Towards the end of the chapter Appiah remarks that the greatest works in ethics exhibit a deep, irrepressible heterogeneity, heterogeneity that reflects a richness and complexity of the ethical life he believes that many moral philosophers overlook in their quest for neat (even: intricate) theories. This last chapter is certainly heterogeneous: starting with remarks on happiness and flourishing, it shifts to a brief discussion of meta-ethics and different forms of naturalism, moves on to poke fun at ‘quandary ethics’ and its contemporary successors, and ends with, well, a reminder of the irreducible complexity of the ethical life, and a plea for pluralism, both evaluative and methodological.

Everybody’s heard about Joshua Greene’s fMRI studies of moral judgement. Many have also heard about the study by Koenigs, Young, Adolphs, Cushman, Tranel, Cushman, Hauser and Damasio of patients with prefrontal damage. In a communication I co-authored with Nick Shackel and which has just come out in Nature, we criticise the methodology used in these studies.

Realism and Semantics
By Guy Kahane

J. L. Mackie did a great service to metaethics by distinguishing, as previous philosophers hadn’t, between semantics and metaphysics.* He pointed out that it’s one thing to show that our normative concepts refer to objective properties, quite another to show that anything out there actually corresponds to these concepts. Defending normative realism therefore turns out to be harder than previously thought: winning the argument about the semantics only takes you halfway.

This chapter on moral status is very short, and also mercifully short on intricate imaginary examples. Kamm quickly takes us through a number of relatively familiar normative distinctions and I will try to be brief in recounting them here.

In the broadest sense, moral status simply refers to, roughly, an entity’s moral properties:

Moral status in the broad sense X’s moral status = what is morally permissible/impermissible to do to X

Now in this broad sense, rocks also have moral status: we’re permitted to do to them whatever we like. In common use, moral status refers to something narrower. Kamm thus turns to:

In her ‘Two Distinctions in Goodness’, Christine Korsgaard drew attention to an overlooked distinction between two distinctions about value. One is the distinction between final and instrumental value. The other is that between intrinsic and extrinsic value. Something has instrumental value only if we desire it for the sake of some further end; something has final value if we aim at it for its own sake, not as a means to some other end. And something has intrinsic value if it’s valuable only in virtue of its intrinsic properties; something has extrinsic value it it’s valuable also in virtue of its extrinsic/relational properties.

1. I don’t especially mind death, but I’m scared of pain. As Epicurus reminds us, death doesn’t hurt. Epicurus may have been mistaken to think that this was enough to show that death isn’t bad, but it is good to know that death is at least not bad in this one important respect.

There are paradoxical sounding remarks by David Velleman that seem to imply that even pain itself, when it is as its worst, may not be bad in this one respect. In his paper ‘A Right to Self-Termination’, Velleman writes