Ethical naturalism redux

by Chris Bertram on July 30, 2003

In a comment to one of Brian’s earlier posts on ethical naturalism, I mentioned that Jerry Cohen’s argument that ethics must (ultimately) depend on fact-insensitive principles seemed to me to threaten the naturalist position (at least as Brian had formulated it). Larry Solum – who started this whole conversation – now has an extensive discussion of Cohen’s view (scroll down) as expressed in the latest Philosophy and Public Affairs. Larry thinks that even if Cohen is right, an Aristotelian naturalism might survive. I’m not sure what to think about that yet. One thing worth noticing about Cohen’s view is that even though most of the discussion is about ethics, it applies to normative principles quite generally. This being so, it ought to apply to such principles in other domains (including epistemology and the theory of rational action) and that if it threatens naturalism in ethics it also threatens naturalistic programmes in those areas.



dsquared 07.30.03 at 2:47 pm

It looks to me to have a distinct flavour of Lewis Carroll’s argument in “Achilles and the Tortoise” which showed that in mathematical logic, inference rules have to be on a separate logical level from axioms.


Loren 07.30.03 at 6:50 pm

GAC thinks he avoids what Achilles says to the tortoise, and what he (Jerry) says seems roughly plausible to me. But I think there’s actually a naturalist response to GAC that mimics the rhetorical structure of his “facts and principles” conjecture, and forces GAC to take some stands on the metaethical issues he claims to be indifferent towards. More on this later.


dsquared 07.30.03 at 7:25 pm

Just to be clear; I think it would be a good thing if GAC’s argument mirrored the Achilles one, because I think that one’s rock-solid.

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