must Be Fully Informed.- (a) Some difficulties in formulating the requirement of full information.- (b) Having full information requires a knowledge and vivid representation of the experiences of other people.- (c) Some ways in which the requirement that ideal observers must adequately represent other people's experiences helps to insure that they will agree in their attitudes.- (d) What is involved in `adequately representing' another person's experiences?.- (e) Is the ability to represent adequately the experiences of other people compatible with one's being human?.- (f) Will an ideal observer be too squeamish in his reactions?.- 2.3.2. A Way of Strengthening Firth's Requirement that Ideal Observers Be Fully Informed.- 2.3.3. The Views and Attitudes of an Ideal Observer Cannot Be Dependent on His Having Been Influenced by Others Who Are Not Ideal Observers.- 2.3.4. An Ideal Observer Must Have Full Knowledge of All Relevant Moral Principles.- 2.3.5. The Attitudes and Judgments of an Ideal Observer Cannot Involve `Emotional Displacement'.- 2.3.6. The Views and Attitudes of an Ideal Observer Cannot Involve Self Deception.- 2.3.7. An Ideal Observer Must Be a Human Being.- 2.3.8. An Ideal Observer Need Not Be Impartial, Disinterested, or Dispassionate.- 2.3.9. An Ideal Observer Need Not Be "Normal".- 2.4 Three Versions of the Ideal Observer Theory and Their Implications for the Objectivity of Moral Judgments.- 2.4.1. The Version of the IOT According to Which the Correctness of a Moral Judgment Is Determined by Its Acceptability to Ideal Observers.- 2.4.2. The Version of the IOT According to Which the Correctness of a Moral Judgment About Something Is Determined by the Attitudes that Ideal Observers Would Have About It.- 2.4.3. Some Difficulties with the Second Version of the IOT.- 2.4.4. What Counts as a Favorable or Unfavorable Attitude?.- 2.4.5. The Implications of the Second Version of the IOT for Questions About the Objectivity of Morals.- 2.4.6. The IOT as a Standard for the Correctness of an Individual Person's Moral Judgments.- 2.5. Sermonette on the Importance of Empathy.- 2.6. Intuitionism and the Ideal Observer Theory.- Three: Relativism and Nihilism.- 3.1 Some Different Meanings of the Term `Ethical Relativism'.- 3.1.1. Cultural Relativism.- 3.1.2. Situational Relativism.- 3.1.3. Normative Relativism.- 3.1.4. Meta-Ethical Relativism.- 3.1.5. Meta-Ethical Relativism Contrasted with Moral Skepticism.- 3.2. The Definition of `Meta-Ethical Relativism'.- 3.2.1. An Objection to the Standard Definition.- 3.2.2. A Revised Definition.- 3.2.3. Some Derivative Notions.- 3.3. Some Necessary Conditions of One's Accepting a Moral Judgment or a Moral Principle.- 3.3.1. A Moral Judgment.- 3.3.2. A Moral Principle.- 3.4. Meta-Ethical Relativism and Nihilism.- 3.4.1. A Preliminary Argument.- 3.4.2. An Objection Considered.- 3.4.3. The Concept of Subjective Truth.- 3.5. A Non-Nihilistic Version of Meta-Ethical Relativism.- 3.5.1. Two Necessary Conditions for a Non-Nihilistic Version of Meta-Ethical Relativism.- 3.5.2. That the View Defended in Chapter Two Constitutes a Non-Nihilistic Version of Meta-Ethical Relativism.- 3.5.3. Other Non-Nihilistic Versions of Meta-Ethical Relativism.- 3.6. Conclusion.- 3.6.1. My Theory Is Not a Rejection of Morality in Toto.- 3.6.2. An Objection Considered.- Four: The Wages of Relativism.- 4.1. What Sorts of Attitudes and Commitments Presuppose a Belief in the Objectivity of Normative Judgments?.- 4.1.1. Normative Judgments Are Statements About the Correctness of Attitudes.- 4.1.2. HMER Does Not Commit One to Being Indifferent to Everything.- 4.1.3. Attitudes Such as Guilt, Resentment, and "Moral Seriousness" Presuppose the Falsity of HMER.- (a) Guilt.- (b) Resentment.- (c) Taking moral questions seriously.- 4.2. Causal or Psychological Connections Between Meta-Ethical Views and Attitudes and First-Order Normative Standards.- 4.2.2. The Likely Consequences of One's Adopting HMER.- 4.2.3. The Effects of Accepting SMER.- Appendix I: Nietzsche on the Genealogy of Morals.- 1.1. Nietzsche's Claims Concerning the Genealogy of Morals.- 1.2. What Are Nietzsche's Genetic Claims Intended to Show?.- Appendix II: Normative Relativism and Nihilism.- Appendix III: Hare's Version of the Ideal Observer Theory.- Notes.- Selected Bibliography.
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