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Richard Yetter Chappell

Hi David, you might find my old post on 'Epiphenomenal Explanations' of interest:

Also worth flagging: one (very controversial!) way to deny (4) would be to hold that the *intentional content* of our moral attitudes depends in part on the moral properties themselves, and so our moral attitudes -- in contrast to their behavioural and neurological correlates -- are not wholly natural phenomena.

Roger Turner

I have questions about 2 and 3.

In 2, what do you mean by 'contributory'? Do you mean 'causal'?

In 3, what do you mean by 'influences'? Do you mean 'causally influences'? Also, the question I have about 'contributory' in 2 i have about 'contributory' in 3.

Why think that non-natural moral facts, even if they influence us, *cause* us to have certain attitudes (given that these attitudes are natural phenomena)? Is this because something's being influential is the same as something's being *causally* influential--that is, that some influential thing is also a cause? This doesn't seem obviously true to me.

I think that the fact that 3+2=5 influences how I think about other math problems. And it also influences how i think about certain philosophical matters (e.g., necessary truths). But I don't think the fact that 3+2=5 causes me to do any of these things. And that's at least partly because I don't think facts can cause anything.

What do you think about that?


I'm uncomfortable with (3).

Hume influenced Kant's thought. He certainly played a contributory role in an explanation of Kant's thought--say, a psychological, intellectual, or biographical one. Presumably, these are good explanations. But is any of them the best explanation?

That seems controversial--much more controversial than I think you want (3) to be. Plausibly, the goodness of an explanation is relative to context, and there's no "best" explanation simpliciter. Or, if it is, maybe it's the explanation in terms of fundamental microphysics. But did Hume play a contributory role in that explanation? Things explain under descriptions, so while the set of microphysical entities identical to Hume certainly played a role, it doesn't follow that Hume himself did.

Note that if this is a real problem, you probably can't get out of it by weakening (3) to "...then X plays a contributory role in a good explanation of Y," since then the corresponding version of (2) would be implausible.


All moral attitudes are natural, psychological, phenomenon in some sense, but a subset of them, namely the morally correct attitudes, are in the following sense not natural. The explanation of why they are the morally correct attitudes is not amenable to scientific inquiry so I would deny (2). Deliberation, reasoning, reflection are psychological processes or events but the best explanation of a subset of them, namely the ones that result in morally correct attitude, involves moral facts. They play a contributory role in the best explanation of the moral attitude but are not thereby natural facts.

Part of the best explanation for why we believe that torturing for fun is wrong as opposed to right, is that there are no considerations that count in favor of it being right. The fact that there are no reasons to believe that torturing for fun is right, is a moral fact that plays a contributory role in the best explanation of our moral belief that torturing for fun is wrong. If this moral fact were not the case, i.e. if there were reason to believe that torturing for fun is right, then we would not believe that torturing for fun is wrong.

Phil H

I think you should cut science out of this argument. It doesn't do any explanatory work here, and your (1) is at least controversial. I think it's wrong: I can think of scientific facts which aren't natural (e.g. the results of scientific modelling) and I can think of natural facts which aren't scientific (e.g. Venus is in Orion).

So I'd dump (1) and replace "scientific" with "empirical" in (2). I don't think it changes the force of your argument. I think the argument's right, and inevitable once you give away the farm with (2). My view is that (2) begs the question, and if you want to maintain any kind of non-naturalism at all, you have to deny it. It seems reasonably easy to deny: anything from souls to moral causes to first causes might lead you to deny (2).

If you don't deny it then I wouldn't allow you even the conclusion you draw, "moral facts do not influence or explain..." because I wouldn't allow that there is any such thing as a moral "fact" of the type you're imagining. One key feature of facts is that they can be checked; your non-interacting morals can't be checked by any natural/empirical means, therefore I wouldn't accept calling them facts.

Derrick Murphy

How might you respond to the following challenge to the conjunction of (1) & (2): Theists (for example, Leibniz and more recently Richard Swinburne) have traditionally presented arguments for God's existence which conclude that God's existence, power and intentions together constitute the best explanation for the fact that there is a contingent reality. (While theists have traditionally asserted that God created finite supernatural entities as well as natural entities, let's stipulate that the whole of contingent reality is the natural world and its contents.) Also, it seems reasonable to conclude that the fact that there is a natural world is itself a natural fact. By (2) and (1), if we conclude that God is part of the best explanation for the existence of contingent reality, we would have to conclude that God is a natural entity. However, God is supposed to be a paradigmatic non-natural entity, a supernatural entity.

One might think that this is the Zeus case in different garb, but there's a key difference here. The Greeks didn't think their gods created the natural world, but were simply personifications of aspects of the natural world. In a sense, they thought their gods were natural entities. The God of Theism is supposed to be something much more fundamental and something much more transcendent than Zeus and the other Greek gods, something that would have to be a very different sort of thing from the natural world. As a result, it seems that either (1) or (2) should be rejected.

David Killoren

Hi everyone,

I really appreciate all of your comments. These are great! I was planning to give a careful reply to everyone this weekend, but I have run out of time. I will post some responses early this week.

Thanks very much to all of you for reading and responding to my post!


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