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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First-Rate Anthology of Contemporary Meta-Ethics, February 21, 2004
This volume--edited by Darwall, Gibbard, and Railton (hereafter "DGR")--may be the best anthology for the reader looking to survey contemporary meta-ethics. One strength of this anthology is its breadth. It covers influential work concerning apparent problems for the objectivity of morality; responses to these problems provided by realists, noncognitivists, sensibility theorists, and constructivists; and, unlike many anthologies covering meta-ethics, it includes a section devoted the practical dimension of morality. Another strength is the quality of the work represented here. Nearly every paper included is a contemporary classic that should be read by everyone interested in meta-ethics. Finally, the paper includes a top-notch introduction to the issues.
The anthology opens with that introduction--DGR's "Toward Fin de siecle Ethics: Some Trends," which originally appeared in the centennial edition of the Philosophical Review. This long paper, published in 1993 and intended to give readers an overview of the then-current state of debate in meta-ethics, is an excellent introduction to the issues covered in the anthology. Indeed, the rest of the volume is built around this paper. The paper opens with a very helpful, albeit short, introduction to the history of meta-ethics in the twentieth century. G. E. Moore's Open Question Argument sets the process of twentieth-century meta-ethics in motion; noncognitivism appears as a response to the perceived inadequacies of Moorean realist intuitionism; and the various contemporary views in meta-ethics arise in response to a renewed interest in normative ethics in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Following this historical introduction, the majority of the paper is devoted to the contemporary scene in meta-ethics. It includes brief sketches of the basic ideas of most of the competitors available: reductive naturalistic realism, non-reductive naturalistic realism, Foot's neo-Aristotelianism, practical reasoning theories, noncognitivism, constructivism, and sensibility theories. DGR don't go into detail about all these competitors, but their paper provides a useful taxonomy of views and a sense of their relations to one another.
The first part of the anthology covers certain putative problems with understanding morality as objective. In particular, the focus is on the relation between facts and values. The section opens with the sections from Moore's Principia Ethica in which he develops the OQA; this selection, it seems, is presented as a way to draw out our intuitions about a fact/value gap. Moore wants to retain the view that value claims are factual, though they're a very special sort of fact. Wittgenstein, in the next paper, develops his intuitions about the fact/value gap in a direction that moves him closer to the view that value judgments aren't really factual judgments at all. Then we see these intuitions about the relations between facts and values taken up and transformed into noncognitivism by Charles Stevenson in his "The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms." According to the noncognitivists, not only is there a fact/value gap, but those who think value claims purport to describe value facts are the ones who are confused about the nature of morality. This section concludes with two more recent arguments against the objectivity of ethics by J. L. Mackie and Gilbert Harman. Unlike the noncognitivists, they take moral language at face-value and argue that moral claims do purport to describe special value facts. However, they think there is a metaphysical problem with value claims--namely that we have good reason to think that the value facts they purport to describe simply don't exist. So their worries about ethics are metaphysical: the world isn't the way it would need to be for moral claims to be true.
The anthology's next section covers various contemporary responses to these problems; it includes responses by realists, noncognitivists, sensibility theorists, constructivists. Realists deny the existence of an important fact/value gap. They argue that morality is objective: that our moral language purports to describe moral facts, that there are moral facts with a mind-independent existence that our moral claims (at least) sometimes successfully describe, and that we can come to know that (at least) some moral claims are true. The book include includes two very important wide-ranging papers by contemporary realists: Peter Railton's "Moral Realism" and Richard Boyd's "How to Be a Moral Realist." Noncognitivists accept that there is a fact-value gap, but they deny that its existence shows that there is something problematic about ethics. There aren't any value facts, but this isn't problematic since ethical language doesn't even purport to describe facts. Instead, ethical language is used to express certain emotional or attitudinal states. The work of two contemporary nocognitivists, Simon Blackburn and Allan Gibbard, is represented here. (The Gibbard paper, which is a detailed summary of the argument of his book Wise Choices, Apt Feelings, is especially interesting, and I'm not sure that it has appeared anywhere else.) Constructivists and sensibility theorists both argue that there are moral facts but that they are not mind-independent in the way realists claim. Sensibility theorists argue that there are moral facts but that they are somehow dependent on the operation of special human sensibilities. John McDowell, in one of the papers included here, draws an explicit analogy with facts about colors. While it may be the case that things are not colored independently of our human experience of the world, it's still the case that there are facts about what colors certain things are. Similarly, sensibility theorists argue, while there may not be moral values in the world independently of our special human ways of interacting with the world, it's still the case that there are value facts. Constructivists argue that there are moral facts but that they are fixed by human beliefs or attitudes in some properly described situation. That is, moral facts are constructed by people's moral opinions in some idealized situation, or by people's moral opinions that are arrived at through some appropriate process. The anthology includes work from John Rawls, T. M. Scanlon, and Jurgen Habermas in which this central idea is developed
The book's final section is concerned with the practical dimension of morality. What is the relation between moral demands and reasons for actions, between moral demands and motivation? These issues are discussed in important work by Philippa Foot, David Gauthier, Christine Korsgaard, Thomas Nagel, and Bernard Williams. Honestly, I don't know this material very well, but I'm familiar enough with the issues to know that all of these papers are ones that should be read by any student of meta-ethics.
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Moral Discourse and Practice: Some Philosophical Approaches
Moral Discourse and Practice: Some Philosophical Approaches by Stephen L. Darwall (Hardcover - September 12, 1996)
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