Here is a longer version of the handout I used for a talk on moral error theory.
It’s no longer uncommon for free will to be met with suspicion. This suspicion is even greater when it comes to libertarian free will, and overwhelming regarding agent causation. This belief is largely arrived at via the notion that agent causation or even free will in general is inconsistent with Metaphysical Naturalism. This attitude is mistaken. Here I propose to show that even an agent causal account of action is consistent with Naturalism, which implies that free will in general is. Finally, I’ll close by arguing that at least some people are justified in believing in free will.
Metaphysical Naturalism (MN) is a meta-philosophical position regarding the fundamental nature of Being, the world, etc. What it entails is largely debated, but I will be using two definitions that are generally accepted.
MN1: Everything that exists is natural. There are no supernatural entities or forces.
MN2: Reality is exhausted by space-time and its contents, or an ensemble of space-time manifolds.
MN1 is the most common version, but it’s largely uninformative because “natural” is left unaddressed. We’re merely left with picking out paradigmatic supernatural entities/forces such as ghosts, gods, magic, and the like, and asserting that nothing of the sort obtains. I prefer M2, but I think assuming the truth of either one of them is sufficient for what I hope to demonstrate.
To understand why people assume agent causation is inconsistent with MN, we have to clarify what free will is. First, the will is the capacity to deliberate, make decisions, and translate those decisions into action1. I take the folk conception of free will to mean that persons are sometimes able to exercise their will such that they could have done otherwise. That is, at least some decisions aren’t necessitated by their nature and/or environment2
More clearly, an action is free only if it satisfies the following conditions:
Sourcehood: The agent is the actual source of ones action (e.g. no manipulation).
Intelligibility: The agent performs actions for reasons that are understood by the agent (e.g. a spontaneous jerk isn’t a free action).
Leeway: The agent is able to refrain from performing the action.
It’s often assumed that naturalism entails determinism, and that determinism is in conflict with the leeway condition, and by this very fact naturalism is in conflict with free will. But this entailment does not hold. There’s nothing about naturalism itself that implies that all causal relations are determinate (necessitated by the relevant antecedent conditions). All that’s required of causality on MN is that nature is causally continuous. Which means that there is only one metaphysical causal kind within the world (i.e. Dualism is false), and that there aren’t external non-natural causal forces affecting the natural world. For these would almost be by definition supernatural. Further, contemporary physics already admits indeterminism in at least six interpretations of quantum mechanics (three remain agnostic, and four are explicitly deterministic)3. So if one is going to reject free will in virtue of MN, it can’t be because of MN entailing determinism. One might object that indeterministic events don’t take place in higher-level settings, such as the firing of a neuron, so a naturalistic interpretation of human behavior will be deterministic. First, there’s nothing about naturalism in itself that requires this. Second, whether some events in the brain operate indeterministically is an empirical thesis that remains to be settled, and there are already models of how this might work4
Given what has been outlined above, we can make sense of an event causal libertarian account of free will fitting within MN. In these sorts of instances, one’s mental states cause one to act but in such a way that you could have done otherwise. That is, the features of yourself that cause the action wouldn’t necessitate the action. You could have refrained or performed an altogether different action. It’s also helpful to note that this model fits nicely with the reductive account of mind, where any token mental state is identical to a particular brain state. Most philosophers specializing in free will recognize event causal libertarianism as a possibility worth considering, even if they remain skeptical of its reality5.
Agent Causation & Substance Causation
This charitable tone tends to drop once agent causation is proposed. This is typically followed by accusations of anti-scientific and “spooky” metaphysics. This is primarily grounded in the assumption that agent causation implies substance dualism. They can’t imagine what this agent could be besides a disembodied mind that interacts with the body. I think the agent causal picture people have in mind is much like how Kant thought freedom of the will worked. Essentially, the physical world that we experience is fully deterministic. Everything runs like clockwork with the exception of human action. In addition to bodies, persons are also noumenal selves that transcend the empirical world, making sovereign unconstrained choices each time they deliberate and act. So on this picture, the world consists of two different sorts of causes, natural events and agents. Given this sort of description, it’s of little surprise that so few philosophers take agent causation seriously.
Before we contrast the previous description with how agent causation has been recently updated, it will be useful to offer a brief description of what event causation is supposed to be. Event causation essentially involves some complex state of affairs or process causing another. For example, a heart pumping causes the movement of blood or a brick being thrown causes the window’s shattering. Further, the way these events unfold are explained by whatever laws of nature happen to obtain, be they deterministic or probabilistic. Causation cashed out as event relations can either be understood as ontologically primitive or reducible to something more basic such as facts concerning the global spatiotemporal arrangement of fundamental natural properties or sequential regularity.
Timothy O’Conner offers two similar, but philosophically distinct analyses of causation which clearly sketch the relevant difference between event and agent causation6:
Event causal analysis: “The having of a power P by object O1 at time t produces effect E in object O2.”
Agent Causal analysis: “Object O1 produces effect E, doing so in virtue of having power P at time t.”
In the first case it is the “possessing a power”, an event, which is the cause of the effect; in the second it is the object. What’s of crucial importance here is that the agent causal analysis isn’t actually just one of agent causation, but is of the more general theory of substance causation. Substance causation is just the theory that substances or objects are what cause effects. So on this account, it’s not the throwing of the brick that causes the window to shatter; properly speaking, it’s the brick. Now this might sound absurd; how could the throwing of the brick not be a cause of the windows breaking? The absurdity drops once we consider the thrower. Really, the thrower and the brick jointly cause the windows shattering, where the throwing is a manifestation of a power possessed by the thrower. Powers theory is crucial to any plausible theory of substance causation. It’s not merely the object in itself that causes the effect, but the nature of the object that is constituted by the powers it possesses.
Most of the mysteriousness of agent causation disappears once we understand it as a species of substance causation. So take any ordinary substance, a rock, an electron, a water molecule, etc; any time any substance causes an effect on another substance, we have an instance of substance causation. What distinguishes agent causation from ordinary instances of substance causation is that there is an intention behind it. This entails that agent causation is fairly common place within the animal kingdom, which itself is good reason to believe that agent causation is consistent with naturalism.
A robust defense of substance causation is beyond the scope of this paper, but I can briefly sketch some reasons for accepting it. One is the numerous problems with alternative theories of causation. The constant conjunction or sequential regularity theory is currently one of the most popular and has been since Hume proposed it. On this account, for x to cause y is just for it to be the case that every time x occurs, y occurs. So on this view there is no intrinsic or necessary connection between the fire and the smoke that follows; this is just the way the universe happens to unfold. A contentious assumption on this theory is that all instances of causality are temporarily ordered. But we can make sense of non-temporal causation such as two cards propping each other up or a ball making an impression on a pillow that it’s been resting on for eternity(i.e. there was no prior time where ball was not affecting the pillow).
The other popular account reduces causation to counterfactual dependence, which is something like this,
“1) If A had not occurred, B would not have occurred.
2) If A had occurred, B would have occurred.
3) A and B both occurred. “ (Scholastic Metaphysics, pg. 60).
So the throwing of the brick causes the window breaking because if you remove the throwing of the brick then the breaking would not have happened. One problem with counterfactual dependence is the infinite number acts of omission that are involved in any causal sequence. So my successfully walking across the street was dependent on not being crushed by an elephant, not being transported, the earth not blowing up, etc. Another issue that’s applicable to both theories is that both of them seem to get the dependence relation wrong. It’s because of causation that there is constant conjunction and counter factual dependence. They are symptomatic of causation.
Next, here is a simple argument in favor of substance causation7:
1. Some actual substances possess causal powers.
2. If a substance possesses a causal power, then it is efficacious.
3. If a substance is efficacious, then it can be a cause.
4. Some actual substances’ causal powers are manifested.
5. Therefore, some actual substances are causes.
The only premise I can imagine being rejected is (1). On the face of it, this might sound absurd; as if it means that nothing has the power to do anything. Though really the individual who rejects causal powers would have alternative explanations for why things do what they do. A not uncommon answer is that we only need appeal to the laws of nature to understand and explain how events unfold. This is problematic. On one hand, if you take the laws of nature just to be descriptions of regularity, then the laws themselves don’t do any explanatory work. On the other hand, if you take the laws of nature to be something that dictates and enforces the activity of things from the outside, then you’ve committed yourself to a form of platonism, where naturalism must be rejected. Finally, you can take the laws themselves to be the causal implications of the intrinsic natures that the substances possess, and in that case we’re back to powers theory.
One might object to my earlier claim that agent causation is fairly common place because in reality there are no agents, merely matter in motion or atoms in the void.This is where the possible reducibility of macro-level objects becomes an issue. So a largely reductionist metaphysics will hold that much of what we consider ordinary objects are nothing over and above their parts. So what they are is wholly reducible to a set of fundamental constituents and relations. Another way to think of about this is that if we were to take an inventory of everything that really exists, much of what we take to exist would turn out to not. At its most extreme, the reductionist thesis holds that there’s nothing over above quarks, bosons, or whatever a complete theoretical physics takes to be fundamental. Ordinary objects will be described as simples (indivisible physical objects) arranged in a particular way. So to be a cat is just to be simples arranged cat-wise.
If one were both a reductionist and a substance causation theorist, then one could rightfully reject agent causation because there would be no agents in the relevant sense. In order for agent causation to obtain, the agent has to be a unique substance that’s not merely the sum of its parts. If agent causation were true, then agents would be irreducible substances whose persistence conditions are picked out by their higher-level causal powers(e.g. Purposiveness, narrativity, & self-reflection). That is, we are unique irreducible substances because we possess capacities that aren’t exemplified by our constituents. The constituents have come together in the right way; they are not merely a collection of them. A unique form is exemplified that puts constraints on the activity of its lower-level constituents. Which is an example of top-down causation if anything is. On reductionist substance causation, the lower level substances do all of the causal work.
A possible strategy for motivating a non-reductionist account mirrors the demystifying of agent-causation. That is, if irreducible objects aren’t special cases that are essentially restricted to persons, then there’s less reason to be suspicious of irreducibility in general. This does not mean that I think that all ordinary objects are irreducible substances. I take objects of artifice to be clearly reducible to their chemical constituents. So houses, cars, computers, tools, etc are reducible to their constituent parts. Edward Feser offers a clear description of the distinction I have in mindviii,
“The basic idea is that a natural object is one whose characteristic behavior – the ways in which it manifests either stability or changes of various sorts – derives from something intrinsic to it. A nonnatural object is one which does not have such an intrinsic principle of its characteristic behavior; only the natural objects out of which it is made have such a principle. We can illustrate the distinction with a simple example. A liana vine – the kind of vine Tarzan likes to swing on – is a natural object. A hammock that Tarzan might construct from living liana vines is a kind of artifact, and not a natural object. The parts of the liana vine have an inherent tendency to function together to allow the liana to exhibit the growth patterns it does, to take in water and nutrients, and so forth. By contrast, the parts of the hammock – the liana vines themselves – have no inherent tendency to function together as a hammock. Rather, they must be arranged by Tarzan to do so, and left to their own devices – that is to say, without pruning, occasional rearrangement, and the like they will tend to grow the way they otherwise would have had Tarzan not interfered with them, including in ways that will impede their performance as a hammock. Their natural tendency is to be liana-like and not hammock-like; the hammock-like function they perform after Tarzan ties them together is extrinsic or imposed from outside, while the liana-like functions are intrinsic to them” (Scholastic Metaphysics, pg. 182)8
I don’t commit myself to the idea that all natural particulars are irreducible or simple (without parts) or that only objects of human construction are reducible. For example, a rock made of limestone would reduce to a collection calcium carbonate, that may or may not have an irreducible intrinsic nature. The correct account of reduction/non-reduction relation is a severely under-explored issue in metaphysics. The hope here is merely that this example is useful in communicating an idea of what an irreducible relation/substance is supposed to be.
Before summing up the arguments, it’ll be useful to explain what sort of advantage an agent causal account of freedom has over an event causal one. It stems from what’s called the “disappearing agent” objection to event causal libertarianism. The idea is that on the event causal analysis the agent-involving events (the particular mental states, preferences, reasons, etc) that non-deterministically cause the decision don’t actually settle which option is selected. The leeway condition is satisfied in that we could roll back the event and you could have otherwise but you, yourself don’t actually choose it. Your agent-involving states merely constrain which options are possible for you. Where it goes from there is a matter of luck. This can be thought of as claiming that an event causal view doesn’t satisfy the sourcehood condition for free will. The events, which do the work, merely flow through you, but you don’t really settle which option occurs. Agent causal theories have the advantage of saying that you certainly do play an explanatory role.
With this work behind us, we can abridge the essential story into a few brief arguments.
1. Substance Causation is consistent Naturalism.
2. The metaphysical irreducibility of certain substances (persons among them) is consistent with Naturalism.
3. If (1 & 2), then agent-causation is consistent with Naturalism.
4. Therefore, Agent Causation is consistent with Naturalism.
I think 1 and 2 are fairly straightforward in that nothing about my description of them implied that they transcend space and time, and 3 isn’t much more than the definition of agent causation.
1. The leeway condition is consistent with Naturalism (i.e. Nothing about naturalism implies that all causation is deterministic or that all causally relevant neural sequences are deterministic).
2. The sourcehood condition is consistent with Naturalism (since the most demanding form of satisfying it (agent causation) is consistent with Naturalism).
3. The intelligibility condition is consistent with Naturalism (I can’t say much more than I’d be completely puzzled if someone denied this, beyond maybe saying that all of our reasons for action are post hoc confabulations).
4. If (1,2 & 3), then Free Will is consistent with Naturalism (A priori true).
5. Therefore, Free Will is consistent with Naturalism.
1. Substance causation is a plausible theory of causation.
2. The irreducibility of certain biological substances is not implausible.
3. Indeterminism is plausible.
4. If (1,2, & 3), then free will is plausible.
5. We’re justified in holding independently plausible positions if they cohere with our background beliefs*.
6. Therefore, at least some people are justified in believing in free will.
Plausible: A position is plausible just in case it is coherent, contains sophisticated arguments or evidence in favor of it (ones that are aware of and address the relevant issues and objections that might undermine it) and is void of any obvious insurmountable objections.
*Epistemic axiom: We’re justified in believing what seems to be true unless we have sufficient reason to think it’s false.
*Phenomenological claim: Some of our decisions seem to be free, to at least some of us.
Without question, this is the weakest of the arguments I’ve offered. Plausibility is context dependent, which means many will find this unconvincing. Some of the most obvious candidates are committed reductionists, scientismists, eliminativists, determinists, and event causal theorists. Though this is not my target audience. My hope is that fence sitters, or anyone who’s just generally skeptical yet open to free will and agent causation might be persuaded to take the position seriously. No one should be moved to believe in free will merely based on what I’ve offered here, but it might be sufficient to motivate some to re-assess their position.
1 Franklin, Christopher Evan, “Agent-Causation, Explanation, and Akrasia: A Reply to Levy’s Hard Luck”, Criminal Law and Philosophy 9:4, (2015): 753-770.
2 I’m assuming incompatibilism, but even a compatabilist might find the agent causal argument interesting and useful. See
Markosian, Ned 1999: ‘A Compatibilist Version of the Theory of Agent Causation’. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 80, pp. 257–77.
——2012: ‘Agent Causation as the Solution to all the Compatibilist’s Problems’. Philosophical Studies, 157, pp. 383–98.
4 Peter Ulric Tse, Neural Basis of Free Will: Criterial Causation, MIT Press, 2013, 456pp.
-Christopher Evan Franklin, The Scientific Plausibility of Libertarianism’, Free Will and Moral Responsibility, eds. Ishtiyaque Haji and Justin Caouette. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2013): 123-141.
-Indeterminism in Neurobiology. Marcel Weber. Philosophy of Science, Vol. 72, No. 5, Proceedings of the 2004 Biennial Meeting of The Philosophy of Science AssociationPart I: Contributed PapersEdited by Miriam Solomon (December 2005), pp. 663-674
5 For an excellent treatment of event causal libertarianism see:
Balaguer, Mark. Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem. MIT Press, 2010
-Balaguer, Mark. A Coherent, Naturalistic, and Plausible Formulation of Libertarian Free Will. Noûs, Vol. 38, No.3 (Sep., 2004), pp. 379-406
6 O’Conner, Timothy. “Free Will and Metaphysics,” in David Palmer, ed., in Libertarian Free Will (ed. D. Palmer, Oxford), 2014
7 Whittle, A. (2016). A Defence of Substance Causation. Journal of the American Philosophical Association , 2(1), 1-20. DOI: 10.1017/apa.2016.1
8 Edward Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, Editiones Scholasticae, 2014, 302pp.
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:
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
Here is the handout I used for a presentation on Selim Berker’s article, “The Normative Insignificance of Neuroscience“.
Consequentialism is a family of theories that take the consequences of actions to be the location of the right or good-making features of those actions. For the sake of simplicity, let’s work with a very basic consequentialist view, which is that ought to maximize the good. The good is identified with happiness. So, we ought to maximize happiness with our actions.
The problem with this view is that it says the right thing to do, what we ought to do, is maximize happiness. However, intuitively, there are situations where maximizing happiness is not what we ought to do. For instance, nobody but the most committed act utilitarian would say that it’s ok to kill a homeless person to supply his organs to five needy recipients, even if nobody would ever find out.
So, this simple consequentialism fails to give a satisfying analysis of deontic concepts, like RIGHT and WRONG. In other words, it gives the wrong application conditions for RIGHT and WRONG, because it entails that certain actions which fall within the extension of WRONG actually fall within the extension of RIGHT.
What could we do to revise our simple consequentialism? Well, we could try not giving an analysis of deontic concepts. So, we could become scalar utilitarians, which is to say we could be people who think actions are ranked on a scale from best to worst. Maybe moral judgments that involve deontic concepts are just wrongheaded. We could just do without concepts like RIGHT and WRONG. Instead, let’s just talk about better or worse actions; actions which we have more or less reason to do.
This just isn’t satisfying, though. Clearly torturing children for fun isn’t just worse than not torturing them for fun, it’s wrong. We ought not to torture children for fun. There’s nothing wrongheaded about that moral judgment. So, we need to give an account of deontic concepts if we want a theory that captures what we do when we engage in moral discourse and deliberation.
Here is what I take to be the best way to deal with this problem. If we try to give a consequentialist analysis of deontic concepts, we get the extensions of those concepts wrong. If we try to avoid giving an analysis, then we exclude a large portion of our moral discourse from our theory. So, we should analyze deontic concepts as conventions based on contingent social arrangements. We still should employ deontic concepts in moral judgment, and they play an indispensable role in our moral lives. But they do not reflect some fundamental structure of the moral world; rather, they reflect contingent social arrangements.
The role that consequentialism can play in this theory is a means by which we can critique these contingent social arrangements. So, we could give consequentialist critiques of the ways in which deontic concepts are deployed in specific classes of moral judgments. For instance, if the concept RIGHT once had within its extension returning escaped slaves to their so-called owners, then that deontic concept could be revised according to a consequentialist critique of the institution of slavery. Our deontic moral judgments, judgments of right and wrong, permissibility and impermissibility, are ultimately subject to a consequentialist evaluation if the need arises.
Is this just rule utilitarianism? I don’t think so. Typically, rule utilitarians think we ought to obey a certain idealized set of rules which pass the consequentialist test of goodness-maximization. What I’m proposing is we work with the rules we already have, and revise as the need arises, rather than reason according to an idealized set of good-maximizing rules. Besides, a rule utilitarian analysis of deontic concepts will probably fall victim to the extension problem I raised above against our simple consequentialist analysis.
 Assume I’m talking about moral rightness and moral wrongness, not something like the wrong or right way to play an instrument.
 If there’s an upper or lower limit to goodness/badness. If there isn’t, then it’s a limitless scale of better/worse.
Are you a liberal? Are you a conservative? A libertarian? Left or right? Are you an anarcho-capitalist? Are you an anarcho-communist? An anarcho-syndicalist? Do you think government ought to be structured as a republic or as a direct democracy? These are all questions about people’s political ideologies. We typically individuate or distinguish between these ideologies according to a system of two independent axes that aims to pick out spectra of independent ideological positions, one economic and the other having to do with authority. There are problems with this view. For example, ideologies about political economies and the use/abuse of political authority are not neatly separable into independent spectra. Obviously, your views about if and when the state can justifiably use force to extract money from its citizenry to finance its policies will be influenced by your economic views and your views about political morality.
Opposed to this view of the political landscape is the horseshoe theory, which was developed by Jean-Pierre Faye. Horseshoe theorists view the political landscape as a single spectrum which bends like a horseshoe. As one reaches either end of the horseshoe, one approaches the extremist versions of left or right wing political ideologies. The point of this is that the left and right wings, as they go further left or right, end up converging such that the political spectrum becomes a horseshoe. While they don’t completely touch, they resemble each other enough to be more like their left or right wing extremist rivals than the centrists occupying the curved portion of the shoe. So, in essence, as left wingers and right wingers get more left wing and right wing, respectively, they end up resembling their ideological opposition on the opposite end more and more.
The problem I see with this view is that it conflates the contents of a political ideology with the tactics for implementing those contents that are seen as permissible by the proponents of those ideologies. So, a defender of horseshoe theory will point to how extremist right wingers and extremist left wingers are both willing to use violence as a means to the end of implementing their political ideologies into the social order. This is problematic, because we should individuate political ideologies based on their contents rather than the tactics contingently endorsed by their proponents. There are proponents of political ideologies who would typically not be classified as extremist who would be willing to use violence or tactics usually ascribed to extremists. The question is what the morally salient conditions are for justified uses of violence, and that is a question answered by the contents of particular political ideologies. So, ultimately we need to look to the contents rather than the tactics when individuating political ideologies.
Now, the horseshoe theorist may push back and claim that when we consider the so-called extremist left and right, their ideologies have quite similar standards by which violence or other extreme tactics are morally justified. The problem with this reply is that it’s outright false. It takes just a few minutes to look up so-called extremist left and right wing ideologies’ views about the justified and unjustified use of extreme tactics, and once you do that you’ll see that they differ significantly with respect to the reasons that they deploy to justify the use of tactics that the horseshoe theorist thinks makes them so similar.
So, while I don’t endorse the dual axis view of the political landscape, it’s clearly better as a tool for individuating contemporary political ideologies than the horseshoe theory.
In Book X of The Laws, the Athenian provides an argument for the existence of god. Unholy acts are committed by those who suffer from three kinds of misconception, which are that gods do not exist, or they exist but do not care about human affairs, or that they can be bribed with sacrifices (Jirsa 239; Laws Book X 885e). The Athenian believes that the atheist ought to be provided with proof of the existence of gods before any punishment is imposed on them for impiety (885c-e). The Athenian aims to provide a proof that soul is fundamental (892c-d). The proof that the Athenian provides is an argument from motion (Stalley 169-170). In short, a thing can have one of two properties: (a) the property of moving other things without moving itself, and (b) the property of moving other things as well as itself (894b-c). All motion has an absolute origin, which cannot be type (a), because things of that type can only transmit motions to other things by virtue of themselves being moved by something external to them (894e). To be the originator of motion, a thing must be of type (b), because it must have the potential to originate motion within itself, as there is nothing but itself to transmit motion to other things at the beginning of the sequence of moving things. Things of type (b) are said to be alive, or ensouled (895c). So, the originator of motion is soul, which makes soul more fundamental than physical things (892c-d; 896b-c). Since soul is more fundamental than physical things, the properties of soul are more fundamental than the properties of material things (896c-d). Soul, being fundamental, is the source of everything less fundamental, which includes values like good and bad (896d).
Soul controls the heavens and the earth because they are also in motion (896d-e). The goodness or virtue and rationality of the originator of motion is inferred from the fact that the motion of the heavens is orderly and rational, which means that the originator of that motion must also be virtuous, orderly, and rational (896e-898c). This paper will be structured as follows. In section one, I will explain the doctrine against which the Athenian is arguing. In section two, I will lay out the argument’s premises, and explain the rationale behind them. Finally, in section three, I will assess the validity and soundness of the argument.
The Athenian’s opponent is the physicalist. Physicalism is responsible for the attractiveness of atheism (887b-c). In the context of the Laws, physicalism is the doctrine that all things that come into being do so by virtue of nature, change, or art (888e). The physicalist believes that the basic elements (earth, air, water, and fire) exist by nature, and they combine in various ways by chance to produce everything else that exists (889a). Things that exist by virtue of art are secondary to those that exist by chance or nature (889c). Examples of things that exist by virtue of art are things crafted by humans and human conventions (889c). When it comes to crafts that involve mixing labor with the natural world, the products such as fresh produce and meat are considered natural (Jirsa 242-243). The secondary, or less fundamental (derivative) entities are those that do not involve outright mixing of human labor with the natural world. Statesmanship, for example, seems not to involve the natural world, so it is secondary to the natural by virtue of the object of its inquiry (the state) being a product of art (889c-e). Furthermore, on the physicalist view, the gods are the products of human activity, and therefore are not ontologically primary (889e). Clearly, this threatens the notion that the laws which structure Magnesia are from the gods, so it is important for the Athenian to refute the doctrine of physicalism (886e-888e). So, the Athenian, encouraged by Clinias, sets out to formulate an argument against physicalism, which establishes the existence of god.
- The Argument
The Athenian begins his exposition of the argument by laying out a taxonomy of motion, which seems to be ordered according to ontological priority (Jirsa 244). The motion I classified as type (a) is identified with that which can move other things but cannot move itself, and the motion I classified as type (b) is identified with that which can move other things and itself (894b-c). Types (a) and (b) motion are considered to be the most basic kinds of motion in the Athenian’s taxonomy (Jirsa 244). Since the Athenian aims to refute the doctrine of physicalism, which says that earth, air, water, and fire are natural, or fundamental, which is to say that they are ontologically primary, and everything else derives its being from them (Jirsa 243; Laws Book X 889a). So, the Athenian must find the fundamental kind(s) of motion, and he must show that it does not fall within the set of things considered natural (fundamental) by the physicalist.
The Athenian proceeds by showing that type (b) motion is more fundamental than type (a) motion. Since all motion must have an absolute origin, there must be an originator of motion (894e). The originator cannot be of type (a), because it would have no source for its ability to move other things. If there is no prior motion to move the originator, then the motion that the originator transfers to other entities in motion must come from within the originator, which is to say that the originator is of type (b). So, the originator of motion must be self-moving and capable of moving other things. Self-motion, therefore, is the fundamental kind of motion (895b). The first premise of the argument is:
- Self-motion is prior to all other motion.
The Athenian bolsters the first premise by considering a thought experiment. If all things in motion stopped moving and were stationary, which would be identifiable as the first motion? Type (b) must be the first, because if it were type (a), it would require a prior transfer of motion to enable the first motion to move other things, which, ex hypothesi, cannot exist (895b).
The Athenian then aims to show that soul is identical to self-motion. When we examine the world around us, those things we consider self-movers are what we classify as alive (895c). Things that are alive are also ensouled (895c). So, self-movers are ensouled, since self-movers are alive, and the set of living things is a proper subset of ensouled things (Jirsa 246). The second premise of the argument is:
- Soul is self-motion.
The Athenian backs up the second premise by mentioning that we can see three aspects of something, namely its being, its name, and its definition (895d). The Athenian’s definition for the entities picked out by the name “soul” is just, “that which is self-moving” (895e-896a). So, the thing denoted by the name “soul” is the same thing as is defined as, “that which is self-moving.” So, to say that something has a soul is to say that it is capable of self-motion (Jirsa 246). From premises one and two, the Athenian infers that soul is prior to all other motions and entities that are or could be in motion (Jirsa 253; Laws Book X 896b-c). So, the first conclusion is:
3. Soul is prior to all other motion.
The notion of priority that the Athenian employs seems to be both temporal and ontological (895b). So, soul is temporally and ontologically prior to all other motions, including the motions of the elements that the physicalist posits as fundamental. The Athenian has shown so far that soul is ontologically and temporally prior to the physical, which means that soul, rather than the elements (earth, air, water, and fire) falls in the category of natural that the physicalist employs (892c).
At this point in the argument, the Athenian suggests that it could be two souls that govern the heavens and the earth, one good and the other one bad (896e-897c). The Athenian aims to show that it is a good soul that governs the heavens and the earth, which would entail that the world we presently inhabit is ordered rationally and virtuously. He points out that the products of soul guided by virtue and reason are different than those of soul not guided by reason (897b). The products of soul guided by virtue and reason are better than those produced by a soul not guided by virtue and reason. Because the heavens move in a way that resembles reason, the soul which orders the heavens must be guided by virtue and reason. But if the heavens were ordered by an irrational soul, the motions of the heavenly bodies would not be as they actually are (897b-898b). From this we get the next steps in the Athenian’s argument:
- If the heavens move rationally and virtuously, then soul guided by virtue and reason orders the heavens.
- The heavens move rationally and virtuously.
- Soul guided by virtue and reason orders the heavens.
The second conclusion of the Athenian’s argument, then, is that the heavens are ordered by a rational and virtuous soul, because to be guided in action by virtue and reason is to be virtuous and rational. Finally, to get to god, the Athenian points out that the soul guiding the sun must be regarded by anybody as a god (899a). Since the other heavenly bodies move in ways resembling the sun in relevant respects, it follows that the souls guiding those bodies must also be regarded as gods (899b-c).
Now, to complete his case, the Athenian must show that the gods care about human affairs, and are not capable of being bribed. Since the gods are all powerful, all knowing, and all good, they cannot disregard human affairs, because doing so would call into question their power, knowledge, and goodness (901d-e). For the gods to disregard human affairs would be for them to succumb to indolence and idleness, but given their attributes, they cannot succumb to such things. Furthermore, to take bribes would be to succumb to self-indulgence, which would call their goodness into question (901e). So, the gods concern themselves with human affairs and are not susceptible to bribery.
The Athenian’s argument seems valid. The first conclusion (3) follows from the first two premises (1 & 2) by virtue of substituting co-referring expressions (soul and self-motion). The second conclusion (6) follows from premises four and five by modus ponens. Finally, the Athenian’s conclusion that the gods concern themselves with human affairs and cannot be bribed follows from the properties he ascribes to the gods. If those properties logically exclude disregarding human affairs and being bribed, then it is a valid form of argument to move from some set of properties being possessed by some entities to the negation of the proposition that the properties logically excluded by that set are possessed by those same entities.
The Athenian’s argument is quite ingenious, but it is susceptible to various criticisms which call its soundness into question. First, the notion of ontological priority employed by the Athenian to justify his first premise can be questioned. If one embraces the (contemporary) orthodox way of doing ontology, the notion of levels of being will become unintelligible. It is only given the idea that some things are more fundamental than others such that they form more basic levels of being that the justification given for the first premise can work. Second, the reasons given to think that there must be a first motion were insufficient. Merely thinking of a hypothetical situation in which motion is stopped, and we are free to judge which motions are more fundamental than others is not enough to justify the claim that there was a first motion. The defender of the view that there is an infinite series of motion-transference that stretches backwards eternally will not see that, given a stoppage of all motion, there must be a first motion. Furthermore, Parmenides doubted the reality of motion (Stalley 170).
The fourth and fifth premises of the Athenian’s argument are also questionable. Setting aside anachronistic reasons such as the falsity of the Athenian’s thesis that the heavenly bodies move in perfectly circular orbits, there are still other reasons to doubt his premises. First, premise four is a conditional, and it seems not to be true. There are possible states of affairs where the heavenly bodies happen to move in virtuous and rational ways merely by virtue of chance, or by virtue of the nature of the elements composing them. In other words, the physicalist thesis examined in section one seems to have the resources to account for the appearance of the virtuous and rational guidance of the heavens. Perhaps the intrinsic properties of each kind of element constrains the range of possible combinations of those elements, and the possible motions of those composite objects such that they inevitably would move in apparently virtuous and rational ways. The Athenian does not address this possibility at all. So, on the physicalist view, the fourth premise is questionable because the consequent of the conditional has not been shown to be a consequence of the antecedent obtaining.
Finally, moving from the claim that the soul which guides the heavens is rational and virtuous to the claim that that soul is all powerful, all good, and all knowing seems to be a non sequitur. The soul which guides the heavens may be only capable of moving the heavens and nothing else, perhaps by virtue of a limitation on its power, or on its knowledge. Maybe all such a soul can do is move the heavenly bodies in a circular fashion, forever. That soul could not concern itself with human affairs, because it would be outside of the scope of its power or knowledge to do so. Even if we grant the Athenian’s claim that the soul has the properties of maximal power, knowledge, and goodness, it may not follow that the soul could not be bribed. It could be the case that we humans are so limited in our moral knowledge, that the soul could allow the wicked to prosper by bribing it with sacrifices because doing so allows for some greater good which we cannot currently comprehend. So, even granting the set of properties that the Athenian ascribes to the soul he calls god, it does not obviously follow that that set logically excludes the ability to be bribed.
I have examined the argument in Book X of The Laws presented by the Athenian. The argument’s premises are all questionable, which means that it is within the physicalist’s rational rights to doubt the conclusions. The Athenian aimed to provide reasons to believe in gods which would be provided to atheists before punishing them for impiety (885c-e). The gods, given the Athenian’s argument, concern themselves with human affairs and cannot be bribed. They are not fictions created by humans, as the physicalist maintains (889e). However, the Athenian underestimates the resources available to the physicalist. The physicalist can resist the Athenian’s argument while remaining within her own ontological framework. So, the Athenian has failed to supply the atheist with reasons to believe in gods.
 Whether or not the proof is supposed to be rationally compelling or just sufficient for rational acceptance is an open interpretive question (Jirsa 241).
 Plato seems to use the term “natural” in the same way as “fundamental” is used by Jonathan Schaffer, which is to denote ontological priority (Chalmers 2009; Jirsa 243).
 I am using “physicalism” to characterize the Athenian’s opponent because his opponent holds to the view that the elements (earth, air, water, and fire) are fundamental or primary, and those elements seem paradigmatically physical entities (Jirsa 2008).
 See (Jirsa 253).
 See (Ibid 253).
 See (Ibid 253).
 By virtue of being ordered by a rational and virtuous soul.
 See (Book VII 822a-b) for a description of the moon, sun, and stars following a circular path, and compare with what is said at (Book X 897d-898b). Both the moon, sun, and stars and the image chosen to represent reason are circular (Jirsa 252). So, the motions of the heavenly bodies and of reason are the same.
 I am using the singular instead of “souls” for stylistic purposes. The Athenian’s argument actually entails that there are multiple souls that are virtuous and rational. But this does not affect my criticisms.
Chalmers, David John, David Manley, and Ryan Wasserman. “On What Grounds What.” Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology. Oxford: Clarendon, 2009. 347-83. Print.
Jirsa, Jakub (2008). Plato on characteristics of god: Laws X. 887c5-899d3. Rhizai. A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science 5:265-285.
Plato, Malcolm Schofield, and Tom Griffith. Plato the Laws. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2016. Print.
Stalley, R. F., and Plato. An Introduction to Plato’s Laws. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1983. Print.
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. 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:
- In any moral disagreement, at least one party must be in error.
- There is widespread moral disagreement.
- If there is widespread error about a topic, we should retain only those beliefs about it formed through reliable processes.
- If there is widespread error about morality, there are no reliable processes for forming moral beliefs.
- There is widespread error about morality (from 1 and 2).
- We should retain only those moral beliefs formed through reliable processes (from 3 and 5).
- There are no reliable processes for forming moral beliefs (from 4 and 5).
- We should give up all of our moral beliefs (from 6 and 7).
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.” 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.”
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. 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).
 Sameness being numerical identity in this case.
 Cf. Sinhababu, The Epistemic Argument for Hedonism.
 (Singer and Lazari-Radek 267-268).
 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.
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.
Could there be a moral argument against moral realism? I’ve been thinking about that question a lot since encountering the work of Melis Erdur. If we consider meta-ethical theses like moral realism to be substantive moral claims which carry potential moral implications, then it seems like a moral argument against moral realism is a real possibility. Admitting this would call into question the (increasingly less) common assumption that meta-ethical theories don’t have moral implications. However, it seems like this assumption is false. For instance, moral realism being true would mean that we have moral reasons to act or refrain from certain actions. That we have moral reasons to act seems like a moral implication. If error theory was true, we wouldn’t have any moral reasons to act, so the truth of realism over error theory would entail moral implications.
If we admit that the boundary between ethics and meta-ethics is fuzzy, then we may have room to think about a moral argument against moral realism. For example, moral realism entails that the moral wrongness of an act is conditional on there being a human-independent moral reality which makes that act wrong (Erdur forthcoming). But is the existence of a human-independent moral reality morally relevant to the wrongness of the act? Is the realist going to admit that if we were to discover that there is no human-independent moral reality, we should drop our commitment to the moral wrongness of a certain class of actions? Remember that we are assessing moral realism, and not whether or not there is an anti-realist theory which lets us admit that an act is wrong even if there is no human-independent moral reality. The realist is going to think that a commitment to realism, and nothing less, is needed to put our moral practices onto secure foundations. So, she probably won’t immediately turn to a form of anti-realism as a form of moral palliative care.
It seems like we have the makings of a moral argument against moral realism. I won’t try to provide anything more than a brief sketch in this post, but I hope to explore this notion in more depth soon. In short, if we eschew a hard and fast distinction between meta-ethics and ethics, there opens up the possibility of considering meta-ethical theories as substantively moral, and as such evaluable by first-order moral standards. For instance, we could assess moral theories by the adequacy conditions provided by Theresa Tobin and Alison Jaggar (Tobin and Jaggar 2013). If moral realism fails to live up to our evaluative standards, then it would constitute a substantive moral mistake (Erdur forthcoming). The same could go for various forms of anti-realism, like expressivism and error theory.
 I am unsure if this question ought to be answered by a survey of self-proclaimed moral realists. I can think of good reasons for and against doing so.
Erdur, Melis (forthcoming). A Moral Argument Against Moral Realism. _Ethical Theory and Moral Practice_:1-12.
Jaggar, Alison M., and Theresa W. Tobin. “Situating Moral Justification: Rethinking the Mission of Moral Epistemology.” Metaphilosophy 44.4 (2013b): 383-408. Web.
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). 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. 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
- 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). 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).
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. 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). 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).
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. 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. 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.
 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.
 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.
 Normative commitments that are not moral include aesthetic, cultural, epistemic, and prudential commitments, among others.
 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.
 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.
 The testimony must be relevant to FGC in this case, so those who are affected by FGC are those whose testimony is most relevant.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 I use “we” to pick out anybody engaged in the process of naturalized moral or non-moral epistemology.
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