Do moral judgments form a psychological natural kind? Lately, Stephen Stich and his colleagues have been arguing on the basis of empirical evidence that the features psychologists have identified as key to moral judgment do not, as a matter of fact, cluster together in a lawlike fashion. In particular, they argue that harm attributions do not always evoke the signature moral response pattern of authority-independence and generality, and conclude that since the purported nomological cluster breaks down, moral judgments do not form a natural kind. Their argument, of course, leaves open the possibility that there is some other cluster to be found. I am not a big believer in nomological clusters, but I will propose an alternative content feature that does seem to pair with the signature moral pattern in a lawlike fashion. Namely, it seems that whenever people take a piece of behaviour to express, in context, any of a set of attitudes that ranges from disrespect to debasement, the signature moral pattern is evoked. (As usual, I’ll just focus on wrongness judgments.) In short, people are intuitive deontologists, and for all that Stich says, there may be a psychological natural kind of moral judgment. My alternative model involves commitment to a commonsense cultural relativism, but one of an entirely innocuous kind that poses no threat to moral objectivism. To distinguish it from standard or deference relativism, I’ll call it significance relativism.

Welcome Japa Pallikkathayil!
By S. Matthew Liao

It’s a great pleasure to welcome Professor Japa Pallikkathayil as a Contributor on Ethics Etc. Japa is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at New York University. Her research focuses on the relationship between moral and political philosophy, and her recent work develops an account of the moral norms governing the use of coercion in interpersonal interactions, and explores the implications of that account for justifying the state’s use of coercion. Japa also has interests in Kant’s political philosophy, the ethics of information, and bioethics, and she has a forthcoming paper in Ethics. Welcome aboard, Japa!

Date: May 1, 2010
Time: 10am to 5pm
Location: NYU Silver Center, Room 207
Hosted by the Metro Experimental Research Group (MERG)

(All details available at:

A series of recent experimental studies have examined people’s intuitions about metaethical issues. Participants in this workshop will discuss the implications of these studies both for questions about people’s ordinary folk views and for broader philosophical questions about moral realism, moral relativism and expressivism.

Invited Speakers: Stephen Darwall, Geoff Goodwin, Gilbert Harman, Jesse Prinz, Hagop Sarkissian and David Wong

I’ll be presenting with some colleagues and I look forward to seeing you there!

Professor Jeff McMahan at Rutgers University recently gave a talk at the NYU Center for Bioethics and the Department of Philosophy on “Gene Therapy, Cognitive Disability, and Abortion.”

With his permission, a podcast of his talk can be found here:

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An abstract of his talk is as follows:

A workshop on epistemic normativity will be held at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus in Manhattan, on April 16th and 17th, 2010.

Visitors to the workshop are welcome, and attendance is free. If you are interested in attending, please contact Stephen Grimm at sgrimm (at) The website for the workshop can be found here. I’ll be attending this fantastic workshop, and I hope to see you there!


April 16th (location = Law School, Room 430BC)

9:00: welcome and coffee

Thomas Kelly (Princeton)
“Following the Argument Where it Leads”
chair: Michael DePaul (Notre Dame)

This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0.