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.

Value Concepts Workshop
University of Leeds
March 5-6, 2010

Matti Eklund (Cornell)
“Misevaluation, Moral Semantics, and Moral Realism”

Janice Dowell (Nebraska)
“A Flexible, Contextualist Account of ‘Ought’”

Antti Kauppinen (Amsterdam)
“A Defence of Moral Invariantism”

Simon Kirchin (Kent)
“Determinables, Determinates, and Thick Concepts”

Daniel Elstein (Leeds)
“Why There Can Be No Good Reason to Accept the Shapelessness Hypothesis”

Debbie Roberts (Reading)
“Evaluation and Variability: Why Thick Concepts Are Not Determinates of the Thin”

More information is available at Registration is free.

In this post, all too long and speculative, I will examine how a sentimentalist theory of moral thinking could exploit and improve recently popular theories of universal moral grammar, developed by John Mikhail, Susan Dwyer, Marc Hauser’s group, Gilbert Harman and Erica Roedder, and others. I’ll be drawing mostly on Mikhail’s 2009 ‘Moral Grammar and Intuitive Jurisprudence’, in Psychology of Learning and Motivation 50, 27–100 for moral grammar. The sentimentalist theory I sketch is my own, though heavily inspired by Adam Smith. It is independently motivated, but I believe it does a better job of explaining our intuitions than other views that highlight the role of emotions.

Surveying Loose Talk
By Antti Kauppinen

This is the first in a series of posts about recent work in experimental philosophy. I will be examining some persistent general issues with the different experimental approaches by way of looking at particular papers in some detail. I’ll begin with ‘Two Conceptions of Subjective Experience’ by Justin Sytsma and Edouard Machery. The problem that the study highlights is that everyday language is often vague, ambiguous, or just spoken loosely, so that we can’t draw conclusions about people’s concepts just by looking at what they say in response to prompts. We first need to tease out just what people mean, and this can’t be done in a survey that doesn’t allow for a back-and-forth between the researcher and the subject. This would be a problem even if experimentalists solved all the other problems raised by myself and others.

Thinking About Reasons
By Antti Kauppinen

Expressivist accounts of normative judgment typically (always?) begin with all-things-considered verdicts: Hurrah (helping old ladies cross the road)! Boo (getting your little brother to murder)! But of course, many normative thoughts are not all-things-considered. I think there is some reason for me to go to bed early, and some reason for me not to do so. When I deliberate, I try to figure out which of these is stronger, and so arrive at an all-things-considered judgment.

Here is a partial list of things that an account of thoughts about reasons should explain:

Let us loosely define perfectionism as the view that well-being consists in the (enjoyable) exercise of the capacities that are distinctive of one’s biological species. A dog does well when it does the sort of things that exemplify dogness, and we people do best when we make use of our various human capacities – rational, emotional, social, physical, and so on. As Richard Kraut points out in his The Ethics of Well-Being, this need not involve any sort of dubious inference from ‘x is natural’ to ‘x is good’. Rather, perfectionism should be thought of as a theory that best unifies the phenomena we are trying to understand. We have a bunch of intuitions about cases, and perfectionism captures the ones that withstand scrutiny, the argument goes:

On Human Shields and Excuses
By Antti Kauppinen

The recent war in Gaza has stimulated a lot of popular discussion about the moral implications of the use of so-called ‘human shields’, non-combatants who are in close proximity to combatants, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Much of this discussion has been very simplistic and transparently rhetorical. Nevertheless, there are interesting ethical issues arising in the context of asymmetrical warfare that we should be able to examine at a degree of abstraction from the contested facts.

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