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Two metaphysical accounts promise to do that. According to the first, natural properties are descriptive or factual properties see Hare 82, ; Moore ; Jackson On the second, they are properties with causal powers see Gibbard 9. A problem with the second is that it seems perfectly possible for objects with paradigmatically non-natural properties to have causal powers; angels, if they exist, would seem to have miraculous causal powers.

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But if our first metaphysical account is correct, such a theory should be incoherent. Methodological accounts fare better, but require careful formulation. Such accounts attempt to identify basic natural properties for the purposes of metaethical theorizing by our characteristic methods for acquiring knowledge of their instantia- tion. The most natural such suggestion ties being a basic, natural property to being the sort of property posited by the natural sciences see, e.

Applied to the ethical domain, this amounts to the claim that our belief in substantive moral propositions is ultimately answerable to experience Copp Our justification for deferring to science, then, is really a justification for a broader view that ties our notion of what is natural to any genuine source of empirical knowledge. To see this, consider a theistic hypothesis. On this hypothesis, God exists and exercises a causal influence over the world.

Imagine that it turns out that this hypothesis is true. But, pre-theoretically, if there is anything clearly ruled out by our notion of a natural property, it is the properties in virtue of which supernatural beings are able to contravene natural law. See Dowell b for the development and defense of such a proposal.

One virtue of this proposal is its fit with our pre-theoretical notion of a natural property. But, he argued, for any N you take, that question will always be open. So, there can be no definition of goodness in naturalistic terms Moore 5—21; see open question argument. To take a standard example, chemical experiments have shown that water just is H2O, though our concept of the former might be quite different from our concept of the latter.

A second response notes that if we allow that there are unobvious con- ceptual truths, the openness of Moorean open questions looks less significant. Perhaps some questions are closed by our concepts, but are nonetheless cognitively open to us Smith 37—9.

They argue that the openness of Moorean questions reveals something about our evaluative concepts, namely, their action-guiding force. Rather than serving as a test for synonymy or analyticity, Moorean questions serve as a test for detecting the contours of our ethical concepts. Rather, it lies in its potential for exposing some feature a property, P1, would have to have, according to our concept of some evaluative property, P2, in order to count as being P2.

A more complex challenge to ethical naturalism is posed by judgment or motiva- tional internalism. It also does not require that all sincere speakers will be so motivated or that they will always be motivated.

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What it does require is that most sincere speakers are such that, at least when they are psychologically healthy, they will feel some inclination to per- form those actions they deem right, and avoid those deemed wrong. For discussion of judgment internalism, see Darwall ; Brink ; Svavarsdottir Why would the truth of judgment internalism pose a problem for substantive ethical naturalism? To see why, suppose some substantively naturalist theory is true. If so, there are moral properties that are identical to or perhaps constituted by some no doubt complex natural properties.

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But beliefs, fans of internalism argue, are not by themselves motivational. So, though S is psychologi- cally healthy and sincere, she may genuinely judge that donating to famine relief is right, though she feels no inclination at all to donate. Note that there is nothing special about S. So, if this story is right, we should be able to imagine a linguistic community made up entirely of speakers just like her. Hare offers a similar challenge to the semantics for any substantively naturalist moral theory.

There he argues that no theory on which the use of declara- tive sentences containing moral vocabulary is purely assertive could explain the ability of such sentences to fulfill one of their primary functions, that is, to regulate conduct. Only if such sentences have an imperatival use can that function be explained. Put simply, near-side pragmatics is concerned with what is said or expressed by the use of a sentence in consequence of its semantics and the context in which it is used.

So, the content of a sentence on an occasion of use will be part of its near-side pragmatics, as will the psychological state or attitude such a use expresses.

Ethical Naturalism

A third challenge to ethical naturalism is to explain the categoricity of moral judgments. Intuitively, the normativity of moral judgments is categorical, not hypo- thetical. We think moral truths, if there are any, give rise to genuine requirements on all rational or human beings, regardless of the contents of their contingent desires and preferences. Some have argued e. See below, however, in the discussion of possible responses to Mackie, for a variety of ethical naturalist views that aim to preserve the categoricity of moral judgment.

Naturalism in ethics - Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Gilbert Harman provides one of the most influential challenges to this claim. He argues that the best explanation for our moral observa- tions, such as the thought, upon seeing a group of children burning a cat alive, that what they are doing is wrong, does not posit the existence of such properties. Cornell realism is a type of naturalist, moral theory that is well poised to respond to such challenges.

What unites such theories is two ideas. The first is the idea that moral observation is theory-laden. The second is the idea that the theory-ladenness of moral observation is compatible with realism about evaluative properties. Different theorists have developed these core ideas differently.

There is a positive and negative component to his argument.


What is needed is an argument that the two cases are genuinely different. Imagine an appropriately trained physicist who observes a vapor trail in a cloud chamber. This involves a counterfactual claim: had there been no proton, the scientist would not have thought there was a proton. Case B: In a world as much like the actual world as possible compatible with there being no proton in the chamber, there is no vapor trail.

And, since she accepts her theory, had there been no vapor trail, our scientist would not have judged there to be a proton in the chamber. Because she accepts a mistaken moral theory, one according to which wantonly inflicting pain on any sentient creature is wrong, she still has the thought that what the children are doing is wrong.

Assuming Case A in the moral case, though, amounts to assuming that there is no property of wrongness for cat burning to instantiate. So, in assuming Case A, Harman is assuming the very claim he aims to establish. We make moral judgments, he argues, not because we are responding to the instantiation of genuinely moral properties, but rather because doing so has conferred an evolutionary advantage on our ancestors.

Scientific hypoth- eses are confirmed by experiments that presuppose the approximate truth of scientific theories that have been well confirmed. And when we found out that that stuff was H 2 O, what we did counted as finding out that water was H 2 O only because we knew to begin with that that stuff was water. We knew, that is, that something like this is true.

Not only is this true but it may be argued that it is conceptually true and known a priori to be so. So the question:. This question is by no means closed. We can readily conceive of societies [ 5 ] that are pervasively morally wrong-headed, where their use of evaluative concepts is systematically directed and regulated by, we would want to say, the wrong stuff. We may well think her mistaken but, if so, we think her error a substantive ethical one and not a case of conceptual confusion.

We learn that H 2 O is water by learning that H 2 O is what plays, we might say, the water role. But learning that only enabled us to determine that water was H 2 O because we knew enough [ 6 ] about the water role to begin with. We can then put Horgan and Timmons' point by saying that for a naturalist understanding of goodness to be possible in terms of an a posteriori property identity between goodness and N -ness some such claim as. And it is at this level that the Open Question Argument still carries a lethal bite.

Horgan and Timmons' principal target is the leading contemporary moral naturalist Richard Boyd Boyd ; see further his a and b. He accepts that the reference of a kind term is indeed determined by what feature of the world turns out to occupy a particular role. But instead of this role being determined by the concepts held by users of the term, it may instead, he proposes, be determined by the ways in which their use of the term contributes to the successes they achieve by it.

This may be inscrutable to the users themselves who may either be mistaken about what they are achieving or mistaken about how their use of the term contributes to that success Boyd a, More could be said here.

The issues involved about that status of conceptual analysis and how they bear on issues of naturalistic reduction are the focus of some of the most interesting and important work in contemporary philosophy. Let's turn to two other worries that have been aired about the Open Question Argument. One, whose classic expression is by William Frankena Frankena , is that it begs the question at issue. Another, forcefully urged in recent literature by Michael Smith, is that the Open Question Argument seems to prove too much, being just a particular instance of the piece of reasoning embodied in the Paradox of Analysis.

The practice of conceptual analysis, this reasoning goes, aspires to provide real philosophical illumination; however if all analytic truths must share the obviousness of the proverbial unmarried male status of bachelors then no purported piece of conceptual analysis could fail to be either false or trivial, a conclusion highly embarrassing to much modern philosophy Smith , 37— But once we allow that analytic truths may be unobvious the appearance of openness in the question whether an N thing is a good thing ceases to look very significant.