The Accidental Error Theorist

Richard Joyce

in Oxford Studies in Metaethics

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780199606375
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191729478 | DOI:
The Accidental Error Theorist

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The moral error theorist faces many kinds of opposition. One kind of opponent offers an identity claim between moral properties and certain naturalistic properties (e.g., of the format “Goodness = N-ness”). Usually the error theorist will object to the plausibility of this identity claim, but sometimes another kind of defense of the error theory is possible: when there is uncertainty whether the description of the naturalistic property in question (“N-ness”) even succeeds in denoting anything. Perhaps the naturalistic description is incomplete, such that we can be confident that it fails to denote. Or perhaps the naturalistic description leaves it open whether it denotes anything; the advocate of the theory assumes that it does, but there are serious grounds for doubt. If we take such an identity claim seriously, but there exists doubt about whether the right-hand side of the equation denotes anything, then there is equal doubt about whether the left-hand side, the moral descriptor, denotes anything. Thus the would-be moral naturalist is, or may be, unwittingly advocating a moral error theory. Examples of this mistake are canvassed, including dispositional theories of moral value and virtue ethics.

Keywords: error theory; John Mackie; moral skepticism; dispositions; sensibility theory; ideal observer theory; hypothetical contractualism; virtue ethics

Chapter.  13222 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics

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