Bar-On, Dorit and Matthew Chrisman, and . Ethical Neo-Expressivism

2009, In Shafter-Landau, R. (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. 4: 132-64. New York: Oxford University Press.

Abstract: A standard way to explain the connection between ethical claims and motivation is to say that these claims express motivational attitudes. Unless this connection is taken to be merely a matter of contingent psychological regularity, it may seem that there are only two options for understanding it. We can either treat ethical claims as expressing propositions that one cannot believe without being at least somewhat motivated (subjectivism), or we can treat ethical claims as nonpropositional and as having their semantic content constituted by the motivational attitudes they express (noncognitivism). In this paper, we argue that there is another option, which can be recognized once we see that there is no need to build the expression relation between ethical claims and motivational states of mind into the semantic content of ethical claims.

Comment: This is a different way of incorporating what seems attractive about expressivism without losing the semantic advantages of cognitivism. It draws upon resources from the philosophy of language.

Hieronymi, Pamela, and . Responsibility for Believing

2008, Synthese 161(3): 357-373.

Abstract: Many assume that we can be responsible only what is voluntary. This leads to puzzlement about our responsibility for our beliefs, since beliefs seem not to be voluntary. I argue against the initial assumption, presenting an account of responsibility and of voluntariness according to which, not only is voluntariness not required for responsibility, but the feature which renders an attitude a fundamental object of responsibility (that the attitude embodies one’s take on the world and one’s place in it) also guarantees that it could not be voluntary. It turns out, then, that, for failing to be voluntary, beliefs are a central example of the sort of thing for which we are most fundamentally responsible.

Comment: This is a great paper on epistemic responsibility about belief. It elucidates how we can be held responsible for our doxastic attitudes even if we don't have voluntary control over them. It is suitable for teachings on epistemic responsibility and belief in an upper-level undergraduate course on epistemology.

Hills, Alison, and . Is ethics rationally required?

2004, Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 47(1): 1-19.

Abstract: Sidgwick argued that utilitarianism was not rationally required because it could not be shown that a utilitarian theory of practical reason was better justified than a rival egoist theory of practical reason: there is a ‘dualism of practical reason’ between utilitarianism and egoism. In this paper, it is demonstrated that the dualism argument also applies to Kant’s moral theory, the moral law. A prudential theory that is parallel to the moral law is devised, and it is argued that the moral law is no better justified than this prudential theory. So the moral law is not rationally required. It is suggested that the dualism argument is a completely general argument that ethics cannot be rationally required.

Comment: This is a good and fairly accessible argument that casts doubt on the project of deriving morality from reason. It can be used alongside Kantian approaches to metaethics or reasons constituvism.

Hursthourse, Rosalind, and . On Virtue Ethics

2000, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Back Matter: Virtue ethics is perhaps the most important development within late twentieth-century moral philosophy. Rosalind Hursthouse, who has made notable contributions to this development, now presents a full exposition and defence of her neo-Aristotelian version of virtue ethics. She shows how virtue ethics can provide guidance for action, illuminate moral dilemmas, and bring out the moral significance of the emotions. Deliberately avoiding a combative stance, she finds less disagreement between Kantian and neo-Aristotelian approaches than is usual, and she offers the first account from a virtue ethics perspective of acting ‘from a sense of duty’. She considers the question which character traits are virtues, and explores how answers to this question can be justified by appeal to facts about human nature. Written in a clear, engaging style which makes it accessible to non-specialists, On Virtue Ethics will appeal to anyone with an interest in moral philosophy.

Comment: The Introduction provides an excellent overview of virtue ethics and its relations with other moral theories. It makes for a perfect main reading for units on virtue ethics in general ethics modules. Chapter 4 offers a valuable discussion of deontology, and other chapters are best used as further reading, or as main readings in modules devoted fully to virtue ethics.

Mills, Charles, and . ’But What Are You Really?’ The Metaphysics of Race

2000, Light A., Mechthild N. (eds). Race, Class, and Community Identity: Radical Philosophy Today. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books. p. 23-51.

Summary (Diversifying Syllabi): There are a variety of possible views about the metaphysical status of racial assignments, which roughly parallel the variety of meta-ethical views in the literature. Most people are realists about race. Those who see that the realist position is wrongheaded often conclude that race is unreal, subjective, or relative. Both of these views are mistaken.

There are seven candidate conditions for racial identification: appearance, ancestry, public awareness of ancestry, self-awareness of ancestry, culture, experience, and self-identification. Consideration of ten cases of “racial transgressives”—in which a person has some of these conditions but not others — push on our intuitions and ultimately show that we ought to conclude that race is a social construction. This view is to be distinguished from relativism, insofar as you can be wrong about what race you are: Thinking does not make it so.

Comment: This article draws parallels between various positions on the nature of race and various positions on the metaphysical status of ethical values (realism, constructivism, nihilism, etc.). The article explains the latter meta-ethical positions quickly and cursorily, so your students might need a primer (Diversifying Syllabi).

Nussbaum, Martha, and . 14 Non-Relative Virtues

2001, in Paul K. Moser, Thomas L. Carson (eds.), Moral Relativism, New York: Oxford University Press.

Comment: This text provides an interesting commentary to Nicomachean Ethics, offering a discussion of the relation between Aristotle's theoretical framework and particular cultural attitudes.

O'Neill, Onora, and . Constructivism vs. Contractualism

2003, Ratio 16(4): 319-331.

Introduction: Are Constructivism and Contractualism different, and if so how? Seemingly they are not wholly different, and certainly not incompatible, since some writers have described themselves as both. As a first shot one might suggest that contractualists ground ethical or political justification in agreement of some sort, whereas constructivists ground them in some conception of reason. This will not provide any neat separation of the two approaches to justification, since agreement may provide a basis for reasons, and reasoning a way of achieving agreement. In opening up these questions a bit further I shall consider some of the moves John Rawls and Tim Scanlon make in talking about their own methods of ethics, and in particular, some of the connections they draw between their methods and the scope of their accounts of ethical reasoning.

Comment: Would be a good further reading for any teaching that touches on Rawls's Kantian constructivism in particular.

Stark, Cynthia A., and . Hypothetical Consent and Justification

2000, Journal of Philosophy 97 (6): 313-334.

Introduction: The social-contract tradition in moral and political thought can be loosely characterized as an approach to justification based on the idea of rational agreement. This tradition contains a variety of theories that are put to a number of uses. My exclusive focus here will be contract views that rely upon hypothetical, as opposed to actual, consent. My main objective is to defend hypothetical-consent theories against what I call the standard indictment: the claim that hypothetical consent cannot give rise to obligation. I begin by explaining the standard indictment in more detail; next, I argue that the standard indictment does not apply to moral, as contrasted with, political contractarianism; finally, I argue that, on a certain understanding of the relation between political legitimacy and political obligation, the standard indictment does not count against political contractarianism.

Comment: Defends the significance of hypothetical consent as the standard of justification appropriate for establishing moral obligation in a broadly constructivist view. Very useful as specialised or further reading on moral and political obligation.

Street, Sharon, and . A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value

2006, Philosophical Studies 127 (1):109-166.

Abstract: Contemporary realist theories of value claim to be compatible with natural science. In this paper, I call this claim into question by arguing that Darwinian considerations pose a dilemma for these theories. The main thrust of my argument is this. Evolutionary forces have played a tremendous role in shaping the content of human evaluative attitudes. The challenge for realist theories of value is to explain the relation between these evolutionary influences on our evaluative attitudes, on the one hand, and the independent evaluative truths that realism posits, on the other. Realism, I argue, can give no satisfactory account of this relation. On the one hand, the realist may claim that there is no relation between evolutionary influences on our evaluative attitudes and independent evaluative truths. But this claim leads to the implausible skeptical result that most of our evaluative judgments are off track due to the distorting pressure of Darwinian forces. The realist’s other option is to claim that there is a relation between evolutionary influences and independent evaluative truths, namely that natural selection favored ancestors who were able to grasp those truths. But this account, I argue, is unacceptable on scientific grounds. Either way, then, realist theories of value prove unable to accommodate the fact that Darwinian forces have deeply influenced the content of human values. After responding to three objections, the third of which leads me to argue against a realist understanding of the disvalue of pain, I conclude by sketching how antirealism is able to sidestep the dilemma I have presented. Antirealist theories of value are able to offer an alternative account of the relation between evolutionary forces and evaluative facts—an account that allows us to reconcile our understanding of evaluative truth with our understanding of the many nonrational causes that have played a role in shaping our evaluative judgments.

Comment: This is an influential paper that could serve either as required reading or further reading in a metaethics module. Includes a very clear explanation of realism.

Street, Sharon, and . What is Constructivism in Ethics and Metaethics?

2010, Philosophy Compass 5 (5):363-384.

Abstract: Most agree that when it comes to so-called ‘first-order’ normative ethics and political philosophy, constructivist views are a powerful family of positions. When it comes to metaethics, however, there is serious disagreement about what, if anything, constructivism has to contribute. In this paper I argue that constructivist views in ethics include not just a family of substantive normative positions, but also a distinct and highly attractive metaethical view. I argue that the widely accepted ‘proceduralist characterization’ of constructivism in ethics is inadequate, and I propose what I call the ‘practical standpoint characterization’ in its place. I then offer a general taxonomy of constructivist positions in ethics. Since constructivism’s standing as a family of substantive normative positions is relatively uncontested, I devote the remainder of the paper to addressing skeptics’ worries about the distinctiveness of constructivism understood as a metaethical view. I compare and contrast constructivism with three other standard metaethical positions with which it is often confused or mistakenly thought to be compatible: realism; naturalist reductions in terms of an ideal response; and expressivism. In discussing the contrast with expressivism, I explain the sense in which, according to the constructivist, the distinction between substantive normative ethics and metaethics breaks down. I conclude by distinguishing between two importantly different debates about the mind-dependence of value. I argue that a failure to make this distinction is part of what explains why the possibility of constructivism as a metaethical view is often overlooked.

Comment: