SOPhiA 2018

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

On Functionalist Conceptions of Moral Progress
(Ethics, English)

According to "functionalist" accounts of morality, morality is a human creation that fulfills a certain function. Examples of functionalist accounts of moral progress include Philip Kitcher's view in "The Ethical Project" (2011), David B. Wong's position in "Natural Moralities. A Defense of Pluralistic Relativism" (2006) as well as J. David Velleman's account in "Foundations for Moral Relativism" (2015). Such accounts of morality imply a certain conception of moral progress: any change that allows a system of moral norms to better fulfill its function counts as progressive. Functionalist conceptions of moral progress are interesting for a number of reasons:

(1) They allow for a pluralistic conception of progress because different moral systems can fulfill the same function equally well.

(2) They are metaphysically "parsimonious" because they do not rely on controversial assumptions about a mind-independent "moral reality".

(3) They undercut skeptical worries about moral progress because they allow for judgments about progress without reference to an ideal end-state.

However, functionalist conceptions of moral progress also face difficulties. In particular, proponents of a functionalist conception of moral progress face the following questions:

- Is there really a single function morality is supposed to fulfill?

- Does the claim that morality serves a certain function itself rest on unjustified normative assumptions?

- Does the inference from the premise that people have constructed a system of norms in order to serve a certain function to the conclusion that fulfilling this function is the aim of morality constitute a kind of "naturalistic fallacy"?

In addition, some functionalist accounts of morality are explicitly developed as versions of moral relativism -- a position that is typically met with a number of further objections. In my contribution, I develop an argument in favor of functionalist conceptions of moral progress based on the above listed advantages. I will look at how proponents of functionalist accounts of morality address the questions their accounts raise and argue that these challenges can be met.


Chair: Julia Mirkin
Time: 16:00-16:30, 12 September 2018 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.007

Katharina Anna Sodoma 
(Universität Wien, Österreich)

Katharina Anna Sodoma is a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Vienna writing a dissertation on "Moral Relativism and Moral Progress" as part of the ERC Advanced Grant Project "The Emergence of Relativism - Historical, Philosophical and Sociological Perspectives" (PI Martin Kusch).

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