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MetaEthical Rationalism and the Amoralist Challenge: An Externalist Response to Michael Smith's Reliability Argument
Dialogue / Volume 46 / Issue 04 / September 2007, pp 751 760 DOI: 10.1017/S0012217300002225, Published online: 27 April 2009
Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0012217300002225 How to cite this article: Gerald Beaulieu (2007). MetaEthical Rationalism and the Amoralist Challenge: An Externalist Response to Michael Smith's Reliability Argument. Dialogue, 46, pp 751760 doi:10.1017/S0012217300002225 Request Permissions : Click here
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1989. 1997). I will attempt to take some of the wind out of the sails of rationalism by arguing that Michael Smith’s reliability argument (Smith 1995. 751-60 © 2007 Canadian Philosophical Association /Association canadienne de philosophie . I thereby lend support to Brink’s suggestion that amoralist scepticism is intelligible (Brink 1986. 66-76) does not show that externalists such as David Brink are committed to an unﬂattering conception of the virtuous agent’s motivations.1 Speciﬁcally. Let us label this type of internalism MR (for meta-ethical rationalism): Dialogue XLVI (2007). pp.Interventions / Discussions Meta-Ethical Rationalism and the Amoralist Challenge: An Externalist Response to Michael Smith’s Reliability Argument GERALD BEAULIEU East Carolina University The rationalist claim that our moral obligations—supposing that such things exist—necessarily provide us with reasons for action is familiar meta-ethical fare. it is the type of internalism that conceptually links moral rightness with reasons for action. Rationalism is a type of internalism. Let us begin with a brief account of Smith’s rationalism.
they pose no threat to PR since PR is a thesis about genuine moral judgements containing ordinary moral terms. not “moral” terms. The standard internalist response is to deny that so-called amoralists are actually making real moral judgements. She simply does not care about the moral fact in question. but does not make the link between moral judgement and being moved so strong that the two can never come apart. then she judges that she has a reason to Φ in C). then either she is [moved] to Φ in C or else she is practically irrational by her own lights. with its rationalist foundation MR. p. 62). Clearly.6 The amoralist sincerely judges that she is. (PR) “If an agent judges that it is [morally] right for her to Φ in circumstances C.5 David Brink points out that amoralists are the standard way of representing this form of moral scepticism. it is not simply that she is unmoved because she is suffering from some form of practical irrationality.7 The issue is contentious. and he cites Plato’s Thrasymachus in The Republic and Hobbes’s Foole in Leviathan as examples. PR is a type of internalism. “right” or “wrong”). namely. In this case. seems to capture nicely the practical nature of moral judgements since it explains how moral judgements typically move us. PR is false. Smith’s main point against Brink is that we cannot settle the issue of whether alleged amoralists make real moral judgements simply on the basis of their facility with moral terms.3 Like MR. Consider an analogy. which is rooted in a platitude about the connection between reasons for action and rationally ideal motivation. “[the] platitude that an agent has a reason to act in a certain way just in case she would be motivated to act in that way if she were rational” (Smith 1995. 61) She is practically irrational by her own lights if not moved by her moral judgement because. according to Smith) until we are reminded of the kind of scepticism that challenges the rational authority of morality. if there are such people. who is able to reli- . under a moral obligation to do X (that is. PR. Imagine someone. the conceptual (internal) connection is between moral judgement and being rationally moved.2 Smith links MR with moral motivation via what he calls “the practicality requirement on moral judgement” (let us label this PR). according to MR. then there is a reason for A to Φ in C (and so if A judges that it is right for her to Φ in C. if it is right for agent A to Φ in circumstances C.4 This all seems reasonable (platitudinous.752 Dialogue (MR) Necessarily.” (Smith 1995.g. say.. If amoralists are understood as using moral words in a different sense (e. she accepts it as fact that she morally ought to do X). but she is completely unmoved by this fact. p. blind from birth. her moral judgement just is a judgement about what she has reason to do. Moreover.
. according to Smith.Meta-Ethical Rationalism and the Amoralist Challenge 753 ably use colour terms thanks to some device that allows her to detect. I would have been irrational by my own lights if I was not so moved. Smith’s reliability argument. My desire to support social democratic values is not derived from some other desire.e. i. Smith provides us with an example: I initially judge that supporting the libertarian party is the morally right thing to do. I suffer from some form of practical irrationality. according to Smith. and a new motivation to support the social democrats will appear. He begins by noting that “it is a striking fact about moral motivation that a change in motivation follows reliably in the wake of a change in moral judgement. the desire to do the right thing (again. supposing I am virtuous). Indeed. at least in the good and strong-willed person” (1995. those who accept PR can offer a simple and plausible explanation of this phenomenon. nicely explains the reliability phenomenon. And so either I am now moved to support the social democrats or else. If I am a good and strong-willed person. PR. but then you convince me that I am wrong. To suppose that she does on the basis of her reliable colour judgements alone would be to beg the very question at issue. it is a philosophically interesting question whether or not she does. p. if I am virtuous. Given PR. By offering amoralist scepticism as a challenge to rationalism. it simply follows . At that time. we expect that my original motivation to support the libertarian party will vanish. Then the explanation of the phenomenon in question is straightforward. The virtue of this explanation. through her skin. for example. But now I have abandoned that moral judgement in favour of another moral judgement which is incompatible with the original. But. and so I now judge that supporting the social democrats is the morally right thing to do. make real moral judgements. What we need. the surface reﬂectance properties of objects. Suppose that PR is correct. And so he offers us his reliability argument to settle the issue in favour of the view that amoralists do not. it is not hard to see why. My new judgement that it is morally right to support the social democrats is a judgement to the effect that I rationally ought to be moved to support the social democrats. runs as follows. it seems. is its compatibility with the idea that the virtuous have non-derivative concerns for that which they judge to be morally right. Rather. Brink simply assumes that amoralists succeed in making real moral judgements. by my own lights. 71). in fact. is a substantive argument that will settle the issue one way or the other.8 It is not obvious that such a person makes genuine colour judgements. My original judgement that it is morally right to support the libertarians was a judgement to the effect that I rationally ought to be moved to support the libertarians. whereas externalists who reject PR (and hence MR) cannot. which shifts focus from the amoralist to the virtuous agent. according to Smith. that is exactly what Brink has done in the case of the amoralist. According to Smith.
They have concerns for the well-being of others. the . namely.9 Smith believes this is a poor explanation of the virtuous agent’s reliable shifts of motivation. is alienated from his particular moral concerns. that the externalist’s explanation here ascribes to the virtuous agent “one thought too many.754 Dialogue from my judging that it is right to support the social democrats. is explained by appealing to a desire of mine to do the right thing. The explanation offered by externalists who reject PR fails in this respect. Good people care non-derivatively about honesty. the weal and woe of their children and friends. the sympathetic thing. that good people have a whole host of moral concerns. I think that Smith is correct in maintaining that this is an unacceptable picture of the virtuous agent. We are simply asked to accept what seems uncontroversial. he is concerned with whatever features of the world are the morally right-making features. the externalist might characterize the virtuous agent’s motivational proﬁle as follows. the weal and woe of his friends. p. and the like. not just one thing: doing what they believe to be right. the courageous thing. for example. the well-being of their fellows. where this is read de dicto and not de re. commonsense tells us that being so motivated is a fetish or moral vice.” We are not forced at this point to suppose that these desires are derived from a more general desire. Since this externalist denies that moral judgements by themselves move (or to any degree motivate) us on pain of irrationality. The shift from my originally being moved to support the libertarians. equality. on this explanation. But the externalist is not committed to it. And the only candidate here seems to be a desire to do the right thing. He cares about the wrong things. according to Smith. Rather. Indeed. when I judged it morally right to do so. Contrary to Smith’s gloss on the externalist’s picture. people getting what they deserve. The problem is that now my concern for social democratic values is derived from this more general concern to do the right thing. 75) Smith adds. justice.” The virtuous agent. They desire. We begin by allowing that the virtuous agent has a whole battery of what we might call “moral desires. not the one and only moral virtue. borrowing from Bernard Williams. He is not concerned (directly) with the well-being of others. he must appeal to something in the virtuous agent’s desiderative proﬁle in order to explain his reliable shifts in motivation. And he is concerned with those things under that description. (1995. and so on. to my now being moved to support the social democrats after you convince me that that is the right thing to do. where the virtuous agent cares about doing the right thing and only derivatively about the other important things. to do the honest thing. We want to say that the virtuous care non-derivatively about those things that they judge to be morally right.
morally.. he comes to believe that. then. i. his motivation will ultimately be in line with his moral judgements. It might turn out that the motivational force of these particular non-derivative concerns is out of proportion with his all-things-considered moral judgements. But what can he appeal to if not the various non-derivative moral concerns I have described him as having? If moral judgements of the form “it is right that I Φ” are by themselves motivationally neutral. Bob. Consider an agent. But.Meta-Ethical Rationalism and the Amoralist Challenge 755 weal and woe of their friends.. they are not derived from the desire to do the right thing. as Smith rightly insists. In short. by themselves. the desire to do the right thing). i. But why should this compromise our picture of the virtuous agent? We have already admitted that the various concerns that this agent has are genuine. upon reﬂection. might play an effective regulatory role in the virtuous agent’s motivational system.e. non-derivative concern for him. it seems we must appeal to something like the desire to do the right thing. And he is moved to do so because he loves his son—he has a genuine. But that does not make the concerns any less authentic. moral concepts that include an empirical component. in explaining how these judgements reliably move us. And if his desire to do the right thing is strong enough. It is tempting to suppose that this is all the externalist needs. But then suppose that. these might not be sufﬁcient to explain the reliability phenomenon. among Bob’s non-derived moral desires are the desire to support his son and the desire to keep his promises. But. who has all of these “thick moral desires. in other words.10 But in fact the externalist needs more. He had promised his colleagues that he would be there. The general desire. despite the fact that he now judges that it is right that he keep his promise (at the expense of attending his son’s baseball game).. we can and should see the virtuous agent as having a plethora of non-derived desires characterized by thick moral concepts. and they are counting on him to show up. . virtuous people are reliably moved in accordance with their moral judgements even when the content of these judgements changes. He has the particular concerns independently of the general desire. The point is that an agent might have all of the relevant moral desires and concerns and still fail to be appropriately moved when he changes his moral judgements regarding what it is morally right to do. which includes both the general desire and the more speciﬁc ones. and so on.e. he really ought to attend an important meeting. So. What explains the reliability phenomenon? The externalist needs something else—something in the virtuous agent’s motivational proﬁle that explains why he is reliably moved in accordance with these changes in judgement. as the externalist supposes they are.” Bob judges that it would be morally right for him to attend his son’s baseball game. Suppose that Bob’s concern for his son is so strong that it trumps his desire to keep his promise. and not just one moral desire featuring the thin moral concept “rightness” (viz.
Bob also has the desire to do the right thing. giving them an added push when they are not strong enough to move us in accordance with our all-things-considered moral judgements. However. the desire to do the right thing. to his already existing desire to keep his promises. Bob is ﬁnally moved to attend the meeting. when added to his desire to do the right thing. There are two ways that this could help explain the reliability phenomenon given the following two ways that the externalist might characterize the desire to do the right thing: The Desire to Do the Right Thing as an Added Push Bob has a reason to attend the meeting. But now suppose that. Perhaps Smith would still ﬁnd this description of the virtuous agent’s psyche too fetishistic. He also has an additional reason to attend the meeting. And so. But I do not ﬁnd this line of objection particularly compelling at this stage of the argument. He wants to do the right thing and he believes that attending the meeting is the right thing to do.” namely. But. neither the desire to attend to his son nor the desire to keep his promises is derived from the general desire.756 Dialogue Let us take a closer look at how this general desire to do the right thing might operate in the virtuous agent’s psyche such that it helps explain the reliability phenomenon. After all. since the motivational force of one of his moral con- . Bob might strike us as being more fetishistic if he lacked this desire. And there seems to be nothing obviously perverse about wanting to do the right thing when this desire simply accompanies our particular nonderivative moral concerns. even though by itself his genuine desire to keep his promises is insufﬁcient for his being moved in accordance with his allthings-considered moral judgement. That is what explains why his ultimate motivational drive is in line with his change in moral judgement. crucially. that desire is not enough. he was moved to attend his son’s baseball game because his desire to support his son was stronger than his desire to keep his promise. all things considered. It seems we have to ascribe to him “one thought too many. He wants to keep his promises and he believes that attending the meeting is something that he has promised to do. As I originally described Bob. He believes this despite his concern to support his son by attending his baseball game. The force of this latter concern is disproportional when compared with the force of his desire to keep his promises. What was supposed to be objectionable about appealing to this general desire is that it undermines the authenticity of our particular moral concerns—the latter were supposed to be derived from the former. Indeed. Bob’s desire to do the right thing merely gives an added push. which is scheduled at the same time as the meeting. while Bob is partly motivated by his nonderivative desire to be an honest man and keep his promises. we have seen that we need not accept this story about the origin of our particular moral concerns. in addition to these (and other) moral desires. as it were.
His love for his son would be out of control. the desire to avoid doing the wrong thing in the virtuous agent places certain restrictions on his various ﬁrst-order moral desires. Bob really loves his son. Thus. Bob’s genuine. in response to Smith’s unﬂattering conception of the desire to do the right thing. but for all that it can still be subdued in light of its coming into conﬂict with a more important general concern of mine. He would be unduly focused on his son were it not for the regulative role played by his desire to do the right thing. He will thus be moved to attend the meeting in order to keep his promise. In a like manner. if he refused to pay attention to anything else. or as a constraint on those desires. And this is all to the good. He may characterize it in terms of an extra desire that provides an added push to the virtuous agent’s particular non-derivative moral desires.. he recognizes that there are times where he is obliged to attend to other things. his desire to avoid doing the wrong thing might curb his desire to attend to his son. is disproportional. This is an important general concern of ours. The characterizations I have suggested challenge Smith’s reliability argument since (1) they explain why the virtuous agent’s motivations shift along with his moral judgements. the externalist has at his disposal two alternative ways of characterizing it. if I came to believe that my frequent headaches were the effect of too much philosophizing. in addition to) characterizing the desire to do the right thing as an added push. Nonetheless. Our many and varied desires and concerns are not derived from this general desire. it might be more appropriate to label the general desire that the externalist must countenance “the desire to avoid doing the wrong thing” (rather than “the desire to do the right thing”). since that is what he judges morally best. perhaps. genuine. But we are not pain-avoidance fetishists. This suggests another option for the externalist. Perhaps he might see it as one desire playing both roles. Rather than (or. viz. Still. I might curtail my studies somewhat. the externalist might try characterizing it as a constraint on other ﬁrst-order moral desires. I did not acquire a desire to pursue studies in philosophy because I thought that doing so would be an effective means to avoiding pain. My desire to pursue philosophical studies is authentic. grant that Bob’s desire to support his son is stronger than his desire to keep his promises. from his perspective. An analogy might be useful here. all things considered. non-derived desire to support his son is subdued somewhat by his general aversion to doing the wrong thing. However. Now. he might say. non-derived. It is reasonable to ascribe to at least most of us a desire to avoid pain. The Desire to Do the Right Thing as a Constraint If we choose this characterization. his concern for his son. Consider our aversion to pain. and . when he judges that keeping his promise (at the expense of attending to his son) is the right thing to do.Meta-Ethical Rationalism and the Amoralist Challenge 757 cerns.
Ayer. That is. on the other hand. we do not want the connection between moral judgement and being appropriately moved to be random. We want to make sense of the practical nature of moral judgements. And these concerns are not derived from some more general desire to do the right thing or aversion to doing the wrong thing.758 Dialogue (2) they do so in a way that does not make the virtuous agent out to be a moral fetishist. even when the content of these judgements changes. by relying on MR’s claim that moral judgements are judgements . These cases are all too common. Darwall explains that “[e]xistence internalism is a metaphysical claim. R. If this argument is on the right track. expressions of how the agent is moved. p. or by constraining one of the desires. the well-being of others. I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion. It is the nature of unqualiﬁed normativity [e. if the desire is strong enough. 4 Certain non-cognitivists (e. Stevenson) argue that agents are necessarily moved to act in accordance with their moral judgements because moral judgements just are. on their view. A. it helps out when there is a conﬂict between two (or more) ﬁrst-order moral desires either by giving one of those desires an added push. is a thesis relating moral judgement to the having of reasons or being moved to act. and C. M. Judgement internalism. as it is in the case of the virtuous agent. But it seems we must allow for cases where an agent fails to be moved in accordance with her moral judgement. it holds. moral rightness]. L. used to refer to several quite different claims about the connection between moral facts or judgements on the one hand. in Darwall’s terms. and so on. For a useful and philosophically engaging discussion of the various types of internalism see Darwall 1992. 2 MR is thus. a version of both existence and judgement internalism. This corrected usage allows us to reserve “being motivated to Φ” for having some propensity towards Φing even though the agent might not Φ in the end. p. The virtuous agent cares about honesty.. and having reasons or being motivated on the other” (1995. PR. 60)..g. Smith’s reliability argument will not convince us that externalism must be rejected in order to preserve a satisfying account of the virtuous agent’s motivational proﬁle. In particular. this distinction will be observed. In what follows. we want an account of why moral judgements typically move us and what goes wrong when they do not.11 Notes 1 As Smith notes “internalism is a vague label in the philosophical literature. 157). this general desire can ﬁgure into our description of the virtuous agent in a healthy way. J. Hare.g. And this added pushing and constraining will get the agent’s ultimate motivation in line with his all-things-considered moral judgements. At the same time. 3 Smith uses “motivated” in a way that might be better captured by “moved” where if an agent is moved to Φ then she Φs (so long as no external factors prevent her from doing so). to be necessarily related to motivation” (1992. Nonetheless.
more generally. summarily. which he 5 6 7 8 9 . To be sure. his judgements about what is right and wrong might be more accurate than most people’s. if not entirely satisfying. My reasons for the dissatisfaction have less to do with the qualms about rationalism raised in this article and more to do with Smith’s metaphysical distinction between normative and motivating reasons.Meta-Ethical Rationalism and the Amoralist Challenge 759 about reasons for action. Allan Gibbard. argues that moral judgements (or. See Brink 1986. After all. For a discussion of this see Tenenbaum 2000. His central project in that work is to construct a solution to what he calls “the moral problem” which is. and motivating reasons. He seems to accept that there is a fact of the matter about what actions are morally right. through the mouth of Socrates. For the type of concern I have in mind here see Dancy 1994 and 1996. M. of course. for example. solution to the problem. lying is “wrong. unlike Brink. Plato. we might imagine an amoralist who has insight into moral questions. I should note that while Smith avoids here an appeal to derived desires. which he argues are facts about which we can have beliefs. Smith is concerned with more than defending platitudes in The Moral Problem. pp. presupposes that colours are reliably indexed to objective features of the world. but asks what reason one has to actually be moral rather than simply appear moral to others. explains that failure to be moved in accordance with one’s moral judgements is due to a breakdown in rationality. say. and 1997. Smith agrees with Brink that this response does not take seriously the amoralist challenge. Smith cites R.” she is to be understood as judging that lying is the kind of thing that others judge to be wrong. In that case. of course. when an alleged amoralist judges that. judgements about rationality) express the agent’s endorsement of a system of norms (see Gibbard 1990). There are. devotes the rest of the work to providing an answer to this question. his solution to the moral problem ultimately appeals to desires that are independent of the facts that our moral judgements purport to represent. Again this is a result of his sharp distinction between normative reasons. of course) Glaucon from The Republic. the problem of reconciling the objectivity and practicality of morality without abandoning a Humean account of motivation. This would be odd if Glaucon’s question was simply confused as it would be if MR were true. we cannot say that his judgements are about the judgements of other people. 1989 (especially chap. For a defence of subjectivism about colours see Hardin 1988 and McGilvary 1994. In Book II of The Republic. 37-80). According to Hare. more sophisticated versions of non-cognitivism. The example. he thinks that the response is on the right track. Hare as offering a paradigm example of this kind of response. 3. That is. Glaucon wants to know what reason one has to be moral. We might add to this list of characters (among others. This is a daunting task and I believe that Smith offers a powerful. However. We simply need a better story about why amoralists do not really make moral judgements.
100:197-239. Suppl. 10 Terence Cuneo. 9. New York: Cambridge University Press. David O. 155-74. Jeff Speaks.” Ethics. Tenenbaum. pp. Indianapolis. McGilvray. Michael 1995 The Moral Problem. Malden. Jonathan 1994 “Why There Is Really No Such Thing as the Theory of Motivation. See note 5 above. Darwall. 95: 1-18.” Southern Journal of Philosophy. Dancy. 2 (June): 359-80. 1992 “Internalism and Agency. 24: 23-41. 1 (October): 4-32. for example.” Nous. 1989 Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics. and Sarah Stroud for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. Sergio 2000 “Ethical Internalism and Glaucon’s Question. Ethics. 11 My thanks to Emily Carson. 1996 “Real Values in a Humean Context.” Ratio. Cambridge. Larry 1988 Colors for Philosophers: Unweaving the Rainbow. David Davies. Smith. 1986 “Externalist Moral Realism. Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgment. Terrence D. Allan 1990 Wise Choices. Stephen L. 1: 10830.” Synthese. Vol. 2: 171-83. Gibbard. 1997 “Moral Motivation.” Philosophical Perspectives. Cuneo. IN: Hackett. Hardin. James 1994 “Constant Colors in the Head. attempts this strategy in Cuneo 1999. 34. MA: Blackwell. References Brink. MA: Harvard University Press. . 6.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society.’ ” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 59. 108.760 Dialogue argues are belief-desire pairs (following Hume and Davidson). 1999 “An Externalist Solution to the ‘Moral Problem.
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