March 17, 2013

Some Might Call Me a "Metaethical Pluralist"

In January, 2011, I published a blog post which provided a means of dismantling normative ethics and paving a way for a strictly empirical program to deal with the problems therein.

I usually turn away from a subject whenever I've worked through it, so I left it be, linking back to it and making small revisions whenever it seemed appropriate.

About one year or so later, a friend mentioned a LessWrong.com article which argued something quite similar, and which did so six months after I published mine.  Since I remembered some decent hits coming from that work, my knee-jerk reaction was to accuse that LessWrong blogger of plagiarism, which I finally bothered to do, jokingly, in my response to the problems that I found with his article.
 What was more interesting, the LessWrong article links to an article that Richard Joyce, a bigger big shot in metaethics, wrote at the same time when I was writing my blog post here:

Joyce's essay appears to agree with me in many areas:
  1. Denying that a thing exists as we previously conceived it does not amount to a total denial that such a thing exists.  My only contention there is that there are better ways of demonstrating that than he does by discussing Ramsey sentences (ibid. 4~5), since in my estimation, Russellian descriptivists have pretty much nailed the process of reference down (because there can be multiple sufficient conditions [or descriptive paths] which isolate referents with a common label).
  2. The question of ethics's use is an empirical question.
    "One interesting and possibly surprising consequence of conceptualizing the problem in this manner is that it makes the debate between the moral naturalist and the moral error theorist at bottom an empirical debate."
    -- ibid. 5
  3. There's no inference or evidence from which one can claim that doubts or non-moral reductions in ethical values results in the breakdown of peaceful cooperation among humans (ibid. 13).  In fact, I would argue the exact opposite.  In far more historical cases, the people who could justify or ignore harming others, abiding then-claimed absolute moral principles, and approaching then-claimed absolute ideals were less self-critical ethical realists.
He would probably disagree with me in some areas, though, since I'm a fallibilist about how we might premise people's wants and motives when we prescribe behavior to others, but am not an error theorist.  But that's a diversion for another day.