SOPhiA 2013

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programm - Vortrag

Eine Herausforderung für den epistemischen Nonkognitivismus
(Erkenntnistheorie, Englisch)

Two fundamental questions are at the centre of contemporary metaethics. First, are moral judgements truth-apt? In other words, do they express cognitive states aiming at accurately representing an independent moral reality (i.e., moral beliefs) or are they expressions of non-cognitive states like feelings or desires? Second, even if we accept that moral judgements express beliefs, there is still the question whether there even is an independent reality that makes some of these beliefs true. In other words, are there moral facts or properties? ''Yes'', says the moral realist; ''no'', says the moral anti-realist.

Hence it is with morality and its status that metaethics is concerned. However, morality does not exhaust the ''ought'' part of the ''is/ought'' distinction. Not only do we think that there are things that we morally ought to do, but we also make judgements about what we ought or have reasons to do from a non-moral point of view. For example, we think that we ought not to smoke if we want to stay healthy or that the fact that one wants to teach philosophy is a reason to get a philosophy degree. We also make judgements about what we ought or have reasons to believe or feel. For example, we judge that the fact that the streets are wet is a reason to believe that it rained earlier, or that the fact that a tiger is jumping towards me is a reason for me to be afraid. What these judgements have in common is that they are ''normative'', i.e., they are judgements to the effect that a certain consideration calls for, counts in favour, or justifies a certain response (an action, a belief or an emotion). Thus moral judgements are only one species of the normative judgements genus, and morality is only one among many normative domains.

Given that, there is no reason to examine only the status of morality, and not that of other normative domains. Despite the special importance that morality probably has to us, other species of normative judgements are still essential to our lives. After all, it is hard to even imagine going one hour without taking something to be a reason to do, believe, or feel something. Hence we should not only ask whether moral cognitivism and realism are true, but also whether cognitivism and realism about other species of normativity are true. In other words, we should not only do metaethics as it is traditionally conceived, but also what could be called ''the metaethics'' of other normative domains.

I will be concerned with the metaethics of one normative domain in particular: that of reasons for belief. I will refer to that inquiry as the ''metaethics of belief''. In parallel with traditional metaethics, I will take the main questions of the metaethics of belief to be whether or not we should accept cognitivism and realism about reasons for belief or, as I will call them, ''epistemic cognitivism'' and ''epistemic realism'' respectively.

This paper has two aims. The first is to explain more precisely what I take the metaethics of belief to consist in, and why it has special importance for epistemology. Denying the existence of reasons for belief, I contend, leads to a kind of scepticism about epistemic justification and knowledge. The second is to lay some ground in one particular debate in the metaethics of belief, namely the one between epistemic cognitivism and epistemic non-cognitivism. More precisely, I want to raise a challenge against epistemic non-cognitivism, i.e., the thesis according to which judgements concerning reasons for belief express conative states that have a world-to-mind direction of fit, and hence that cannot be true or false. Although I will not provide a direct refutation of that view, my strategy will be to question the positive case for adopting it.

Here is a preview of my argument. Given that normative judgements have all the appearances of cognitive thought and discourse, we need a strong positive motivation for rejecting the appearances and claiming that they actually express non-cognitive states that cannot be true or false. In the case of moral judgements, non-cognitivists can invoke the two following related considerations. First, they can argue that since moral judgements are intrinsically motivating and beliefs alone do not motivate, moral non-cognitivism has to be true. Second, they can appeal to the fact that moral non-cognitivism can easily explain the ''practicality'' of moral judgement, i.e., its close, if not essential, link with motivation and emotions. The problem for epistemic non-cognitivism is that it cannot invoke any of these two considerations. First, believing in accordance with judgements about reasons for belief never involves motivation. In short, this is because judging that there is sufficient reason to believe that P amounts to believing that P. Moreover, epistemic judgements, unlike moral ones, do not have a particular ''practical'' aspect in need of explaining. It follows that epistemic non-cognitivism is faced with a pressing challenge: if epistemic judgements are not motivating or practical, what positive theoretical advantage is there to reject the apparent truth-aptness of epistemic discourse, and adopt epistemic non-cognitivism in the first place?

One feature of this challenge is that it would still hold if (1) objections to the tenability of non-cognitivism failed, and (2) moral non-cognitivism was true. In other words, even if non-cognitivism about normative judgements was able to give a coherent account of normative thought and language, and even if it was the right account of moral judgements, there would still be the problem of finding a strong positive motivation for adopting epistemic non-cognitivism.

Chair: Sebastian Kletzl
Zeit: 14:45-15:15, 13. September 2013 (Freitag)
Ort: HS 105

Charles Côté-Bouchard
(King's College London, United Kingdom)

Charles Côté-Bouchard (PhD candidate in Philosophy). King's College London. 2010 B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy; 2012 M.A. in Philosophy; Publications and presentations in epistemology, metaethics and ethics.

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