The Ockham Society (Friday - Week 8, MT18)

Ockham Society

Joshua Pearson (Trinity) Moral Contingent Epistemology

The following thesis is almost universally held among metaethicists: Strong Supervenience (SS): If an individual x possesses moral property F, then, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, all individuals that share the same non-moral properties as x must also possess F. SS is highly plausible. To use Hare’s famous example, suppose someone existed who had the exact same non-moral features as St. Francis. That is, they have all the same characteristics, lived in the same circumstances, and performed all the same acts (plus any other non-moral feature you like). Can you imagine this person being, unlike St. Francis, amoral? It seems to most that they cannot. Rather, some further, non-moral feature about this person and St. Francis would have to be different in order for there to be a difference in moral features. Gideon Rosen has recently argued that SS is false. In the talk, I will outline Rosen’s motivation for denying SS, as well as the alternative picture he provides. His view is motivated via the commitments he holds as a non-natural moral realist. Since his view entails the denial of the metaphysical necessity of moral laws, I call his view ‘contingentist non-naturalism’. The rest of the talk then discusses one line of objection to Rosen’s account. Rosen’s view entails the existence of worlds in which agents who are non-morally identical to us exist, but in which the moral laws are different. That is, these agents hold the same moral beliefs as us, and form these beliefs using the exact same methods, yet many of their moral beliefs are false due to the shift in moral laws. Such a consequence seems as if it should be epistemically worrying. However, I will argue that all plausible attempts to substantiate this worry into an epistemic objection against contingentist non-naturalism fail to highlight a flaw that is unique to it. In other words, for any successful epistemic objection to contingentist non-naturalism, there is a corresponding yet equally compelling epistemic objection to regular non-naturalism. This implies that if there is an epistemic flaw to contingentist non-naturalism, it is non-naturalism per se that is to blame, rather than the contingentist variety.


Chair: Sean Costello 

Ockham Society Convenor: Charlotte Figueroa | Ockham Society Webpage