Higher Order Disagreement and Naturalized Moral Epistemology


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

  1. Adequacy Conditions in NME

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

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

  1. Higher Order Disagreement

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

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

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

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

2.1. Feasibility

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

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

2.2. Non Abuse

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

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

2.3. Plausibility

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

2.4. Usability

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

  1. Strategies for Avoiding Higher Order Disagreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.1. A Meta-Epistemological Worry Addressed

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Random Thoughts About Naturalized Moral Epistemology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End Notes

[1] Among other kinds of disputes.

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

Rysiew, Patrick, “Naturalism in Epistemology”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2016/entries/epistemology-naturalized/>.

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

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


An Argument Against Moral Intuitionism

Moral intuitionism is usually characterized as the thesis that we have non-inferential moral knowledge. Any epistemological theory that posits non-inferential knowledge is a form of foundationalism, so moral intuitionism is a form of foundationalism. The thesis is usually accompanied by a description of the faculty of moral intuition. Sometimes moral intuition is considered a faculty of judgment that produces non-inferentially justified/warranted moral beliefs, some of which are true. Another characterization of moral intuition is as a special faculty of moral perception, analogous to vision (how far that analogy can be pushed depends on who you ask). All of these ways of describing moral intuition have their respective strengths and weaknesses, which is a topic for another time. In this post, I’m going to present an argument against moral intuitionism that does not assume any robust account of the faculty of moral intuition. All that is assumed for the sake of this argument regarding intuitionism is that it is a form of foundationalism; whether it’s internalist or externalist is immaterial to the thrust of the argument.

Now for the argument: There appear to be good reasons to think that our moral beliefs are formed under less-than epistemically appropriate conditions. Moral belief formation is supposedly subject to various cognitive biases and emotional influences. These various psychological phenomena, compounded by facts such as massive moral disagreement among seemingly rational people present us with good reason to think that many of our moral beliefs are probably false, or at the very least, unjustified/unwarranted.

Assuming that there is good evidence of these cognitive biases and emotional influences coming out of psychology and cognitive science, the moral intuitionist is presented with a dilemma. She is presented with a defeater for her moral beliefs in the form of evidence of the unreliable conditions under which they are formed. Either she can defeat this defeater or she cannot. If she cannot defeat the defeater, then she does not have non-inferential moral knowledge, which means some form of moral skepticism is true. If she attempts to defeat the defeater, then she must provide good reasons to think that her moral beliefs are formed under conditions conducive to their reliability. Let’s say she succeeds at defeating the defeater, and has given good reasons to think her moral beliefs are reliably formed. She has now provided a justificatory basis for her moral beliefs that renders her moral justification inferential. So, she does not have non-inferentially justified/warranted moral beliefs, but rather her moral beliefs are inferentially justified. So, either moral skepticism is the case or moral justification is inferential.

The intuitionist appears to be backed into a corner. However, things aren’t as they seem; she has two ways to resist the dilemma. The first way to avoid the conclusion is by challenging the principle that the defeater defeater must come in the form of evidence of the reliability of moral belief formation. Perhaps the defeater defeater could be evidence that moral belief formation is not influenced by the cognitive biases and emotional influences mentioned above. Note that that evidence is not evidence for the reliability of moral belief formation, but merely evidence against the case for their unreliability; so, the intuitionist using this strategy isn’t committed to the no non-inferential moral knowledge horn of the dilemma.

The second way to avoid the dilemma is by allowing for epistemically overdetermined beliefs; such beliefs gain justification/warrant from non-inferential and inferential sources. The intuitionist can allow for a defeater defeater that generates inferentially justified/warranted moral beliefs, while also claiming that such a defeater defeater restored non-inferential justification/warrant as well.

One may wonder what part the internalism/externalism distinction plays in this discussion. The argument appears to be neutral about whether or not justification/warrant/knowledge is extended. Even if some sort of reliabilism is true, the alleged evidence from psychology and cognitive science presents a potential defeater to one’s moral beliefs. So, it really doesn’t matter if one adopts internalism or externalism about moral knowledge.


Further Reading:

For some of the alleged evidence against moral intuitionism and various formulations of the argument presented above, see Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s book Moral Skepticisms, and his papers, An Empirical Challenge to Moral Intuitionism, Framing Moral Intuitions, and Moral Intuitionism Meets Moral Psychology.

For a more developed response to Armstrong’s argument along the lines of the critiques I explored above, see Moral Intuitionism Defeated? by Nathan Ballantyne and Joshua Thurow.


An Introduction to the Is-Ought Problem

Of all the dialectical bludgeons, the alleged inferential gap between “ought” and “is” is ubiquitous. The thesis is used to rebut numerous normative claims, but few in popular circles are aware of its pedigree, and because of that, they’re prone to misunderstanding its significance and meaning. Usually, those who employ the is-ought problem in its orthodox guise don’t realize that it’s a double edged sword. If the thesis is true, its undermining effects do not discriminate.

Historical Background:

The is-ought problem can be traced back to A Treatise on Human Nature. There are several interpretations of Hume’s words, and some others will be investigated in future posts, but for now the dominant 20th century interpretation will be explored. The passage in which the is-ought problem makes its appearance goes as follow,

“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason” (Hume 302).

The orthodox interpretation is that Hume believes that no evaluative judgment may be the conclusion of a valid deductive argument that only has non-evaluative premises. For any set of descriptive or factual premises, no evaluative conclusion can follow without additional evaluative premises or some inferential rule that is essentially evaluative in content. Another way of putting the thesis is that there is no rule of deductive inference that licenses the move from factual or descriptive premises to evaluative conclusions.

The dominant interpretation of the 20th century aligns Hume’s is-ought thesis with non-cognitivism. Since evaluative claims are distinct in kind (“ought”) from factual/descriptive claims (“is”), it seems natural to embrace some form of non-cognitivism. Statements of fact are truth evaluable, whereas other kinds of utterances don’t seem to be. Examples of such utterances are expressions of fright, such as screaming, and expressions of pain, such as saying “ouch” and groaning. These utterances express non-cognitive attitudes through such phrases or noises. The attitudes are distinct from propositional attitudes due to the fact that the latter are truth-conducive (your beliefs may be true or false).

The orthodox interpreters tend to point to Hume’s motivation arguments to establish the non-cognitivist reading. Given Hume’s non-cognitivism being established by such arguments, the standard reading of the is-ought problem makes more sense; it would just be an entailment of Hume’s anti-rationalism about morality.

A brief statement of the more well known argument is that reason alone cannot motivate action (given the soundness of Hume’s first anti-rationalist argument), but morality can, so morality cannot be grounded in reason alone (Cohon 2010). If the dominant 20th century interpretation of Hume is correct, then this argument aimed to establish some form of non-cognitivism, which, in essence, would carve an ontological gap between fact and value. So, on the non-cognitivist reading, there are facts, which are those things that our beliefs aim to represent in some way, and there are values, which are products of our faculty of moral sentiment.

It should be noted, however, that the non-cognitivist reading of Hume is something that is no longer taken for granted, given recent Hume scholarship (Radcliffe 2006).

In essence, this would carve an ontological gap between fact and value. So, on the non-cognitivist reading, there are facts, which are those things that our beliefs aim to represent in some way, and there are values, which are products of our faculty of moral sentiment.

The problem for people who employ this interpretation of the is-ought problem as an argument against evaluative positions they disagree with is that it is embedded in an interpretive framework that includes a non-cognitivist element as an overarching theme. For the most part, the people in popular circles that I’ve encountered using this argumentative strategy tend to have cognitivist sympathies, and with such sympathies come evaluative claims that are believed to be truth evaluable. Insofar as their opponents’ arguments are supposed to fall prey to this problem, so will theirs.

Logical Maneuvers:

There are various ways to respond to the orthodox version of the is-ought problem. The first way involves what could be deemed logical tricks. The first trick, originally from Arthur Prior, goes as follows:

P1. It’s raining outside.


C. Either it’s raining outside or you ought not to steal.

This is a valid deductive argument that employs disjunction introduction. Now, if you claim that this isn’t really getting an ought from an is because the conclusion isn’t really an statement with evaluative content, then this example will evade your concern,

P1*. It isn’t raining outside.

P2*. Either it isn’t raining outside or you ought not to steal.


C*. You ought not to steal.

If you claim that the conclusion of the first argument lacks evaluative content, then the second argument only employs non-evaluative premises (since P2* is assumed to be non-evaluative for the sake of argument) and gets you to the evaluative conclusion C*.

The second trick goes like this,

P1$. It is raining outside and it is not raining outside.


C$. You ought not to steal.

This is also a valid deductive argument that employs the principle that from a contradiction, anything follows. Start with (i) P and not-P, simplify to (ii) P, (iii) not-P. Apply disjunctive addition to (ii) and you can deduce (iv) P or Q. Disjunction elimination on (iii) and (iv) gets the conclusion Q (Joyce 153).

Another logical trick involves an appeal to authority, but it raises issues about what constitutes evaluative content. If you’re interested in that, you can read chapter seven of Armstrong’s book, Moral Skepticisms.

There are other, more complicated, attempts at bridging the inferential gap between is and ought, such as Toomas Karmo’s proof. Unfortunately, there is no space to give a sufficient explanation of his argument.

Robust Bridges:

A different sort of attempt at bridging the alleged gap involves more than just logical trickery. One problem people may raise about the previous solutions is that they don’t involve deductions from non-evaluative premises that produce genuine moral knowledge or justification. Mere disjunction introduction and explosion aren’t sufficient because one could replace the evaluative disjunct with any other evaluative disjunct without affecting the argument. So, a more robust inference from is to ought needs to be explored.

It could be useful to step back and rethink the framework in which we’re trying to understand the is-ought problem. If we think of the regress problem in the context of moral justification, then there are only a few non-skeptical solutions: (i) foundationalism, (ii) coherentism, (iii) infinitism, and (iv) inference from non-evaluative knowledge. Granting for the sake of argument that i-iii all fail to secure moral justification, we need to evaluative our fourth option. So, we can think of the is-ought gap as epistemic rather than ontic.

So, the problem becomes finding a way to make an inference from a body of non-evaluative knowledge to an evaluative conclusion such that the inference transfers justification or warrant from the body of knowledge to the evaluative conclusion.

There are quite a few attempts in the literature to provide such an inferential link, so the selection of views here is going to be, to some extent, arbitrary.

Searle’s Metalinguistic Argument:

The first attempt, a metalinguistic strategy, is found in the work of John Searle:

P1. Jones utters the words, “I hereby promise to pay you, Smith, five dollars.”

P2. Jones promised to pay smith five dollars.

P3. Jones placed himself under an obligation to pay Smith five dollars.

P4. Jones is under an obligation to pay Smith five dollars.


C. Jones ought to pay smith five dollars (Searle 1964).

Searle’s argument aims to bridge Hume’s chasm by employing what he calls, “institutional facts,” and other things being equal, it is an institutional fact that the utterance of, “I hereby promise to . . .” is a performative by virtue of which the utterer undertakes an obligation (Searle 1964). So, it seems as though the gap between is and ought is bridged by institutional facts. It also seems as though the moral regress problem is solved by the fourth option alluded to in the last section. We could infer evaluative conclusions with robust content from non-evaluative premises.

The main issue is that the argument fails to rule out moral skepticism and the error theory, so it fails as a means of obtaining moral knowledge and justification. To see how Searle’s argument fails, notice the distinction between purporting to undertake an obligation and actually undertaking an obligation. An illuminating analogy comes from Michael Huemer,

“. . . suppose you call me collect, and I agree to accept the charges, but due to a mistake, the phone company never actually charges me. My having “accepted” these charges does not entail that I ever actually receive the charges. In a similar sense, a person might conceivably “accept” an obligation without ever actually having the obligation” (Huemer 75).

Somebody may undertake an obligation in the weaker sense of just purporting to if there are no actual obligations or if nobody is ever actually obligated to do anything. In other words, if the error theory is true, then Jones only purports to undertake an obligation. The problem arises, then, because the argument fails to rule out that possibility; and any argument employed to vindicate moral knowledge that fails to rule out the possibility that we lack moral knowledge is a dialectical failure.

If one introduces additional premises to the effect that the argument rules out error theory and moral skepticism, then those premises will have evaluative content, which means that they must be justified, which then reintroduces the moral regress problem. The evaluative premises would also need to be justified by virtue of inference from some body of evaluative knowledge, given our rejection of the other non-skeptical solutions.

A second problem with Searle’s argument is the inference from P1 to P2. Such an inference presupposes a large body of background knowledge about the norms of the social context in which Jones is embedded (Huemer 75). On one reading, the constitutive facts of that knowledge would all be non-evaluative, but on another reading, they would not be.

There are two ways to understand the move from P1 to P2: the evaluative (internal) sense, and a non-evaluative (external) sense (Mackie 66-72). The external sense merely takes the move to be a descriptive account of a rule governing  Jone’s speech act under a linguistic institution. It would be as if an alien was evaluating the argument from outside the linguistic institution of promising. Such an alien would require an additional premise that says, if person utters, “I promise to X” within a particular linguistic institution, then that person has made a promise within that linguistic institution (James 154). But that rule would teach the alien a fact about the rules of a particular institution, such as a rule for moving chess pieces across a board. It becomes a description of what Jones ought to do within that particular institution, not what Jones ought to do, full stop (James 154-155).

Viewed from the inside, Jones is surely obligated to pay his debt, but from the outside, it’s merely a statement of fact about particular linguistic conventions. The problem is, though, that when viewed from inside the institution of promising, the argument requires an additional inferential rule to secure the conclusion.

In other words, there is a dilemma for Searle’s argument. If we view it from the outside, then the conclusion is merely a brute fact, and we haven’t really gotten an ought from an is. If we view it from inside the institution, then the argument requires an additional premise in the form of an inference rule that says if one utters, “I promise to do X,” then one ought to conclude that that person promised to do X (James 157). But that is a rule which tells us what we ought to do, and as such is subject to the same requirement of justification as any other normative statement, thus restarting the regress. Evaluating the argument from within the institution, then, requires accepting particular normative statements (James 157). So, on the internal reading, Searle’s argument fails to solve the moral regress problem, and the external reading doesn’t even interact with it.

So, we’ve gone over Searle’s argument and found that it doesn’t provide a means to end the regress problem; but that doesn’t render the entire strategy bankrupt, as there are more promising metalinguistic arguments, such as Jesse Prinz’s. Also, it should be noted that Searle did not intend for the argument to be employed as a solution to the moral regress problem. Searle saw his argument as an example of how one might bridge the deductive is-ought gap by way of institutional facts and the notion of speech acts (Searle 1964). I merely used it as a means of illustrating one way the metalinguistic strategy for ending the regress problem for moral justification may be developed.

Geach’s Attempt:

The next argument is from Peter Geach,

P1. If Evan were to promise to adopt some practice he would adopt it.

P2. If Evan were to utter sentence W, he would be promising to adopt the practice of doing something wrong twice a day.

P3. Nobody should adopt the practice of doing something wrong twice a day.


C1. If Evan were to utter W, he would adopt the practice of doing something wrong twice a day.


C2. Evan should not utter W (Geach 1977; Huemer 2005).

The first thing to note about this argument is that premise three has evaluative content. Geach claims that the third premise is analytically true (Geach 1977). So, if the argument was successful, it would bridge the is-ought gap by virtue of an analytic truth that would be known by grasping the content of the proposition being expressed; in other words, understanding the content would just be acquaintance with its truth conditions.

The problem is that this would be to smuggle in a moral epistemology insofar as there is some account of grasping the content of the analytic moral proposition that doesn’t rely on the fourth solution to the moral regress problem. If it relied on the fourth account of the structure of moral justification, then it would merely push the problem back a step.

If premise three requires an account of content-grasping for its justification that makes use of moral foundationalism, infinitism, or coherentism, then it merely assumes that there is no gap by virtue of adopting a solution in which it cannot be formulated.  In other words, the epistemic gap only makes sense given the fourth solution to the regress problem, so adopting another solution changes the subject.

Another problem is that the argument is invalid. The inference from P3 to C1 is valid just if,

P1*. S ought not to do A.

P2. If S did B, S would do A.


C*. S ought not to do B.

is a valid form of inference (Huemer 77). An example that illustrates the invalidity of the above inference form is provided by Huemer,

“John is a judge about to pass sentence on Mary, a convicted marijuana dealer. Mary’s crime is minor at worst; John, however, has an intense, irrational hatred for all drug users, as a result of which he is determined to sentence Mary to either life imprisonment or death. He could sentence Mary to only a brief prison term, but he would not in fact do so. Now consider the following inference:

P1$. John ought not to sentence Mary to life imprisonment.

P2$. If John were to refrain from sentencing Mary to death, then he would sentence Mary to life imprisonment.


C$. John ought not to refrain from sentencing Mary to death” (Huemer 77).

It seems obvious that P1$ is true given the fact that John could sentence her to a minor term, assuming we put aside the regress problem for the sake of argument. P2$ is stipulated as a fact about John’s psychology. However, the conclusion is clearly false (Huemer 77). So, the argument form is invalid.

A third problem with the argument is that P1 is evaluative (Huemer 77). The premise goes like this,

(∀x) (Evan promises to do x > Evan does x)

The evaluative nature of the premise can be revealed by substituting “act wrongly” for x.

Evan promises to act wrongly > Evan acts wrongly

Once more, I’ll draw from Huemer to illustrate this point,

“. . . once we fix the natural facts about how Evan would behave upon making such a promise, whether the whole sentence is true then depends on whether the behavior would be wrong” (Huemer 78).

Let’s say that if Evan promised to act wrongly, he would rob a bank and go for a walk. The facts about what Evan would do are fixed, but the whole sentence is true just if the things he would do if he made such a promise are actually wrong (Huemer 78). So, the truth conditions for P1 are such that P1 is true if and only if some evaluative state of affairs obtains.

It seems as though Geach’s argument fails to provide a means of overcoming the regress problem due to the problems explored above.

The Naturalist’s Alternative:

The next attempt at providing a means of making the fourth solution to the regress problem work is more indirect. So far, we’ve only looked at attempts that aimed at establishing evaluative knowledge through deduction from non-evaluative premises. But what if being unable to establish an ought by deducing it from non-evaluative premises isn’t that interesting? For instance,

P1. My glass contains the liquid H2O.

P2. I am about to drink the liquid in my glass.


C. I am about to drink water.

This argument is invalid by Tarskian standards because a translation of the argument into predicate calculus would allow for models where P1 and P2 are true but C is false (Joyce 154).

However, we don’t deny that we can have knowledge of the molecular structure of the liquid in my glass, despite the invalidity of such arguments. Perhaps something analogous holds for the nature of normativity. To further illustrate the point, the worldview that physics gives us clearly allows for biological facts without the need for us to be able to deduce such facts from propositions about fundamental particles, fields, and the laws of nature (Joyce 154). So, a moral naturalist who is of the non-reductivist or synthetic reductivist stripe has room to maneuver insofar as she can show that the is-ought gap is as uninteresting as the H2O-water gap and the physics-biology gap.

One avenue for the moral naturalist is inference to the best explanation. For example, perhaps the best explanation for Hitler’s behaviors during WW2 and prior is that Hitler had a morally depraved character. The fact that Hitler was morally depraved or vicious (along with non-evaluative background knowledge) best explains his actions, or so this form of reasoning goes. So, the explanation of Hitler’s actions makes them more probable than without the explanation, or with an alternative explanation.

Another way to think about it is in terms of a hypothesis making certain observations more expected than they otherwise would be. Some thinkers such as Nick Sturgeon adopt this strategy. The merits of abduction applied to evaluative knowledge cannot be assessed here, since the post would become too lengthy and disjointed. Suffice it to say, however, that the Sturgeon strategy involves conceptions of explanation that are controversial.


There are several other attempts to bridge the is-ought gap that were not explored here. I will assess them over the course of several future posts. Also, the Sturgeon explanatory strategy will be explored in the future, as will alternative ways to interpret Hume’s is-ought thesis, and my own solution to the moral regress problem. So far, the prospects for the fourth solution to the regress problem seem dim. However, there may be options for those who wish to endorse the fourth solution that are more satisfactory than the ones explored here.

Works Cited:

Cohon, Rachel, “Hume’s Moral Philosophy”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2010/entries/hume-moral/>.

Geach, P. T. “Again the Logic of ‘Ought’.” Philosophy: 473. Print.

Huemer, Michael. Ethical Intuitionism. Basingstoke England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Print.

Hume, David, and Mary J. Norton. A Treatise of Human Nature: A Critical Edition. Oxford: Clarendon, 2007. Print.

James, Scott M. An Introduction to Evolutionary Ethics. Chichester, West Sussex, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Print.

Joyce, Richard. The Evolution of Morality. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2006. Print.

Mackie, J. L. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977. Print.

Radcliffe, Elizabeth S. “Moral Internalism and Moral Cognitivism in Hume’s Metaethics.” Synthese (2006): 353-70. Print.

Searle, John R. “How to Derive “Ought” From “Is”” The Philosophical Review: 43. Print.