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"as Korsgaard argued decades ago in The Sources of Normativity, there are ample reasons to think that any adequate theory of normativity has to address the first-personal perspective of deliberators, not merely our external perspective on what we think others' reasons are."

This is tangential to your main point, but didn't Williams make this point even decades before Korsgaard when he argued that reasons must be capable of motivating the agent who has the reasons? I take Korsgaard's point to be a more radical one: that the normativity must not simply appeal to the first-person perspective, but must also be grounded in the self that the agent creates via the principles they act on.


To comment more on the substance, you write:

"I like Weatherson's account because it is extreme. I think we need an externalist account of reasons to make sense of categorical moral reasons." However, this seems to me precisely the problem with the approach: proponents of the view want it to turn out that we have categorical moral reasons and they think that externalism is the only way to make sense of them...so they infer that there really are external reasons. But that just seems like motivated reasoning, the kind of thing we shouldn't want philosophy to do."

I think this is a deeply uncharitable interpretation of the comment. Nowhere did they say that they want there to be categorical moral reasons. A more charitable interpretation is that there think there are categorical moral reasons and they think externalism is required for them to think that. So the question is, on what basis do they believe there are categorical moral reasons? That's a debate there and I'm sympathetic, if not convinced, by skepticism towards the basis offered. But the debate doesn't seem to have to do with one side engaging in motivated reasoning.

Marcus Arvan

TT: Thanks for bringing up Williams. Yes, I think that's right: it's one of the few arguments Williams gave that I'm sympathetic to! In any case, here are a couple of reactions.

First, I think the basic point here predated Williams and Korsgaard (at least implicitly) by a few thousand years--specifically, in the Platonic dialogues. One of the things that I appreciate about Plato's Socrates is his willingness (well, at least sometimes) to meet everyday people on *their* terms.

For example, in The Republic when Thrasymachus and then later Glaucon and Adeimantus all defend unjust behavior--pointing to the selfish benefits a person can seemingly enjoy first-personally, and claiming that the unjust person simply has no *interest* in behaving justly--Socrates does not change the subject (as Kant and modern-day reasons externalists do) and attempt to argue that there are 'external categorical' reasons to behave morally. No, he attempts to show the *immoralist* that their interest in personal happiness can only be satisfied by cultivating a just soul (and, by extension, behaving justly).

Socrates, of course, makes a similar move in other places too--such as in the Gorgias, when Polus and Callicles point to the real-life case of Archelus, who was widely admired and became king through unjust means. Again, instead of changing the subject, Socrates at least attempts to meet Polus and Callicles on their own terms, arguing (as usual) that someone like Archelus cannot be truly happy.

Now, of course, whether Socrates' arguments about happiness and justice are successful is another story. On that note, one of the things I admire most about Plato--and which seems rarely mentioned--is that he seems to recognize in his final work The Laws that none of Socrates' arguments on happiness and justice succeed, but that they're nevertheless a good myth (i.e. a noble lie) for society to indoctrinate people people with (this is a running theme throughout Books III-IV of The Laws, including where the Athenian argues that people are so inherently selfish that they must be indoctrinated to believe that God rewards the good and punishes the evil--much as in The Republic's Myth of Er). But I digress.

The point is this: I actually think that at least up through Kant, philosophers in general recognized the importance of normative philosophy addressing the first-personal perspective. And indeed, I think even *Kant* recognized it, as the Groundwork, Critique of Practical Reason, and the Metaphysics of Morals all attempt to derive the moral law from the first-personal experience of freedom (viz. the constitutive features of agency).

The only problem, I think, is that Kantian constitutivism is a failure. Simply put, none of the arguments work--see e.g.:

Grenberg, Jeanine M. (2009). The phenomenological failure of groundwork III. Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 52 (4):335 – 356.

Bukoski, Michael (2018). Korsgaard's Arguments for the Value of Humanity. Philosophical Review 127 (2):197-224.

Which brings me to your point about Korsgaard. I think you are right that she aims to make the deeper point that normativity is "grounded in the self that the agent creates via the principles they act on." I just don't think those arguments succeed--which has in turn left moral philosophers grasping at straws on how to make sense of categorical reasons. Normative externalism is, I think, a last-gasp effort to make sense of them (viz. "Hey, if we can't ground them in constitutive features of agency, let's just say they're objective and we intuit our reasons directly!").

My point is, I don't think this research program is methodologically sound--and that these are the reasons I was led to give up on 'categorical reasons.' On my own account, we can get something very much *like* categorical reasons on purely instrumental grounds--as I argue that prudent agents become socialized to *internalize* categorical moral commitments that make morality seem as though it must be objective and mind-independent (when it really isn't). This, of course, is one of the things that people don't like about my account (I continually meet the refrain, "But that's not morality; it's just prudence"). But my response is that morality is under no obligation to be the way we want it to be, we must follow good methods where they lead--and good methods don't lead to truly categorical reasons: they lead back to the ancient project of Plato and Aristotle of rooting morality in long-term self-interest (viz. a prudent, flourishing life). Like Alasdair MacIntyre and GEM Anscombe, I think the whole "morality must be categorical" is a seductive false alley that Kant sent philosophy down--and I'm trying to contribute to the task of putting it on better footing.

Marcus Arvan

Hey TT: My comment about motivated reasoning was intended to be a bit deeper than interpreting the literal content of that social media comment. It was intended to be a point about the kind of reasoning that inspires normative externalism in general.

You write, of the comment in question, "Nowhere did they say that they want there to be categorical moral reasons. A more charitable interpretation is that there think there are categorical moral reasons and they think externalism is required for them to think that."

Here, though, is the issue. I don't think there are any good grounds for thinking there are truly categorical reasons. So, to the extent people think they exist, I think the answer has to be something psychological. And, or so I believe, the best explanation in the vicinity is motivated reasoning.

Why, after all, are 'categorical moral reasons' so seductive? Here's a fairly obvious answer: they would make morality objective--something, if daily life and human history are any indication, that people systematically (and rather desperately) want to believe. But now insofar as that is the case--insofar as people have a fairly obvious interest in categorical moral reasons existing--then we should be skeptical of our merely thinking they do. This is Nietzsche's (satirical) point when implies that of course lambs will think that birds of prey are (categorically) evil. The poor little lambs have an interest in believing that!

Maybe this isn't what is going on with all normative reasons externalists. I really don't know. My point is simply that (A) there are really good reasons to think that belief in categorical reasons may be motivated reasoning, and (B) the methods that externalists appeal to (our judgments about cases) don't contain any clear mechanism to distinguish truth what is normatively true from what might think or want to be true.

Anyway, point taken: I shouldn't have implied that the comment directly involves motivated reasoning. Rather, I should have instead said that (in my view) there are grounds for thinking that the basic thought behind the comment *may* be based in motivated reasoning, and that we should be skeptical of thoughts like it (e.g. thoughts that there are categorical reasons) and the methods that externalists use for that reason. I've updated the OP to better capture that this is the point I intended to make, as I don't want to be unfair or uncharitable. Thanks for pressing me on that.

Michael Kates

Interesting post! But here's a worry: isn't prudence a norm? That is, suppose your argument shows that if I comply with moral principle P, then I will be able to advance my own interests. What's stopping me from saying: so what? Why should I care about or do what advances my own interests?

That might seem an odd response to take but there doesn't seem to be anything about the nature of prudence that requires me to care about its dictates, i.e., to do what it says I should do. Indeed, not only is there strong empirical evidence to suggest that people consistently fail to act in their own interest but many people decide not to do so deliberately, i.e., people who care about morality and so will do the right thing even if it makes them worse off. But if that's the case, then isn't prudence subject to the same challenge to which you think morality succumbs?

(Incidentally, the same worry applies to epistemic norms as well.)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Michael: Thanks for the great comment! I don't think there is anything to block that worry, nor I do I think there should be. Unlike Parfit, I'm not at all certain whether anything objectively matters. What I am sure of is that certain things matter *to* us.

On my account, prudential considerations simply are, as a matter of fact, something that virtually all people have a psychological interest in. Even Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, two of the most famous serial killers in modern history, wanted to satisfy their long-term ends (viz. prudence). They just failed miserably because they behaved in diachronically irrational ways that ended up undermining their future interests (neither Bundy nor Dahmer wanted to end up in prison and executed, yet they behaved in ways that led to those results!).

The reason I defend instrumental rationality/prudence as a better foundation for normative philosophy is not because everyone lives prudently. It is also not because I think prudence objectively matters. I think one can *always* ask, "so what?". My argument is simply that, in the course of living, instrumental rationality/prudence is something that clearly matters to virtually all of us. This is in stark contrast to 'moral reasons', which a great many people--ranging from psychopaths, to everyday criminals, to undergraduate students, to politicians and many other people who lie, cheat, and stab people in the back on a regular basis--are skeptical about or simply don't recognize.

My argument (in both of my books) is that insofar as it is possible to account for something very close to 'categorical' moral reasons on purely prudential grounds, founding moral philosophy in prudence thus places moral philosophy on firmer normative grounds: instrumental, means-end grounds that, from a first-personal perspective, virtually all agents care about and appreciate when making decisions. Again, go back to the Socratic dialogues. What normative perspective did literally all of the characters who Socrates interacted with about moral questions--from Thrasymachus, to Glaucon, to Adeimantus, to Polus, to Callicles--endorse? Answer: each and every one of them were instrumentalists. They wanted an argument that moral behavior was in their interests. Why? Because that's what they *cared* about--just as it is what many/most people appear to care about today. If you ask the average person (including the average undergraduate), "Why should you live a happy life?", chances are they will look at you a bit dumbfoundedly and then say, "Because that's what I want: to live happily." Conversely, if you ask the average undergraduate why they should live a *moral* life, once again (as we all know) many of them will again look at you dumbfoundedly, but for very different reasons. Contra normative externalists, many of them will admit straightaway that 'moral reasons' don't seem at all obvious to them, nor why they should care.


Two things:

(1) If you're seriously interested in advancing the debate - you know, like getting your externalist interlocutors to actually listen to what you have to say and maybe change their minds - you should reconsider using the kind of rhetoric on display here: "Hey, if we can't ground them in constitutive features of agency, let's just say they're objective and we intuit our reasons directly!".

(2) More substantively, you really ought (prudently?!) to have more to say to the kind of concern that Michael Kates gives voice to above. Suppose that Trump really only has the end of doing what makes himself happy and the only means by which he can come to be happy is humiliating innocent opponents. You're not going to want to hear this (perhaps because you're engaged in motivated reasoning?!) but a lot of people judge (not, dare I say, "intuit") that Trump is making a moral mistake when he takes the necessary means to achieve this end. Views like yours stumble mightily with such cases, which lead some to adopt alternative views that you malign as "completely bizarre".

Marcus Arvan

Hey Ed: your point about the rhetoric is well taken. In any case, I address the case you give (people like Trump) at length in Chapters 2 and 5 of my new book, arguing (among other things) that there are grounds for thinking that people like Trump behave imprudently and recklessly—and by extension immorally—and that this is manifest by the fact that he continually skirts personal disaster (viz. the Mueller investigation, impeachment, etc.). Has he repeatedly gotten away with bad behavior? Yes, but then again so did Hitler...until he didn’t; so did Nixon...until he didn't; so did Bernie Madoff...until he didn’t, and so on. History is littered with powerful, reckless men who successfully abused their power before meeting an ignominious end. Consequently, given that I argue that morality derives from prudence, I argue that people like Trump do indeed make moral mistakes.

I also argue that because (1) there is a lot of empirical research showing that people in positions of power lose prudential risk-aversion (due to becoming intoxicated by power), and because (2) this inhibits their ability to empathize with others, in turn leading them to (3) experience moral norms as having less normative force, those of us who *do* judge people like Trump to be making moral mistakes should (4) take greater action to ensure that they are behaving imprudently--as that is the best way to ensure that they behave morally. In other words, once we appreciate that moral cognition is rooted in prudential cognition, there's an even stronger case to be made in favor of the importance of checks-and-balances on people's power (something that, as of now, Trump very much lacks, to the detriment of us all).

Whether my account is adequate is, of course, another story. But it is, I think, a virtue of my account that it takes these cases very seriously on their own terms (viz. long-term diachronic instrumental rationality) rather than try to explain them away with “external reasons”.

Derek Bowman


I don't think your attempts to distinguish moral reasons from prudential reasons (in your response to Michael) succeed.

Michael tries to show that prudential (and epistemic) normativity is in the same boat as moral normativity. You try to avoid this by accepting that prudential reasons also only matter subjectively, but point to the fact that most people do in fact care about it, so that's good enough.

But there are two problems with this. First, many of the people you identify as moral skeptics also fail to be reliably concerned with prudential reasons - e.g. how many students fail to do the steps that would reliably lead to their desired goals of good grades, etc. Second, many people are subjectively concerned with moral reasons.

If lack of such subjective concern is enough to disqualify such reasons, then it looks like many students - even those who want good grades - don't have prudential reasons to prioritize studying over partying. And if the presence of such subjective concern is enough to qualify such reasons, then moral reasons have just as much standing (for those who care about them) as prudential reasons, in which case it would seem pointless to derive moral reasons from prudential ones.

As an aside, I think it's worth keeping in mind that Glaucon explicitly does not *endorse* instrumentalism about moral reasons.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Derek: Well, it was a quick response. Here's a bit of a longer one.

First, I don't merely think that most people are concerned with prudential reasons. There's clear evidence that virtually all people are. For example, when I ask students in any of my classes if they want to live a happy life, every single student raises their hand. If you then ask then whether they recognize instrumental requirements of means-end rationality (e.g. "if you want this, then you should do that"), they all do--and of course they live their lives making instrumental decisions on a day-to-day basis, as do we all. And the science backs this up: people seek to live happily, and generally try to take means to do so.

These premises, along with other empirical regularities, are all I appeal to in my project of providing a normative and descriptive theory of prudence and derivation of moral norms and moral cognition from it.

All of this is entirely consistent with many people (such as our students) often making imprudent decisions. If you ask your students why they make the decisions they do--such as partying or suntanning by the pool all day instead of studying--their answer in my experience is usually something like this: they want to live for the moment, and think that's the way to live a happy life. That's what the whole saying from a few years ago, "Yolo!" (you only live once), was all about. Our students typically think that the *way* to be happy is to enjoy the present. Indeed, one of the most common refrains I've heard from young people (particularly my students) is, "I don't want to live with any regrets." They seem to think that this calls for living in the moment, it never really occurring to them that they might someday regret being so lazy and irresponsible. Of course, they usually learn at some point (perhaps not until after graduation) that this approach to life is deeply imprudent, and that you have behave more responsibly if you want to live a good life. Anyway, the point is, even when people behave imprudently they are (as Thrasymachus, Glaucon, Polus and others contend in the Platonic dialogues) doing what they *think* is in their interest.

In stark contrast, many people do not even recognize moral requirements as normatively binding in any sense. My spouse, who teaches business ethics to MBA students, routinely has students tell her, "I want to be like Jordan Belfort." When she tries to make the case that they have moral reasons, they simply don't recognize them. They think they're just BS: a cultural construction designed to prevent them from being their most successful self. Similarly, when I teach ethics, many of my students are systematically drawn toward subjectivism and cultural relativism--even after an entire semester of teaching them moral theories. And indeed, many ordinary people are. There are studies (such as one by James Beebe I believe) which show that people don't ascribe objectivity to moral propositions--contrary to armchair arguments that the 'face-value' of moral requirement is objectivist.

Long story short, the point is: whereas virtually everyone recognizes requirements of instrumental rationality and wants to live a happy life, there are large proportions of people who simply don't recognize 'moral reasons' (as normative exteranlists understand them).


Thanks, Marcus. You write: "there are grounds for thinking that people like Trump behave imprudently and recklessly—and by extension immorally—and that this is manifest by the fact that he continually skirts personal disaster."

You changed my case. I stipulated that the necessary means by which Trump can achieve his end of being happy is humiliating people and that Trump takes the necessary means to achieve his end. So, it's not true that "there are grounds for thinking...Trump behave[s] imprudently." It's part of the case that he in fact acts prudently. It looks like you're committed to saying that he's acting morally. Some people judge that to be false.

Just to clarify: My real point here is that externalism isn't as "bizarre" as you make it out to be. It's motivated by simple cases for which our judgements are clear.

But to go on the offensive a bit: Your only recourse seems to be: (a) Change my case, again; (b) Start making generalizations about what's prudent for typical agents; (c) Ascend to talk about "philosophical methodology". I hope you can see that the externalist is going to find all of those options deeply unsatisfying and that making fun of them for it isn't going to get you anywhere.

Marcus Arvan

Hey Ed: sorry, I didn't mean to change your case. I misunderstood it. I examine cases like the one you stipulate on pages 68-9 of Rightness as Fairness and pp. 130-1 of Neurofunctional Prudence and Morality--arguing that in such hypothetical cases we should accept that the individuals in question have no grounds whatsoever for behaving morally.

First, I point out that this scenario has actually been depicted in science-fiction, and when the case is spelled out it is entirely plausible that the beings in question have no normative grounds for behaving morally (since moralizing then is much like Nietzsche's lambs complaining about birds of prey). Second, I argue on methodological grounds that if one does have the intuition that the beings in question are making a moral mistake, methodological considerations should make one willing to reject one's intuitions--in much the same way that relativity required rejecting commonsense intuitions about space and time. There's also empirical research sh In brief, I don't think good methodology in normative philosophy involves 'satisfying our intuitions.' That's the entire methodology that I think is deeply mistaken.


This is an interesting post. If you have time, I have some questions that haven't been addressed in the discussion thus far:

1) I'm confused about why you think that there is a special relationship between arguing via intuitions about cases and externalism. Surely internalists sometimes argue via intuitions about cases as well? This seems to me like a separate issue from the question of whether normative externalism can make its case via reasons accessible via the first-personal perspective of deliberators.

2) What do you mean that externalism is methodologically question-begging? By the same token, couldn't someone say that the view that we need to show that someone has a reason from their first-personal deliberative perspective to show that they have a reason at all is itself methodologically question-begging, in that it assumes that you must have a deliberative route from your perspective to a certain conclusion in order to have a reason to endorse that conclusion? And this is more or less just a statement of reasons internalism. You say that Korsgaard has given good arguments for this methodology, but then your complaint against the externalist should be that they don't address a good argument Korsgaard makes for internalism, not that they beg the question against the internalist... (This isn't supposed to be a "gotcha," I am just trying to express what I don't quite get about what you say here).

3) What do you think about reasons to believe? Surely there are many people who do not believe that epistemic normativity is binding on them -- or at least, lots of people seem that way to me...

4) In your response to Derek, you said that we should say that individuals who do not behave prudently still care about prudence, they just are mistaken about what it requires. But why can't we say that about most people who do not behave morally? Maybe your wife's business school students care about morality, but they just are mistaken about what morality is... They think it's a cultural construction keeping them down when it is actually something else. I don't see how we are supposed to empirically distinguish between people not caring about what some norm requires and them just being mistaken in their beliefs about what that norm requires.

Anyway, thanks for the post, and for taking part in the discussion about it.

Marcus Arvan

Hi stw: Thanks for the great questions! Here are some quick answers:

(1) I don't think there is a special relationship between normative externalism and arguing via intuitions. I think plenty of internalists argue by intuitions too--and that it is just as bad when internalists do it. Externalism just happens to be the 'theory du jour' these days, and my view is simply that it prominently displays what is so problematic about that methodology in general.

(2) My answer to this one is very long, and you'd basically have to read the first chapter of my first book as well as the entirety of my newest book for the full answer. However, you can read this post and especially the comments section for a deeper flavor of my answer: https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/page/2/

In brief, I don't think *Korsgaard's* argument for the importance of the first-personal perspective is the real reason why adopting that perspective isn't question-begging. Rather, I happen to think she had the right conclusion (that the first-personal perspective is vital) but the wrong reasons for it. My argument for the importance of the first-personal perspective is deeper. I argue in the first chapter of my 2016 book that for philosophy to have a claim to truth-aptness, its methods must correspond closely to the methods of the hard sciences. I then argue that the only normative standpoint that satisfies that methodological requirement is instrumental, means-end rationality--because virtually everyone (ranging from ordinary adults to young children, adolescents, criminals, and even psychopaths) recognizes normative instrumental requirements. In other words, I argue that instrumental normativity is the only conception of normativity that is so universally recognized that it has a suitable claim to not be question-begging (whereas every other sort of normativity begs vital questions against people don't recognize it). The final point then is that instrumentalism is a first-personal sort of normativity--and so, I conclude, the only truth-apt, non-question-begging foundation for moral philosophy is first-personal. That's the short story. The longer story is longer! But that should give you the rough flavor of things. ;)

(3) I don't have much to say about epistemic normativity, except that if we want to determine the truth, then we should utilize certain methods over others (see my answer to 2).

(4) My answer to this one piggybacks on my above answers and my published work. The way to settle whether my wife's students care about morality or not, or whether they are simply mistaken about it, is through scientific methods. I argue in turn that when we apply similarly rigorous methods to moral philosophy, we can see that moral cognition and motivation cohere systematically with the unified account of prudence and morality that I defend in my new book--and so, by extension, that morality just isn't a matter of responding to mind-independent moral reasons (as externalists claims) but instead a form prudential reasoning that converts means-end rationality into a quasi-categorical form of reasoning that requires one to act in ways that you can justify to others. Finally, as a matter of fact the empirical literature systematically indicates that people only find 'moral reasons' normatively binding on their decisionmaking when they have the kind of prudential interesta I describe--and that when people don't experience themselves as having those prudential interests (as in psychopaths, criminals, reckless adolescents, business school students who just want to make money, and people in positions of extreme power, like CEOS and politicians), they find moral claims to have no 'normative teeth', or 'BS moralizing' as it were (just as my wife's students maintain!).


Thanks for your detailed answers. Cards on the table, I am not at all persuaded by what you say, though I find interesting enough to be worth engaging with. Let me share my initial reactions, and hopefully it will be helpful to you at least in revealing how somebody who isn't on board with what you say here thinks about things, even if you are not persuaded yourself...

1) My first thought is that you need to say something about epistemic normativity, otherwise you can't respond to Derek Bowman's objection in the way that you do. You want to say that your students who do not do what is prudent really do care about having means-end rationality, but they simply make persistent mistakes in reasoning about what would be the best means to their ends, leading to their false beliefs about this. But your wife's business school students are not like this: they have justified beliefs but just don't care about morality. But suppose that there were no "Firm Foundations" (to use your phrasing) that we could identify for epistemic normativity that would ground the claim that your students are making mistakes in forming their beliefs but your wife's students are not. Then you wouldn't have any basis for putting them into different categories, and Derek Bowman's objection that you have just as much reason to say that many people do not care about prudence as you have to say that many people do not care about morality goes through.

Basically, being prudent requires forming justified beliefs about what would be good means to your ends. But being moral also requires forming justified beliefs about what you morally ought to do. So it seems odd to conclude from the fact that one group of people do not behave prudently that they are making mistakes in their reasoning and to conclude from the fact that another group of people do not behave morally that they do not care about morality (I suppose the latter group says that they don't care about morality, but why should we take them at their word? They might be confused about what they believe, just as your students are confused about what would be prudent to do).

The deeper but fuzzier version of this worry is that observing people's behavior can't tell us anything about what they believe or care about without us having some pre-existing ideas of what people generally believe or care about on hand so as to interpret or rationalize their behavior. So saying that we have to start with firm foundations for normativity -- start out with normative premises that everybody is on board with -- presupposes that we have certain normative premises on hand to begin with, namely the ones we use to interpret the behavior of others.

2) But putting all that aside, I don't know if we can avoid begging the question against everyone. The fact that I would lose an argument against a sociopath or one of your wife's business students doesn't mean that I am wrong, it just means they have a position that's easy to argue for. (This post by, coincidentally, Brian Weatherson, makes this point nicely. http://tar.weatherson.org/2004/10/23/philosophy-as-debate/). So avoidance of begging the question as a justification for firm foundations seems unsuccessful to me.

It also doesn't seem inconsistent with a commitment to reasoning from the first-person deliberative perspective. Let's say it is an inescapable commitment of my perspective that Robespierre fails to act on the reasons he has, in the sense that any way of conceiving of what I ought to/have reason to do that I have the ability to wholeheartedly accept will evaluate Robespierre as irrational in some respect. Maybe this is my commitment as a "lamb" and the birds of prey have other perspectives, but why should we think that there is a single perspective that lambs and birds of prey all sign onto? Perhaps morality is a practice exclusive to lambs. In any case, I don't see a commitment to justifying morality to a first-personal deliberative perspective justifies a commitment to firm foundations.

You might respond to all this by saying something about how firm foundations underlies scientific inquiry, and we should like moral inquiry to be like inquiry in the natural sciences if we wish moral inquiry to be good at finding the truth. But unless you believe that moral facts are the same kind of fact as natural facts (mind-independent, etc) I don't know why we would expect the methods of the natural sciences to work well for moral inquiry. Surely the argument that we ought to have a natural science of morality fits best with the position that moral facts are mind-independent, not your position that they are dependent on our interests. This is partially an ad hominem point -- it seems two positions you take are in tension -- but I also just think it's true that moral facts are mind-dependent, which makes me think that firm foundations is not a good desideratum for a moral theory in an absolute sense.

3) One last thought, which I'm not quite sure what to do with. Most moral disagreements I've observed, both between philosophers and in everyday life, don't seem to bottom out in a clash of intuitions. In my experience, they are almost always disagreements about what follows from basic moral beliefs that all parties to the disagreements share, at least upon reflection. So I may just have a different sense of how importance intuition is to moral philosophy than you do. But I think that perhaps there are many moral disagreements that I interpret as being disagreements about what follows from shared beliefs (or about how to interpret beliefs that are shared, but in only an abstract way -- e.g. a shared commitment to "justice" as such) that you interpret as being brute clashes of intuitions.

(OK, one more thought: For what it's worth [and if I remember correctly], the position the Weatherson book rules out by counterexample at the beginning is a position of extreme internalism about both morality and epistemology: you ought to believe what the principles you endorse say you ought to believe, and you ought to do what the principles you endorse say you ought to do. This is the theory that we are supposed to reject because it gives a thumbs-up to Robespierre. The book then tries to argue that hybrid positions like the one you seem to endorse in this thread, where you ought to do what the principle that you ought to believe [e.g. because you have good evidence for it] says you ought to do, are unstable. And it lands on the opposite extreme, which says that you ought to do and believe what the true moral principles say you ought to do and believe.
Point being, I'm not sure that Weatherson is ruling out your position via counterexample. The position he is criticizing here could also count your student who lives for the moment as being perfectly rational if we describe them in a certain way. Your student might endorse prudence, but also endorse certain epistemic principles which require believing that prudence involves living for the moment.)

Hopefully this is helpful or at least interesting to you. I obviously find your view interesting enough to spend time writing all this about it, even though I disagree with it.

Marcus Arvan

Hey stw: Thanks for your thoughtful and interesting response. I have a lot of thoughts in reply, and hope we can keep the discussion going--but if it's okay I'm going to wait until Monday to write something up. I try to stay away from working and blogging during the weekends so that I can relax and recoup. But I promise I will post a response on Monday!


Of course, don't feel that any response is expected. We all have many things to do right now. I hope you have a good weekend!

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