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Note: this is a little summary of how my work in metaethics hangs together, which I wrote specifically for my website.

A Brief Overview of My Work in Metaethics


Kate Manne
Recently, a couple of people have asked me how my various papers in metaethics hang together,
so they can figure out what to assign, and in which order, for teaching purposes. So I thought it
might be helpful to write up this little overview and post it here. (By the way, Im always
honoured when anyone teaches my work, and would be curious to know how it goes.)
I have seven papers (one of which is co-authored with David Sobel) that together aim to offer a
full, if schematic, story about where morality might come from within a secular, naturalistic
order, and how moralitys claims relate to the normative claims which deserve to be called reasons.
The motivation for my work on this topic is the classic metaethical anxiety articulated in
characteristically galvanizing style by G.E.M. Anscombe (in her Modern Moral Philosophy,
1958), and further elaborated by J.L. Mackie (in his Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, 1977). For
like them, I think that giving up on an implicitly god-like conception of moral authority is not so
easily done. If morality does not consist in his univocal, compelling, authoritative commands,
then in what does it consist? For those of us who are secularists, and find ourselves far from
Eden, what are we left with to help us tell a story about moralitys claims that is more down to
earth? Who, if not god, will tell Adam what to do?
My answer, roughly, is Eve, along with other vulnerable, sentient creatures, all of which may
make moral claims on Adam, along with the rest of us (i.e., any other moral agent). More
specifically, morality as I suggest we think of it finds its ultimate source in the bodies of people
and other creatures, which issue commands and imperatives reflecting their physical needs and
viscerally-felt desires, aversions, etc. On the picture of morality I go on to develop, moral claims
extend from the body of every sentient creature to any moral agent who is in a position to
respond to these bodily imperatives, as I call them, by doing as bidden. These bodily imperatives
just are the core normative imperatives which belong to morality. The normative claim on agents
not to cause, e.g., pain and humiliation to other people and creatures is the make-it-stop state
of body and mind they would otherwise be put into. And the normative claim on agents to help
relieve the worst forms of suffering consists in the inner cries and pleas for help on the part of
their bearers which I take suffering to consist in inspired here by recent work in philosophy of
mind by Colin Klein, among others.
I see the relationship between my papers advancing this conception of morality as follows:
My views about the source of morality are laid out most fully in Locating Morality: Moral
Imperatives as Bodily Imperatives (currently under review, and which I presented in October
2015 at the CHillMeta metaethics workshop, the laidback spawn of the annual Madmeta
metaethics workshop, run by Russ Shafer-Landau). An older paper, Being Social in
Metaethics (presented at Madmeta in 2011, and subsequently published in Oxford Studies in
Metaethics; 2013) offers a supplementary story about how the norms of valid social practices make
further normative claims on agents, when they are conducive to the fulfilment of everyones
bodily imperatives, roughly. Section 1.5 of Locating Morality says a bit more about the
relationship between the two papers i.e., how Im also thinking of valid social practices as
constrained by the core moral claims I identify with bodily imperatives.
My Democratizing Humeanism (Weighing Reasons, OUP, 2015) gives a more general account of
broadly desire-based, normative claims beyond moral ones, and develops a reasonably precise
account of these claims normative weight. It is intended as a companion to Locating Morality.

Together, the three papers described above (Locating Morality, Being Social, and
Democratizing Humeanism) position me as a broadly naturalist, Humean, theorist within
contemporary metaethics. But the Hume who inspires me is a more social Hume than many
peoples. (Think the Hume of the second Enquiry, rather than the Hume of the Treatise,
especially.)
I explain some of the reasons why I am unimpressed by a robust realist like David Enochs
attempt to gild what I see as the naturalistic lily in the concluding section of Locating Morality,
as well as Disagreeing about How to Disagree, co-authored with David Sobel (Philosophical
Studies, 2014). Adding a layer of supervenient moral facts over and above bodily imperatives and
the social norms which promote them does little to explain moralitys importance. Or so I argue.
Section 2.3 2.5 of Locating Morality explains how this story about the source of moral
claims on us jives with my version of internalism about reasons, which closely resembles Bernard
Williams original position, but is in certain ways even stronger than the necessity claim he
defended. Basically, I understand reasons to be normative claims that meet a further, motivationbased test, such that they could motivate the agent whose reason it is, insofar as she
is being reasonable. I argue for this constraint on reasons, and sketch the conception of reasons
in the background, in my Internalism about Reasons: Sad but True? paper. (Philosophical Studies,
2014) This was also a view I defended in my dissertation. (MIT, 2011)
My paper, Tempered Internalism and the Participatory Stance (2013) develops and defends a
novel version of the kind of motivational (or judgment) internalism which I need to plug in as
one of the premises of my argument for reasons (or existence) internalism, in my Sad but
True? paper. I say something about the way I think that agentic dissociation, a somewhat
underexplored phenomenon in moral psychology, can lead to situations in which a person can
sincerely say One ought to do such-and-such in circumstances C and I myself am in
circumstances C, without ever quite putting these two claims together. As a result, they may
never make the first-person normative ought judgment to which motivational internalism
would apply. Or, insofar as they do, their judgment is hollow, empty. It is defective as a
judgment of the relevant, normative kind.
(A possibly helpful terminological note: in certain papers Ive used the term normative reason as a terminological
concession, when what I really mean and would now prefer to say is normative claim, since I dont require them
to satisfy the internalist condition described above. This applies to the published versions of Being Social in
Metaethics and Democratizing Humeanism, in particular. I may upload amended versions making the
relevant substitutions at some point, to avoid causing further confusion. I will also have my entry for the Oxford
Handbook of Reasons and Normativity, Doubts about Reasons-Talk, completed by June 2016, which
explains why Im resistant to the turn to reasons and the idea of reasons as normatively basic in metaethics. I say
a bit about the connection between my criticisms of this rationalistic ethos, and the kind of ideology critique that
animates most of my other work, in a recent interview halfway through.)
For the purposes of planning reading assignments, most of these papers are somewhere around
12000 words, with the exception of Disagreeing about How to Disagree, which is significantly
shorter. All told, this material comes to about 75K words. Feel free to write to me if I can help
by clarifying anything else about it.