An Introduction to Phenomenal Conservatism

Phenomenal Conservatism (PC) is a foundationalist theory of justification that can be applied to perception as well as the a priori. Michael Huemer formulates PC like this:

PC: If it seems to S that p, then, in the absence of defeaters, S thereby has at least some degree of justification for believing that p (Huemer 2007).

PC takes seemings to be the epistemically relevant mental states. Seemings are appearances that something is the case, such as the appearance of a desk in front of me. It seems to me that there is a desk in front of me. Seemings are propositional attitudes: it seems to S that P is the case. For it to seem to S that P, the proposition <P> must be the content of S’s seeming. But just because seemings are propositional attitudes, it doesn’t follow that they lack a phenomenology. Seemings have a feel of veridicality; they present their contents as if they were the case. In other words, seemings have assertive content. Contents that are presented to the subject assertively have a phenomenology of, for lack of a better descriptive term, truthiness.

PC is a form of internalism about justification, which is the view that justification supervenes on the mental states of the subject, or things that are epistemically accessible. To say that justification supervenes onto the mental or the accessible is to say that there cannot be a change in mental states or what is accessible without a change in justificational status. The version of PC that takes the supervenience base to be mental states without an accessibility requirement is called mentalism, and it can be seen as a form of reductionism about justification. The version of PC that takes the base to be epistemically accessible things is called accessibilism, and is a version of non-reductionism about justification. Mentalism can give a reductive analysis of justification in terms of properties of mental states, whereas accessibilism takes access to be a primitive, epistemic notion which cannot be reductively analyzed without circularity. PC can be formulated in either way, but I take it to be a hybrid because seemings are both mental states and intrinsically accessible to the subject.

PC can be construed as either weak or strong foundationalism. If it is taken to be a version of weak foundationalism, then seemings are not sufficient for fully justified beliefs based on them. Beliefs based on seemings, on this view, would have some justification, but not enough for full blown justification. Those beliefs must also be supported by other beliefs, or other epistemically relevant states. If PC is a version of strong foundationalism, then seemings are sufficient for fully justified beliefs. Beliefs based on seemings are fully justified, absent defeaters. Huemer’s version of PC can be seen as a hybrid, where some seemings may not be sufficient for full justification, while others are. The hybrid nature of Huemer’s version of PC can be seen in the, “at least some degree of justification” clause.

Justified beliefs can be defeated by various considerations. PC allows for defeat, which means that beliefs based on seemings can lose their fully justified status. For example, if I look at a pencil submerged in a glass of water, it seems to me that the pencil is bent. Lacking background knowledge about what happens when straight objects are submerged in water, I form the belief that the pencil is bent. I now have a belief that is at least partially justified. But then I pull the pencil out of the water and see that it is not actually straight. Puzzled, I search wikipedia for an explanation, and learn about what happens when pencils are submerged in water. My belief about the pencil being bent is now defeated by counter evidence.

In some future posts I will explore objections to PC, such as the problem of cognitive penetrability, the Sellarsian dilemma, and the problem of the speckled hen. I will also examine issues related to the nature of seemings, and whether seemings form a homogeneous class of mental states, or if there are distinct kinds of seemings. Finally, I will explore the connection between PC and ethical intuitionism.

Works Cited

Huemer, Michael. “Compassionate Phenomenal Conservatism.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74.1 (2007): 30-55. Web.


Pragmatism and Two Forms of Naturalism: Guest Post by Danny Krämer

American Pragmatists and the first wave of Naturalism

What I call the first wave of naturalism took place in the early 20th century and includes such philosophers as Ernest Nagel, Sidney Hook, Roy Wood Sellars and – one of the great figures of American pragmatism – John Dewey. Dewey was the one of the pragmatists that saw himself explicitly as a naturalist. Nowadays there is a debate about how to understand naturalism. What does a naturalist view entail and what not? Is it mainly an epistemological or a metaphysical position?

The situation was even worse at the time of the first wave of naturalism. All these philosophers said was that philosophy should be more closely connected to the sciences and that everything that exists is natural. But of course everything depends on what you mean by the word “natural”. I will argue that Dewey’s naturalism is of a different kind than the one that was made popular by the second wave of naturalism.

Two forms of Naturalism

What I will call the second wave of naturalism is the movement that started with the work of W.V.O. Quine. Quine famously denounced the project of “first philosophy”. The classical aim of philosophy was to build a structure of fundamental knowledge for the empirical sciences to rest on. With Quine’s critique of the analytic/synthetic distinction and therefore of the notion of a priori knowledge that is prior to science, this project was said farewell. Philosophy must talk from inside the sciences. But this rejection of “first philosophy” developed into a more radical way of seeing the things. The main thesis of a – what I call it – “strict naturalism” are as follows:

  • The epistemological thesis: The methods of the natural sciences are the only one that yield genuine knowledge.
  • The ontological thesis: The only entities that exist are the entities of our most well established sciences – especially fundamental physics.

This form of naturalism is a reductive physicalism of a very hard nosed sort. Of course, there are very few that hold such a strong view but some philosophers hold it and it is one picture of naturalism that floats around in the public discourse. The other form of naturalism is nowadays often called “liberal naturalism”. It is non-reductive in ontology and even though it has great respect for the natural sciences, it has also respect for other forms of rational inquiry. (We will come to this in a minute.)

The interesting part of this is that Dewey wrote a paper with Hook and Nagel, where they answered some critiques, which accused them to be crude 1 mechanists. The paper is called “Are naturalists materialists?” and it defends a form of non-reductive materialism, that could stand model for some of the views that liberal naturalists develop nowadays.

The core of Naturalism

What makes these two forms of naturalism forms of naturalism? I think there are three main themes a naturalist position is about:

  1. Anti-supernaturalism: All forms of naturalists deny, that we need things like god, angels, immaterial souls etc. for our best explanations of the world and therefore we should not accept that they exist. Of course there are many other things that seem to be supernatural, for example numbers, moral values, possibilities etc. You could say it in this way – using some phrases from Roy Wood Sellars son Wilfrid Sellars: There are many things in our manifest image of the world that seem to be incompatible with our scientific image of the world. While the strict naturalist tries to eliminate or reduce the things of the scientific image, the liberal naturalist takes them at face value as long as he needs them for the best explanations of the world. Some entities cannot be reduced to entities of the natural sciences, not because they are supernatural, but because they are nonnatural in the sense of dependent on human actions and intentions. So one has to be cautious of not conflating the natural/supernatural distinction and the natural/artificial distinction. The concepts of common sense and the human sciences on the one hand and the concepts of the physical sciences cross classify. (For more details one should see for example Jerry Fodor’s Special Sciences or John Dupre’s The Disorder of Things)
  1. Scientific Realism: Every naturalist should be a scientific realist. (Not every naturalist, actually, is a scientific realist, but I think that is wrong. But that is another discussion.) If you do not belief that the entities of the scientific image really exist, but are only useful fictions for empirical prediction, then the conflict between scientific and manifest image does not even arise. But the manifest image has some supernatural things in it and if you do not want them in your ontology, you should have to say how the world functions without them. But at least every naturalist has great respect of the development of the natural sciences since the scientific revolution. That is one motivation to even become a naturalist.
  1. Second Philosophy: This phrase I borrow from Penelope Maddy. If there is no “first philosophy” left after Quine, what to do? The strict naturalist would say, “Nothing! Let’s just do science!” Penelope Maddy’s answer is we just do second philosophy. We do not try to find a fundamental part of our knowledge that grounds science. Science needs no grounding. But there are still some philosophical questions left. What makes a question to a philosophical one? Well, these questions are the one that scientists do not ask, because they are either too abstract and not of great interest for the practitioner or they are about the interpretation and the integration of scientific theories into our overall theory of the world. Certainly, in questions of physics the physicist has authority. But if it comes to how we understand a physical theory and how we integrate it with our other theories, there is some work to be done.

Two pragmatist traditions

That fits well with the project Dewey had in mind. The empirical method he mentions for example in Nature and Experience, and that he also wanted to use in philosophy, is not what is nowadays known as the search for the scientific method. Famously there was not one method of science to be found, neither by the Vienna Circle nor by Popper or anyone else. And there is also no special philosophical method to be found. Interestingly Quine, who was at times a hardliner, said, in a softer mood, that under science he understands our entire web of beliefs and that he regrets that the word science in English only means natural sciences. As it seems he had a broader field of empirical investigation in mind. And if we take Anti-reductionism seriously, we should take seriously that there are phenomena that cannot be understood in the same way as bosons and fermions.

All of our rational inquiry – natural science, the humanities, social sciences, philosophy – are connected through – to use Wittgenstein’s term – family resemblance. While the strict naturalist only takes natural sciences serious the liberal naturalist also admits that the humanities or literary criticism can provide us knowledge as long as they take place in our family of rational inquiry. The liberal naturalist does not discriminate between evidence of the natural sciences, which is real evidence and evidence from the social sciences which is only derivative. He only discriminates between good and bad evidence, no matter where they come from. (Where the border between rational inquiry and pseudoscience lies, is of course another question.)

This division of perspectives can also be found in the interpretation of classical pragmatism. For Richard Rorty the most important thing the pragmatists did, was to replace the metaphysical notion of truth with a epistemological one. Rorty himself advocated eliminativism about the mental and his pragmatic understanding of truth led directly to his post-modernism. On the other hand there is Hilary Putnam’s work. He rejected the anti-realist theories of truths that the pragmatists got famous for. (At least the early and the late Putnam did. He talked about his anti-realist phase as a mistake in his philosophical career.) What was important for Putnam and why he was interested in the pragmatist tradition was, that philosophical problems should bear a connection to problems of everyday life and the pluralistic picture in ontology and epistemology. So, even Putnam never called himself a pragmatist, Putnam could be seen as a pragmatist and liberal naturalist par excellence.

Danny Krämer holds an MA in philosophy and is now working on a PhD. Danny’s research is on liberal naturalism, and you can find his blog here.

Two Arguments for Hedonism

In value theory, or axiology, there are two kinds of theory: monistic and pluralistic. Monistic theories posit one kind of intrinsic value, whereas pluralistic theories posit more than one. Hedonism is a monistic theory of value which posits pleasure as the single kind of intrinsic value.

There are two interesting ways of arguing for hedonism that I want to explore. First, there is the argument from moral disagreement. The second one is the evolutionary debunking argument. Both strategies trade on an alleged fact about pleasure, which makes them variants on a more general kind of argumentative strategy. The alleged fact that both trade on is that we are directly acquainted with pleasurable mental states. Pleasure, on this view, is a property of mental states (I won’t go into what sort of property here). Since we are directly acquainted with at least the phenomenal qualities of our occurrent mental states, and pleasure is a phenomenal quality of mental states, we are directly acquainted with pleasure.

Direct acquaintance can be spelled out in various ways, but for now let’s just take it as a factive relation between a subject and some property. The relation is factive because the property must actually exist and be accessible to the subject for that property to be a member of an acquaintance relation. You can’t be acquainted with something that doesn’t exist. Similarly, you can’t know something that isn’t true. To be directly acquainted with some property is to have a special epistemic perspective on that property. For example, being in pain is an acquaintance relation because subjects are in pain, and a particular subject’s pain is had by that subject, which means that no other subject can have that same pain.[1] The subject in pain has a privileged epistemic perspective with respect to her pain. She is directly acquainted with her pain, which means she does not need to make an inference to know that she is in pain, having it is sufficient. Others cannot have this privileged perspective on her pains, but rather they must infer that she is in pain from her behavior.

Before unpacking the first argument for hedonism, we need to consider the argument from moral disagreement:

  1. In any moral disagreement, at least one party must be in error.
  2. There is widespread moral disagreement.
  3. If there is widespread error about a topic, we should retain only those beliefs about it formed through reliable processes.
  4. If there is widespread error about morality, there are no reliable processes for forming moral beliefs.
  5. There is widespread error about morality (from 1 and 2).
  6. We should retain only those moral beliefs formed through reliable processes (from 3 and 5).
  7. There are no reliable processes for forming moral beliefs (from 4 and 5).
  8. We should give up all of our moral beliefs (from 6 and 7).[2]

The hedonist responds to this argument by denying 4. There is a reliable process of forming moral beliefs, which is the process of phenomenal introspection. Engaging in phenomenal introspection reveals that we are directly acquainted with certain phenomenal properties, such as pleasure. Since we are directly acquainted with pleasure, we can see that pleasure is good. According to Neil Sinhababu, “Just as one can look inward at one’s experience of lemon yellow and appreciate its brightness, one can look inward at one’s experience of pleasure and appreciate its goodness.”[3] There is a link between the goodness of pleasure and badness of pain, and the reasons why we morally praise and blame people. When somebody tortures an innocent person, a main reason we consider the torturer bad is because we know that pain is bad, and inflicting it for no reason is also bad. We morally blame the torture for inflicting gratuitous pain, which means that there is moral disvalue in pain (and ipso facto, moral value in pleasure). So, hedonism about moral value is true.

The second argument goes like this. Our moral judgment and belief formation processes evolved under conditions which did not select for their reliability. We should not believe things produced by unreliable processes. So, we should suspend our moral beliefs and refrain from moral judgments. However, we are directly acquainted with pain and pleasure, and by virtue of that acquaintance we know that pain is intrinsically bad and pleasure is intrinsically good. The origins of those beliefs do not undermine their reliability. So, pain is intrinsically bad and pleasure is intrinsically good. Assuming no other kind of moral belief can be saved from debunking this way, it follows that we should be hedonists.

Peter Singer and Katarzyna De Lazari-Radek provide a thought experiment to back up the argument:

Thalia Wheatley and Jonathan Haidt hypnotized subjects to feel disgust when they read an arbitrarily chosen word – in this case, the word ‘often’. The students then read the following,

‘Dan is a student council representative at his school. This semester he is in charge of scheduling discussions about academic issues. He often picks topics that appeal to both professors and students in order to stimulate discussion.’

Students who had been primed under hypnosis to feel disgust at the word ‘often’ were then asked to judge whether Dan had done something wrong. A third of them said that he had. The negative moral judgment was, of course, an illusion, created by hypnosis, and it gives us no reason at all to believe that Dan’s conduct was wrong. Presumably once the experiment was over, and the students had been debriefed, they would agree that Dan had done nothing wrong. Now suppose that the students had been hypnotized to believe that when they read the word ‘often’ they would develop a blinding headache. Soon after being given information containing the headache triggering word, they held their heads, moaned, asked for analgesics, and tried to find somewhere quiet to rest. Asked to rate how they are now feeling on a scale rating from ‘very bad’ to ‘very good’, they rated the experience as ‘very bad’. After the experience was over and they had been debriefed, would they change their judgment that they had a very bad experience because the judgment was induced by hypnosis? Presumably not.[4]

The point is that they were directly acquainted with the bad experience (headache pain), and regardless of the origins of the judgments made about the badness of their experiences, they were justified in believing that their experiences were very bad. Direct acquaintance is still doing the heavy lifting here, because it is by virtue of it that the students are still justified in maintaining that their judgments were reliable. In the first experiment, the students were not directly acquainted with the alleged badness of Dan’s actions, so there was nothing there to defeat the genetic defeater of their judgments (that being that they were formed by hypnosis). In the case of pain, direct acquaintance becomes a defeater-defeater, which means that it undermines the unreliable origins of judgments formed on its basis. Presumably, we can run a similar thought experiment about pleasurable experiences as well. So, the goodness of pleasure and the badness of pain are not undermined by evolutionary considerations, whereas other evaluative judgments are. So, hedonism is true.

Both of these arguments are interesting in their own right. But what I find most interesting is that they rely on direct acquaintance as a means of arguing for hedonism. It seems like arguments for hedonism will typically take this form: Judgments about the value of things with which we are not acquainted are subject to epistemically unacceptable doubt. Judgments about the value of things with which we are acquainted are not subject to epistemically unacceptable doubt. Judgments that are subject to unacceptable doubt are not justified. Hedonistic judgments are judgments about the value of things with which we are acquainted. So, hedonistic judgments are justified.[5] The way I would suggest challenging this kind of argument is by questioning whether direct acquaintance is the only way to mitigate skeptical doubt. Perhaps intuitions could do the job as well, which would open up the possibility of intuitionist ethics (which tends not to be hedonistic).


[1] Sameness being numerical identity in this case.

[2] Cf. Sinhababu, The Epistemic Argument for Hedonism.

[3] Ibid.

[4] (Singer and Lazari-Radek 267-268).

[5] Presumably, the hedonist’s definition of ‘pleasure’ will cover other phenomenal states, like aesthetic appreciation, otherwise there could be other phenomenal states that seem to have intrinsic value that are not hedonic.

Works Cited

Lazari-Radek, Katarzyna De., and Peter Singer. The point of view of the universe: Sidgwick and contemporary ethics. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 2014. Print.

Sinhababu, Neil, The Epistemic Argument for Hedonism.


Higher Order Disagreement and Naturalized Moral Epistemology


An adequate moral epistemology ought to have the resources to address intercultural moral disagreement. A promising way of doing moral epistemology in light of intercultural disagreement is represented in the work of Theresa Tobin and Alison Jaggar. Naturalized Moral Epistemology (NME) in the form advocated for by Tobin and Jaggar has the potential to address intercultural moral disputes in a fruitful way, because it is designed to evaluate patterns of moral reasoning (Tobin and Jaggar 2013a). Tobin and Jaggar introduce adequacy conditions that patterns of moral reasoning must meet in order to bestow moral justification onto their outputs (Tobin and Jaggar 2013b).[1] While Tobin and Jaggar’s NME is designed to address disagreement, the evaluative standards by which they assess patterns of moral reasoning reintroduce the possibility of intractable moral disagreement. The adequacy conditions which inform Tobin and Jaggar’s evaluative standards introduce the possibility of higher order disagreement about their application to particular patterns of moral reasoning.[2] The possibility of higher order disagreement is problematic for Tobin and Jaggar’s NME because their project is designed to address intracultural and intercultural disagreement, and if their evaluative standards reintroduce the possibility of such moral disagreement, their methodology fails to fulfill its purpose. If NME is designed to address a certain class of problems, but those problems are reintroduced at the level of the evaluative standards of NME, then that epistemology is problematic. In this paper, I will present a challenge to Tobin and Jaggar’s NME by showing that their evaluative standards can lead to higher order disagreement. Then I will show how the challenge of higher order disagreement can be met. In section one, I will explain Tobin and Jaggar’s adequacy conditions. In section two, I will present the challenge of higher order disagreement. Finally, in section three, I will suggest some strategies dealing with those problems while remaining within the the spirit of Tobin and Jaggar’s research program.

  1. Adequacy Conditions in NME

NME is a method of determining which patterns of moral reasoning can bestow moral justification onto their outputs. The method proceeds by isolating an actual moral dispute, examining the patterns of reasoning employed in that dispute, and assessing those patterns of reasoning in light of four adequacy conditions (Tobin and Jaggar 2013a). The adequacy conditions are, plausibility to the disputants, usability by the disputants, non abuse of power and vulnerability by any disputant, and practical feasibility for the disputants The plausibility condition is that justified normative conclusions ought to be intelligible to disputants. The usability condition is that disputants ought to be able to participate in utilized reasoning practices. The non abuse condition is that no disputant can abuse positions of power or positions of vulnerability to gain an upper hand in the dispute. Lastly, the feasibility condition is that proposals ought to represent real possibilities for disputants (Tobin and Jaggar 387-389).

The plausibility condition is based on the idea that moral justification is at least partially a social phenomenon. To justify something morally is to justify something to another. So, for a pattern of moral reasoning to produce justified outputs, morally salient reasons must be understandable by those involved in the social process of justification (Tobin and Jaggar 387). The usability condition is based on the idea that those involved in the social process of justification must be able to fully participate as moral agents, which requires the ability to engage with the patterns of moral reasoning being examined (Tobin and Jaggar 387). The non abuse condition trades on the fact that coercion to do or believe something cannot constitute rational persuasion, so moral reasoning that involves abuse of power over others fails to produce justified outputs (Tobin and Jaggar 388). Finally, the feasibility condition is based on the idea that ought implies can, which means that moral reasoning ought to be action guiding, and for some form of reasoning to be action guiding, it needs to present a plan of action for the relevant situation (Tobin and Jaggar 389).

  1. Higher Order Disagreement

First order moral disagreements are disagreements about moral claims such as, “We ought to redistribute wealth according to the maximin principle” and “We ought not to redistribute wealth according to the maximin principle.” Second or higher order moral disagreements are about the moral reasoning, principles, and values involved in the process of moral justification. For example, “The maximin principle represents a just structure of wealth distribution” and “The maximin principle represents an unjust structure of wealth distribution.” So, higher order disagreement concerns standards of moral justification, the scope and applicability of moral principles, and the factors which are morally salient when assessing first order disagreements.

Tobin and Jaggar’s adequacy conditions are evaluative standards by which we should assess if patterns of moral reasoning confer moral justification onto their outputs. Evaluative standards are normative, since they tell us how something ought to be, based on some paradigmatic instance of that thing or set of threshold (upper or lower) conditions. In this case, the adequacy conditions set standards that moral reasoning ought to meet if it is to confer moral justification onto its outputs. Disagreement over Tobin and Jaggar’s adequacy conditions is, therefore, disagreement over moral principles, which is higher order moral disagreement.

Parties to moral disagreements can challenge the moral salience of the features picked out by the naturalized moral epistemologist if that party’s pattern of moral reasoning is judged to produce unjustified outputs. The naturalized moral epistemologist will pick out what she believes to be morally salient features of patterns of moral reasoning that either count for or against that form of reasoning according to the adequacy conditions (Tobin and Jaggar 2013b). Whether or not those features are morally salient will be the crux of higher order moral disagreement.

We can also reframe the worry in terms of the plausibility condition. When the naturalized moral epistemologist claims that some pattern of moral reasoning fails to live up to her evaluative standards, the reasoning the epistemologist uses is a kind of moral reasoning. Since it is a form of moral reasoning, but the rules of the research program of NME, it ought to be vetted according to the adequacy conditions. The worry is that it will never pass the plausibility condition, since the opposing party will dispute the plausibility of the reasoning used by the naturalized moral epistemologist. How can the proponent of NME respond to the disagreement about the plausibility of her own moral reasoning? It seems wrongheaded to just reapply her adequacy conditions to her opponent’s reasoning, since that reasoning is used to dispute the applicability of the adequacy conditions to her opponent’s view. The naturalized epistemologist would be arguing in a circle. So, the challenge is to figure out a way to deal with disagreement at the level of evaluating moral reasoning, while preserving the spirit of the research program proposed by Tobin and Jaggar.

2.1. Feasibility

The challenge of higher order disagreement can be generalized to each of Tobin and Jaggar’s adequacy condition. The feasibility condition will be informed by a person’s prior normative commitments, both moral and nonmoral.[3] Feasibility has to do with being able to live according to the outputs of some pattern(s) of moral reasoning, which means that the outputs must represent real possibilities (Tobin and Jaggar 2013b). Whether or not something is a genuine possibility for people is not an entirely non-normative question. Human action is informed by reasons, which are normative considerations that count for or against decisions and courses of action. So, people must have reasons to adopt a way of life or some course of action. With respect to feasibility, things will count as reasons against the background of a person’s prior normative and non-normative commitments. If somebody has no reason to believe that he or she should act a certain way or adopt a certain way of life, that action or way of life cannot represent a real possibility for that person.[4] For instance, some would consider donating thirty percent of one’s income a real possibility, while others would find it unthinkable. Some people find going vegan a real possibility, while others find it to not only be economically untenable within certain areas, but also antithetical to their own ways of life. For example, in Judaism, eating meat is sanctioned by God in Genesis 3:9, “Every moving thing that liveth shall be food for you.” The reasons informing the feasibility condition would be subject to disagreement by those who interpret the feasibility condition against the background of their own prior commitments.

The Maasai hierarchs will consider their traditions and other institutions, beliefs, and practices that constitute their conception of the good life when assessing whether or not FGC as practiced within their society is morally justified. The hierarchs’ pattern of moral reasoning will be informed by a certain conception of how people in their society, and perhaps in others, ought to live their lives. Those who criticize Maasai society’s FGC practices will presumably find some or all of the hierarchs’ prior commitments implausible. The lifestyle(s) recommended by the hierarchs’ conception of the good life will pick out features of human life that their critics will not consider morally salient with respect to patterns of reasoning aimed at justifying FGC. So, the hierarchs and their critics will find themselves disagreeing at the level of the feasibility condition.

2.2. Non Abuse

Abuse of power is the unjustified use of power. So, the non abuse condition is normative, which means that it can be construed as a moral principle for moral reasoning. The non abuse condition thus introduces the possibility of higher order disagreement as well. The example provided by Tobin and Jaggar for their case study is FGC within the Maasai society (Tobin and Jaggar 2013a). The Maasai hierarchs probably believe that the patterns of moral reasoning that they employ in justifying the FGC arrangements for their society do not exploit and abuse the power they have within their society. While the hierarchs’ reasoning may involve claims about their authority over others within their society, and claims about justified coercion grounded in their authority, they would challenge claims that their reasoning involves abuse of their authority and power. So, the hierarchs will not agree that their patterns of reasoning fail the non abuse condition, because they do not think that those with whom they disagree have managed to point out morally salient features of their reasoning that cause it to fail to meet the non abuse condition.

If opponents of the hierarchs argue from feminist grounds that their patterns of moral reasoning assume that gender differences are morally salient such that they provide the means for justifying the current state of affairs with respect to FGC, then the hierarchs will object to the normative principle(s) informing the feminist grounds of their opponents’ critique. The debate becomes a dispute about the normative principle(s) informing feminist critique of their patterns of reasoning. So, we have higher order disagreement about the non abuse condition. In this case, it is a dispute about the morally salient features of the patterns of reasoning employed by the Maasai hierarchs that involve power and authority. If power and authority inform the hierarchs’ patterns of moral reasoning in ways that lack moral salience, the non abuse condition does not apply. But, if their patterns of moral reasoning do involve power and authority in morally salient ways, then they have met the abuse condition, and their moral reasoning fails to produce morally justified outputs.

2.3. Plausibility

While Tobin and Jaggar regard justification as the social activity of giving and requesting relevant reasons for claims, the possibility of higher order disagreement about the plausibility condition remains (Tobin and Jaggar 2013b). The Maasai hierarchs’ patterns of moral reasoning will be met with claims of implausibility from their opponents. Those critical of FGC as practiced by the Maasai society will not find the arguments and reasoning given by the hierarchs to be plausible justifications for the practices being defended. However, the reasons put forward by the critics of FGC will not be found to be plausible by the Maasai hierarchs. The disagreement between the hierarchs and their critics will then be about the standards each side employs in assessing the plausibility of the other’s patterns of moral reasoning.

2.4. Usability

The usability condition will face higher order moral disagreement as well. The Maasai hierarchs’ patterns of moral reasoning will not be seen as authoritative by their critics (Tobin and Jaggar 2013b). One reason to think that the challenge of higher order disagreement generalizes to the usability condition is that the authoritative clause of the condition seems to collapse into the plausibility condition, insofar as authoritative reasoning is reasoning that generates morally justified outputs. It seems like “authoritative” is being used by Tobin and Jaggar to mean something like, “able to produce morally justified outputs” where outputs are morally justified only if they can be shown to be justified to those affected by them, which is just the plausibility condition (Tobin and Jaggar 2013b). If I am on the right track, then there is overlap between the usability condition and the plausibility condition, and the potential for higher order disagreement can be found in that overlap.

  1. Strategies for Avoiding Higher Order Disagreement

Tobin and Jaggar have developed a promising way of evaluating moral reasoning. The potential for disagreement about the evaluative standards by which they assess moral reasoning is not sufficient to cast doubt on the fruitfulness of their research program. In this section, I will develop some strategies for dealing with higher order disagreement about the adequacy conditions advocated for by Tobin and Jaggar (2013b).

First, when engaging in Tobin and Jaggar’s form of NME, the potential for intractable disagreement is lessened if those assessing the forms of reasoning are embedded within the culture whose practices are ultimately being critiqued, such as the Maasai society and FGC. Not only does this avoid the possibility of hermeneutic injustice, since those embedded within the Maasai culture share the same language and conceptual repertoire with the Maasai hierarchs, but it also avoids the potential for ethnocentric bias (Fricker 2014).[5] Furthermore, we should privilege the testimony of those affected by the culture’s practices and institutions which are the subject of moral critique. Moral deference is owed to victims of injustice, because they have a special insight into what it’s like to suffer the particular injustice that they are victims of. Epistemic acquaintance with properties, individuals, and states of affairs provides insight into those properties, individuals, and states of affairs that those who lack acquaintance with them cannot have (Howell 2013; Russell 1912). Those subject to injustice in the Maasai society will provide valuable testimony that can be used to assess the patterns of moral reasoning that are intended to justify FGC, because they are acquainted with the injustices they suffer, along with the consequences of those injustices (Thomas 1993).[6]

A worry now arises about how to distinguish those within Maasai society who are affected by FGC in morally salient ways from those who may be affected by it, but not in morally salient ways.[7] What is needed is a way to pick out those in the Maasai society who suffer  injustice by virtue of permitting or prohibiting FGC. I propose that we have some kind of faculty of moral perception, which includes the ability to detect moral properties instantiated by certain states of affairs (McBrayer 2009). Our moral sense is analogous to perception insofar as it, like perceptual modalities, provide us with non-inferentially justified beliefs about the (moral) world (McBrayer 2009; Audi 2013).[8] Our moral sense differs from our other perceptual modalities insofar as some emotions can be forms of moral seeing, whereas emotions tend not to be as highly regarded in the epistemology of sense perception (Srinivasan 2014; Jaggar 1989).

We have not yet avoided the potential for moral disagreement at the level of judgments caused by the moral sense. What is needed is a model of moral education, which is a method of finely tuning the moral sense so that it can help us detect the morally salient features of states of affairs, such as injustices being inflicted upon people. Elizabeth Anderson in “The Lindley Lecture” provides a model of moral progress which can be utilized for the purpose of moral education (Anderson 2014). Anderson shows how moral progress is possible by examining the patterns of moral reasoning employed by the abolitionist movement in Britain. Social movements prove to be one of the most effective vehicles of moral progress on Anderson’s analysis (Anderson 2014). My suggestion is that those engaged in Tobin and Jaggar’s form of NME ought to study cases of moral progress such as the one Anderson examines. By studying those cases, one can finely tune one’s moral sense so that it is sensitive to the morally salient features of those situations, and situations resembling them in relevant ways.

Now the naturalized moral epistemologist has some background moral knowledge about the morally salient features of certain contexts, against which she can examine other situations that resemble the ones she has studied. She will be able to pick out the morally salient features of new situations insofar as they relevantly resemble those she has examined. Those suffering from various injustices can now be identified by virtue of a moral sense tuned to the morally salient features of situations which resemble the one currently being examined. Once the victims of injustice are identified, they can provide the naturalized moral epistemologist with vital testimony about the moral status of the cultural institution or practice being critiqued (Thomas 1993).[9]

Once the naturalized moral epistemologist is able to reliably identify victims of injustice, she can overcome the possibility of disagreement about the non abuse condition. Victims of the abuse of power will be identifiable because the epistemologist has examined situations in which people are victims of similar kinds of abuses of power. She can then figure out which pattern of moral reasoning involves an abuse of power in the case she examines. For the feasibility condition, disagreement about people’s prior commitments will persist, but the epistemologist can now see who is victimized by the influence of those commitments on patterns of moral reasoning. She can then determine whether or not some pattern of moral reasoning involves commitments which will victimize some parties to the disagreement being examined. The usability condition presents similar problems as the plausibility condition. Regarding the plausibility condition, the potential for disagreement can be avoided since the epistemologist can pick out victims of epistemic injustices that are the product of the pattern of moral reasoning being examined. If the Maasai hierarchs claim that their critics are employing standards of evidence with which they disagree, this raises a meta-epistemological issue which I will address in the next section.

3.1. A Meta-Epistemological Worry Addressed

One worry regarding the plausibility condition, which can also be rephrased as a problem for the entire strategy that I suggested for dealing with higher order disagreement, is that the disputants will claim that their critics are using standards of evidence with which they disagree. This is a challenge to the naturalized moral epistemologist to provide non-question-begging reasons to think that the moral judgments she makes, based on a finely tuned moral sense, are reliable. In other words, why would my strategy for finely tuning the moral sense of the naturalized moral epistemologist produce reliable judgments about who is and who is not the victim of injustice in particular situations?

There are two ways for the proponent of NME to address this worry. First, what is being asked is strikingly similar to the sorts of questions asked by traditional epistemologists who concern themselves with refuting the skeptic. One way of motivating skepticism is by presenting cases of somebody who is unmoved by any dialectical considerations for some common-sense position, such as the mind-independent reality of the external world, or the reliability of our senses. The meta-epistemological challenge resembles the structure of this sort of project, insofar as it asks for some reasons that are external to the set of judgments produced by the procedure being evaluated to believe that the procedure produces reliable judgments. In this case, the challenge assumes that the naturalized moral epistemologist who undergoes moral education according to the guidelines I lay out must provide a non-moral reason to believe that her moral sense is a reliable way of forming moral beliefs, detecting morally salient properties, such as somebody being the victim of an injustice, and correct moral judgments. However, this assumption is akin to asking the naturalized epistemologist who studies perception to provide a priori justification for the claim that perception is a reliable means of forming perceptual beliefs and judgments. Since the naturalized epistemologist eschews the structure of theorizing assumed by this meta-epistemological challenge, and because that eschewal is built into the very research project of both naturalized moral epistemology and naturalized epistemology of perception, the person pressing this challenge is begging the question in favor of a more traditional conception of epistemology.[10] The naturalized epistemologist who studies perception eschews a priori theorizing about the epistemic credentials of perceptual modalities, and analogously, the naturalized moral epistemologist should eschew the demand for a wholly non-moral means of evaluating moral judgments.

The second way to address the challenge is by questioning the assumption that we need non-question-begging reasons to think that the naturalized moral epistemologist can pick out instances of injustice. When it comes to moral epistemology, some questions just need to be begged. We must rely on moral reasons to assess our patterns of moral reasoning, but while this begs the question, it does not do so in an epistemically damaging way (Setiya 76-84). Similarly, when assessing observational beliefs or judgments, we must rely on previous observations that we take to be reliable perceptions, and determine those reliable perceptions resemble the observational beliefs or judgments in epistemically salient ways.[11] For NME, we must rely on past moral judgments that we take to be reliable to assess moral reasoning and moral judgments or beliefs in an analogous way. By utilizing my strategy for finely tuning one’s moral sense, the naturalized moral epistemologist can produce reliable moral judgments which not only aid in dealing with disagreement, but also serve as paradigmatic moral judgments, against which moral reasoning can be assessed. Those paradigmatic moral judgments constitute the basis for the applying Tobin and Jaggar’s adequacy conditions to particular cases.


I have examined the naturalized framework for doing moral epistemology proposed by Tobin and Jaggar, and found the potential for a problem that is left unaddressed. I presented a challenge to the adequacy conditions by which Tobin and Jaggar assess particular instances or patterns of moral reasoning. If the adequacy conditions are normative, they aim to pick out morally salient features of moral reasoning that either tells for or against the ability of that reasoning to produce justified outputs. However, parties to moral disagreements will challenge the moral salience of the features that the NME proponent picks out. So, Tobin and Jaggar’s framework must include a way to address this higher order disagreement about their evaluative standards. I presented the sketch of a method of moral education for the naturalized moral epistemologist that finely tunes her faculty of moral sense in a way that allows her to reliably identify victims of injustice(s). She can then use the testimony of those victims to aid her in identifying the morally salient aspects of the patterns of moral reasoning which she is examining. I then examined a meta-epistemological challenge to my framework for moral education, and concluded that it either begged the question against NME, or assumes that some questions ought not to be begged when doing moral epistemology. Tobin and Jaggar’s adequacy conditions remain fruitful ways of evaluating patterns of moral reasoning.


[1] Many things are the bearers of moral justification, such as judgments, beliefs, idea, thoughts, and behaviors. I use “outputs” to cover the set of bearers of moral justification.

[2] The thick/thin difference is irrelevant here, since on the thick reading, the contents of the conditions will be loaded with the normative contents believed by the disagreeing parties, and on the thin reading the conditions will have standards of applicability informed by the moral standards held by the disagreeing parties. Higher order disagreement obtains regardless of whether it’s within the contents of the conditions themselves, or their applicability conditions.

[3] Normative commitments that are not moral include aesthetic, cultural, epistemic, and prudential commitments, among others.

[4] This also follows from the plausibility condition, since a pattern of moral reasoning cannot generate moral justification for people who have no reason to adopt that pattern of reasoning. However, feasibility also includes prudential reasons.

[5] Assuming the readers of this paper are not from the Maasai society. Assessing a very different society from our own introduces the potential for bias.

[6] The testimony must be relevant to FGC in this case, so those who are affected by FGC are those whose testimony is most relevant.

[7] For example, girls and women who are cut vs. men who find the end result of FGC aesthetically pleasing and desirable in a potential spouse.

[8] See Huemer 2008 for a critique of the idea of moral perception and a defense of an intuitionist epistemology. I suspect that talk of moral perception or sense vs. moral intuition is superfluous to the point I am making about moral education as a means of picking out instances of injustice. Both epistemologies seem compatible with the view of moral education that I advocate for in this paper.

[9] They can also engage in the process of NME alongside or in place of the naturalized moral epistemologist, assuming they themselves are not a practitioner of NME.

[10] Enoch and Schechter in their paper, “How are Belief-Forming Methods Justified?” defend a similar view which takes basic sources of evidence to be justified by virtue of their role in a project in which thinkers are rationally required to engage.

[11] I use “we” to pick out anybody engaged in the process of naturalized moral or non-moral epistemology.

Works Cited

Anderson, Elizabeth. “Social Movements, Experiments in Living, and Moral Progress: Case Studies from Britain’s Abolition of Slavery.” The Lindley Lecture. The University of Kansas. February 11th, 2014.

Audi, Robert. Moral Perception. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2013. Print.

Enoch, David, and Joshua Schechter. “How Are Basic Belief-Forming Methods Justified?” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 76.3 (2008): 547-79. Web.

Fricker, Miranda. Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

Howell, Robert J. Consciousness and the Limits of Objectivity: The Case for Subjective Physicalism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. Print.

Huemer, Michael. Ethical Intuitionism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print.

Jaggar, Alison. “Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology.” Inquiry 32.2 (1989): 151-76. Web.

Jaggar, Alison M., and Theresa W. Tobin. “Naturalizing Moral Justification: Rethinking the Method of Moral Epistemology.” Metaphilosophy 44.4 (2013a): 409-39. Web.

Jaggar, Alison M., and Theresa W. Tobin. “Situating Moral Justification: Rethinking the Mission of Moral Epistemology.” Metaphilosophy 44.4 (2013b): 383-408. Web.

Mcbrayer, Justin P. “A Limited Defense of Moral Perception.” Philosophical Studies 149.3 (2009): 305-20. Web.

Russell, Bertrand. The Problems of Philosophy. New York: H. Holt, 1912. Print.

Setiya, Kieran. Knowing Right from Wrong. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.

Srinivasan, Amia. In Defense of Anger. Aired on BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought, 27th August 2014.

The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments. Trenton: I. Collins, 1791. Print.

Thomas, Laurence (1993). Moral deference. Philosophical Forum 24 (1-3):232-250. Web.

Are Facts Socially Constructed?

I enjoy watching YouTube videos. The sorts of videos I usually enjoy discuss academic topics I’m interested in, like philosophy. I’m especially fond of videos that put forward ideas that are commonly regarded as radical, or even indefensible. I like the debates that those videos engender among the video-makers who discuss those topics. In the vein of being a fan of YouTube debates, I want to add my two cents to a topic that has been gaining traction within certain communities. The topic is social construction. In particular, I want to discuss a thesis put forward by Dr. Kristi Winters in several videos. Her thesis is that facts qua facts are socially constructed entities. I will put the links to the videos I reference below this post, and I will add links to the end notes that direct to the times I reference.

What are facts? There is a lot of debate in analytic philosophy about facts, such as their internal structure, their nature, and how we should represent them formally. Typical, contemporary views take facts to be true truth-bearers, obtaining states of affairs, or some kind of entity in which individual objects exemplify properties and stand in relations.[1] While there is a lot of debate going on in the literature, one thing that isn’t hotly debated is whether all facts are socially constructed. Save for various kinds of idealism,[2] most mainstream views don’t take all facts to be dependent on minds.[3] So, facts can be either mind-dependent or mind-independent.

I’ll throw out a particular view about the ontology of facts to get things rolling. What this view is meant to do is show that there are quite intuitive points of view on the nature of facts which don’t take them to be essentially socially constructed, despite Dr. Winters’ implication to the contrary.[4] I will take facts to be obtaining states of affairs. To obtain is just to be the case, or to be actual.[5] A state of affairs is a distribution of properties over individuals that (can) stand in relations to other individuals. There can be states of affairs with just one individual that exemplifies some properties, and there can be states of affairs where several individuals exemplify properties and stand in certain kinds of relations to each other.

Dr. Winters likes the example of Pluto being reclassified as a dwarf planet. She believes that this demonstrates that facts about planets are socially constructed, because whether or not something is a planet is partly dependent on the classificatory conventions adopted by astronomers, and those conventions are products of social interactions among astronomers. If they changed the classificatory conventions, facts about the number of planets would change. So, facts about the number of planets are socially constructed. I hope I am not misrepresenting Dr. Winters with this reconstruction of her argument. I will now respond to this reconstruction.

If we are going to be scientific realists, then we should think that astronomers produce theories about things that exist independently of mental activity of any sort.[6] In other words, as realists, we should think of astronomy as developing an ontology of a certain aspect of the world we inhabit, namely the realm of celestial bodies and events. What their theorizing aims to do is reveal astronomical facts, which are constituted by properties distributed over individuals.

That astronomers changed the classification convention for planets such that it now excludes Pluto is one thing. That Pluto has the properties that qualify it as a dwarf planet rather than a planet within the classification convention is not socially constructed, but rather it is a mind-independent fact. The fact that Pluto has properties (p1…pn) is not dependent on the theories that astronomers believe, or any theories at all.

Furthermore, the fact that astronomers have such classification conventions is itself not socially constructed. That fact is just the distribution of properties over individual astronomers, wherein that distribution determines or grounds those naming conventions. That astronomers accept a classification convention is a fact about astronomers, and not the content of the classification convention. So, that fact is not constructed by the social processes that determined the contents of the classification convention.

If Dr. Winters objects at this point, I must ask, if the fact that astronomers accept some classification convention is mind-dependent, then what about the fact that that fact is mind-dependent? Is that fact also mind-dependent? If so, we end up with an ascending order of mind-dependency that either terminates in some super-mind, or keeps going to infinity. Think about it, if the second-order fact about the distribution of properties over astronomers is itself mind-dependent, on whose mind does it depend? The individual astronomers taken as a collective? What about the third-order fact that the second-order fact is mind-dependent? This process can repeat to infinity, and the minds of astronomers are not capable of housing this many facts. Unless we want to formulate this as some weird argument for the existence of God based on the social construction of facts, something’s gotta give. As far as I’m concerned, what’s gotta give is the implausible idea that all facts are socially constructed.

Now, I could just be misinterpreting Dr. Winters by imputing onto her ontological commitments about facts when she’s just making claims about epistemology.[7] However, she also claims that knowledge is constructed via social processes. Knowledge decomposes on analysis into various conditions, and any mainstream analysis includes truth as a necessary condition.[8] If knowledge is constructed, then presumably what that knowledge is about must also be constructed, otherwise there isn’t much to the claim that (some) knowledge is socially constructed.

Dr. Winters also talks about Kant’s noumenal/phenomenal distinction. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to help make sense of the social construction of facts. Perhaps she is adopting transcendental idealism, and she thinks that humans have a conceptual manifold along with pure intuitions of space and time, and these shape our experience of the world. Our experience of the world expresses itself within the conceptual boundaries allowed for by our constitution. The phenomenal realm is just what we experience as it is shaped by our mental constitution, and the noumenal realm is beyond our conceptual grasp. My worry here is that this is probably false. Even if it isn’t false, there are interpretations of the phenomenal/noumenal distinction that aren’t purely epistemic. Dual aspect views and two worlds views allow for metaphysical understandings of the phenomenal realm.[9] So, it isn’t obvious that Dr. Winters, if she is embracing transcendental idealism, is skirting by any ontological commitments when she says that facts are socially constructed.

Another worry is we would need an argument for why intersubjectivity determined by shared conceptual manifolds and pure intuitions of space/time entails that we ought to embrace a social constructionist ontology of facts. Up to now, we haven’t been provided with one.

So, if some truths are constructed, we’re back into the territory of metaphysics rather than epistemology. Whether or not truth-bearers are true or false must be sensitive to how the truth-bearer-independent world is at a given time.[10] Whatever aspect of the world that true truth-bearers must be sensitive to will be socially constructed, if knowledge of those truths is itself constructed. So, this isn’t just about epistemology if we take knowledge to be socially constructed. Dr. Winters could have stayed in the realm of epistemology by constraining talk of social construction to issues of justification and warrant in various social spheres. Perhaps standards of testimony are based on social norms, and those norms bias those standards in ways that are conducive to testimonial injustices against marginalized groups. However, she did not restrict herself to the realm of justification and warrant, so she does take on ontological commitments.

What Dr. Winters ought to do is check out the literature on the ontology of facts. She can then adopt a position that allows for some facts being socially constructed, such as facts about gender and race, perhaps. I actually recommend thinking about social construction in terms of grounding and dropping talk of facts entirely. So, to be socially constructed is to be grounded in distinctive social patterns.[11] The trick, then, is uncovering which social patterns are salient when considering particular social constructs such as gender or borders.


[1] Mulligan and Correia 2013.

[2] Some forms of idealism may allow for facts that are mind-independent, such as transcendental idealism. Transcendental idealism will come up again in this post.

[3] Mind-dependence is a necessary (albeit probably not sufficient) condition for something being socially constructed.

[4] Cf. 16:43-17:06. The way she states it implies that it’s quite obvious, given a certain amount of reflection on the nature of science, that facts are constructed by the social processes embedded within the institution of science.

[5] I’m leaving questions of modality aside. Assume that I’m talking facts as things that obtain in the actual world.

[6] Dr. Winters may not accept realism, especially if she has sympathies for transcendental idealism.

[7] Cf. 21:06-23:16 for her clarification about ontology and epistemology.

[8] Setting aside the knowledge-first theorists, who presumably also take knowledge to be factive, just not subject to analysis into other concepts.

[9] Cf. Stang 2016.

[10] Besides claims about truth-bearers, but let’s set that complication aside.

[11] Schaffer 2016.

Works Cited

Mulligan, Kevin and Correia, Fabrice, “Facts”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL <>.

Schaffer, Jonathan. “Social Construction as Grounding; Or: Fundamentality for Feminists, a Reply to Barnes and Mikkola.” Philosophical Studies (2016). Web.

Stang, Nicholas F., “Kant’s Transcendental Idealism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =<>.

Dr. Winters’ Videos I Address

What Sargon of Akkad Doesn’t Know About Social Constructs
A Chat With Prof. Philip Moriarty on YouTube Atheism

Why The Presentation Argument for Property Dualism Fails

In my post, The Presentation Argument for Property Dualism, I examined an argument that targets property reduction and attempts to conclude that for any purported reduction of one property to another, there is a residual appearance left over. The residual appearance requires some property to which it corresponds, so any attempt at property reduction actually generates more properties.

One objection is that this argument relies on property intensionalism.[1] What this means is that we individuate properties by how we think of them rather than by extension. The argument for property dualism seems to require this principle of individuation:

(PI) If it’s not a priori that <F> and <G> are coextensive, then F and G are not identical.[2]

The principle says that if it isn’t a priori knowable that the concepts <F> and <G> have the same extensions, then the properties F and G are not identical. PI is at home with the view that the epistemology of properties is wholly a priori.[3] In essence, if we have two concepts that on reflection seem not to have (necessarily) identical extensions, then they pick out distinct properties. We can know which properties exist by analyzing our concepts of them.

The problem with PI is that it just seems like a form of property intensionalism. After all, why think that our a priori reflection on the extensions of our concepts reliably yields facts about properties that exist independently of those concepts? It seems like a massive coincidence without some dependence between properties and our concepts of them. But any dependence between concepts and properties that allows one to derive PI runs the risk of making properties unacceptably mind-dependent.[4] By unacceptably mind-dependent, I mean there must be some metaphysical dependency between properties and concepts such that it is more than just a coincidence that a priori reflection on concepts produces knowledge about properties in a reliable manner. Such metaphysical dependency is either a God-given pre-established harmony between concept and property, or some kind of idealism about properties, which ultimately amounts to idealism about almost everything.

The proponent of the presentation argument could respond by saying that PI and property intensional are conceptually distinct. One could maintain PI without embracing the anti-realist sounding doctrine of property intensionalism, as is possible in my example of pre-established harmony. Perhaps proponents of the presentation argument could just say that our concepts reliably pick out properties that are not themselves individuated by those concepts.[5]

For the view that concepts reliably pick out properties that aren’t individuated by those very concepts to work in the presentation argument, the appearance properties must not be individuated epistemically, but rather metaphysically.[6] However, appearance properties seem to be individuated epistemically. After all, appearances are the wheelhouse of the internalist epistemologist, and as such they seem to be subject to intensional individuation if anything is. So, even if we grant that PI is compatible with an extensionalist individuation scheme for properties, the presentation argument still seems to rely on things whose very nature entails intensional individuation conditions.[7]

Given that the presentation argument’s reliance on PI is part and parcel with intensional individuation conditions for (at least) appearance properties, there is another problem proponents of the argument must face. An extensionalist about property individuation holds to objective individuation conditions for properties. For example, the dispositional properties revealed by modern physics are individuated objectively; they are not individuated by something like PI. The property intensionalist is going to accept the same properties as the extensionalist, since the extensionalist typically endorses a scientific methodology for discovering properties. That scientific methodology will yield results that both the intensionalist and extensionalist have independent reasons to accept.[8] But the extensionalist has an advantage here, since all the properties both she and the intensionalist can agree to are those properties that we consider causally efficacious. All the causal work in the world can be done in virtue of the properties that a pure extensionalist individuation scheme is committed to. The intensionalist is going to have additional properties, and those properties are either causally inert or causally efficacious. If they are causally efficacious then they causally overdetermine the events they enter into alongside the extensionally individuated properties. If they are causally inert, then they are committed to epiphenomenal properties.

The first horn of the dilemma assumes that causal overdetermination is theoretically vicious, but there are reasons to doubt this.[9] If the intensionalist has independent reasons to think that causal overdetermination is ok, or a good thing to believe in, embracing the first horn shouldn’t bother her. The second horn is more problematic, though. We have good reasons to think that mental states are able to enter into causal relations. The appearances cited in the presentation argument seem to cause proponents of the argument to advance it, and they cause me to reflect on it, as well as property individuation. If those appearances weren’t there, theorists would lack motivation to formulate the presentation argument. Even less plausibly, embracing the second horn would entail that appearances are not among the things that cause us to discuss appearances. I, for one, am not brave enough to accept such a result.

So, the proponent of the presentation argument must accept PI, and thereby is either committed to pre-established harmony between concepts and properties, a massive coincidence, or idealism (anti-realism) about properties. If the proponent attempts to disavow property intensionalism yet hold to PI, she will find herself lapsing back into property intensionalism once she introduces appearance properties into the mix. The proponent is also committed to the same properties as the extensionalist, as well as many more properties individuated intensionally. But, there are plausible reasons to think that the causal work in the world is done by the properties we individuate extensionally. So, the proponent of the argument must either embrace causal overdetermination, or epiphenomenalism about appearances. I argued that the latter is less plausible than the former, so the proponent must adopt overdetermination. At this point in the dialectic, the proponent must give us good, independent reasons to think overdetermination obtains in the causal order. Until then, we remain at liberty to deny the conclusion of the presentation argument, and remain physicalists.

End Notes

[1] Howell 104-105.

[2] Ibid 105.

[3] Ibid 106

[4] Ibid 106-107

[5] Ibid 107-108.

[6] Ibid 108.

[7] Ibid 108-109.

[8] There’s a strong case to be made for science as the most reliable way for detecting many if not all properties that are instantiated, and that case can be made independently of the individuation debate.

[9] Cf. Sider 2003.

Works Cited

Howell, Robert J. Consciousness and the Limits of Objectivity: The Case for Subjective Physicalism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. Print.

Sider, Theodore. “What’s So Bad About Overdetermination?” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67.3 (2003): 719-26. Web.

Some Random Thoughts About Naturalized Moral Epistemology

Naturalized Epistemology (NE) is a movement in modern philosophy which aims to situate theorizing about knowledge, justification, warrant, and various other epistemic concepts within the realm of the empirical, alongside the natural sciences (Quine 1969). In what sense our theorizing about epistemic concepts and their application ought to be situated alongside the natural sciences is what divides various naturalized epistemologists (cf. Haack 1993). One theme that can be found among many NE theorists is the rejection of purely a priori methods in epistemology (Rysiew 2016).

In moral epistemology, some NE theorists have taken a more liberal view of the sense in which epistemology ought to be naturalized. For example, Tobin and Jaggar have developed a methodology based on case studies, which is not embedded within any particular scientific field (Tobin and Jaggar 2013a & 2013b). Rather, their methodology is broadly a posteriori and takes various lines of empirical evidence into account from many different sources (Tobin 2007 & Tobin and Jaggar 2013b). Tobin and Jaggar’s methodology is developed with the explicit aim of providing a means for resolving ethical disputes across cultures, and it deploys a set of conditions which forms of moral reasoning must meet (Tobin and Jaggar 2013a). One worry for their methodology is the possibility of higher order disagreement about both the conditions themselves and interpreting their application to particular instances of moral reasoning.

The set of conditions which Tobin and Jaggar provide for assessing forms of cross-cultural moral reasoning are: plausibility to the disputants, usability by the disputants, nonabuse of power and vulnerability by any disputant, and practical feasibility for the disputants (Tobin and Jaggar 387-389). In short, the plausibility condition has it that justified normative conclusions ought to be intelligible to disputants, the usability condition has it that disputants ought to be able to participate in utilized reasoning practices, the nonabuse condition has it that no disputant can abuse positions of power or positions of vulnerability to gain an upper hand in the dispute, and the feasibility condition has it that proposals ought to represent real possibilities for disputants (Tobin and Jaggar 387-389). Tobin and Jaggar provide reasons to believe that these adequacy conditions provide a normatively significant means for assessing forms of moral reasoning deployed in cross-cultural disputes.[1] For instance, a conclusion of an argument cannot have normative significance if it is based on reasoning biased against disputants (Tobin and Jaggar 389). Plausibility is a condition because there cannot be moral force for conclusions which disputants cannot recognize (Tobin and Jaggar 389-390). Usability is a condition because moral claims cannot be justified for those who cannot participate in the reasoning used to support them (Tobin and Jaggar 390). The nonabuse is a condition because rationality is contrasted with abuse of power (Tobin and Jaggar 390). Lastly, feasibility is based on “ought implies can.” because rationality requires that courses of prescribed action ought to represent realistic possibilities (Tobin and Jaggar 390).

A worry about disagreement arises when considering these four adequacy conditions. The conditions are not purely descriptive; they are laden with normative content. Where there is normative content, there is the possibility of disagreement about the content itself, and how the content should be interpreted and its dictates applied in various contexts. For example, the plausibility condition can be applied in ways that involve idealization or in ways that do not. If it is applied in ways that involve idealization, certain real people will be excluded from the application of the condition. Some people will be seen as too unreasonable to fall within the scope of who ought to be considered with respect to the plausibility of moral reasoning. After all, the point of idealization is to reach a consensus or convergence where it wouldn’t be feasible to do so without it. The reason it wouldn’t be feasible is there are some people who just won’t be able to see that good moral reasoning reaches conclusions with normative force that applies to them. Furthermore, idealizing the plausibility condition will probably exclude some of the other adequacy conditions, such as usability; if the reasoning process involves idealization, some disputants probably will be unable to deploy that reasoning process. If the plausibility condition is applied in a non-idealized way, on the other hand, then it seems like the problems that drive theorists to idealization will crop up. Some disputants may never see why a conclusion has the normative force it does, and they may be unable to follow the reasoning that got there.

For the feasibility condition, there will inevitably be disputes over what constitutes a real possibility, and those disputes will involve substantive moral claims about how people ought to (be able to) live their lives. Those who accept a more conservative conception of the good life will inevitably disagree with those whose conception of the good life conflicts with theirs, and those disputants will subsequently disagree over whose conception represents a real possibility. Real possibilities are those that are livable, but livability is itself open to substantive disagreement, as it concerns how we can live our lives given certain things we value.[2]

Lastly, the nonabuse condition will introduce a level of disagreement. In the case study employed in Tobin and Jagger 2013b, those at the top of the Maasai hierarchy will probably view their exercise of power in the case of coercing women and girls to partake in FGC not as abuse but as mere use. The issue is not whether they have a plausible claim to use of power in this context, but rather what constitutes abuse of power. Judgments of abuse of power are substantive normative judgments about how people ought not to exercise their power over others. There will be disagreement between disputants in these very cases over what constitutes abuse, which introduces a higher order level of moral disagreement.

Tobin and Jaggar provide an interesting and fruitful methodology for investigating forms of moral reasoning used in cross-cultural disputes, among others. A worry arises when assessing the adequacy conditions provided by Tobin and Jaggar, as these conditions are themselves value-laden, and therefore have the potential to introduce moral disagreement at the level of method. There may be ways to alleviate the possibility of higher order disagreement, however. For example, there could be paradigm cases of good moral reasoning that serve to cement proper interpretations and applications for the adequacy conditions. There could be cases where reasonable[3] people would agree that a certain course of action ought to be taken given a certain form of moral reasoning. Those cases could be instances of real world dispute resolution, which retains the spirit of naturalized epistemology, as it avoids lapsing into an a prioristic method of examining thought experiments.

End Notes

[1] Among other kinds of disputes.

[2] Most people will agree that we all value basic things such as survival and all that requires. But there will inevitably be disputes once the basic requirements for survival are met.

[3] Reasonable in the non-technical sense of being sensitive to relevant reasons in discussions.

Works Cited

Haack, Susan. “The Two Faces of Quine’s Naturalism.” Synthese 94.3 (1993): 335-56. Web.

Jaggar, Alison M., and Theresa W. Tobin. “Naturalizing Moral Justification: Rethinking the Method of Moral Epistemology.” Metaphilosophy 44.4 (2013b): 409-39. Web.

Jaggar, Alison M., and Theresa W. Tobin. “Situating Moral Justification: Rethinking the Mission of Moral Epistemology.” Metaphilosophy 44.4 (2013a): 383-408. Web.

Rysiew, Patrick, “Naturalism in Epistemology”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Tobin, Theresa W. “On Their Own Ground: Strategies of Resistance for Sunni Muslim Women.” Hypatia 22.3 (2007): 152-74. Web.

Quine, W. V. Ontological Relativity, and Other Essays. New York: Columbia UP, 1969. Print.