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The Myth of Morality (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy) Paperback – April 23, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0521036252 ISBN-10: 0521036259 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews


'[T]he detail and creativity with which Joyce pursues his fictionalist programme should ensure that his work becomes a lasting contribution in the field. Reading this book should certainly provide food for thought for those who are tempted to dismiss any form of moral error theory as obviously wrongheaded or in poor taste.' Hallvard Lillehammer, Mind

'This book is an impressive and stimulating treatment of central issues in metaethics. It is extremely well-written, combining clarity and precision with an individual style that is engaging and very often witty. It presents a general commentary on the contemporary metaethical debate, on the way to defending a position in that debate--moral fictionalism - that is distinctive and worthy of reaching a wider audience. The book is full of arguments, presenting a wealth of stimulating ideas, objections, and suggestions on all the topics addressed. ... A significant virtue of the book is Joyce's success at clarifying the menu of fundamental options in the metaethical discussion. He does an excellent job throughout of defining the issues under dispute, stating precisely the differences between the available positions, and locating the most significant considerations for and against those positions. The book could easily serve as a clear introduction to the main issues in the contemporary metaethical debate for those who are new to the subject. ... Joyce's presentation of this position is characteristically clear and sophisticated, and it is good to have his engaging defence of this neglected option in metaethical discussion.' R. Jay Wallace, UC Berkeley

'[T]his is a lucid, tightly argued volume, mercifully free of needless jargon. Joyce readily anticipates and addresses likely objections to both his error theory and his fictionalist proposal. ... A good deal of the argument is sensible, even ingenious. ... The Myth of Morality will force morality's philosophical allies to come to grips with a position that promises to reconcile morality's apparent objectivity with its problematic claims to truth. Joyce's volume offers fruitful avenues of exploration for both realists and irrealists alike.' Michael Cholbi, Utilitas

Book Description

In The Myth of Morality, Richard Joyce argues that moral discourse is hopelessly flawed. At the heart of ordinary moral judgments is a notion of moral inescapability, or practical authority, which, upon investigation, cannot be reasonably defended. Joyce argues that natural selection is to blame, in that it has provided us with a tendency to invest the world with values that it does not contain, and demands that it does not make. His original and innovative book will appeal to all readers interested in the problems of moral philosophy.

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Product Details

  • Series: Cambridge Studies in Philosophy
  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (April 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521036259
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521036252
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,435,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Mike H on August 20, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is, no doubt, a very dangerous, yet enlightening, book. Much of the structure of our society is built on a foundation of moral beliefs. For instance, our whole political system is based on moral claims like the "inalienable" rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. In the Myth of Morality, Joyce takes the sword of reason and with it, utterly destroys those foundations (with great skill, I might add). Then, lest everything come crashing down, he proposes a very plausible alternative foundation: fictionalism. If we act *as if* moral claims - like the right to liberty - were true, then social confusion and disintegration are avoided. And in no way is doing this illegitimate: as Joyce explains, we have practical reason to do so, and as long as we all understand that morality is hogwash, there need be no deception in make-believe.

This book is much more comprehensive and convincing than its predecessor, Mackie's Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (you might want to read the first few chapters of that book before reading Joyce, but thats not necessary). The basic idea is similar: there is something mystical about the property of "ought-not-be-doneness." But whereas Mackie argues directly from morality's mysticality to its error (anything mystical doesn't belong in our ontology), Joyce takes a more sophisticated route. His basic argument is as follows:

1. Moral claims apply regardless of your desires

(when we condemn a criminal, do we change our minds if we learn it was in his self-interest to commit it?)

2. If we morally ought to do something, we have a reason to do it.

(If we ask "why am I morally required to vote?", we couldn't take seriously someone who had no other response than "well you simply *musn't*!)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mark A. Povich on December 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you are already leaning towards an anti-realist position in ethics, this book will secure those leanings against any possible doubts. If you are a realist, well, you will have a lot of explaining to do after reading this book and should, for better or worse, take seriously to heart the arguments in this book. Joyce's main targets are the Moral Naturalists but he must also tackle the irrealists, e.g. the expressivists, in order to establish an error theory. One of the most interesting arguments draws from his take of the consequences of the evolution of morality. For more of his views on this, see his other book, "The Evolution of Morality."
I also recommend "The Moral Society" by Ian Hinckfuss, "Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong" by Mackie and if you have access to JSTOR or other online scholarly journals I suggest you read other fictionalists (some moral, some modal or mathematical) like Daniel Nolan, Mark Eli Kalderon, and Stephen Yablo.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jaime Andrews on May 21, 2014
Format: Paperback
This has got to be the best error theory book that I have read. Joyce is extremely persuasive, eloquent, and intelligent. The Myth of Morality focuses on the "problem" of categorical reasons... he gives a variety of arguments that show that they are impossible, and that our reasons depend on our desires and because morality is committed to the extistence of categorical reasons, it's systemically false. He does an excellent job arguing that morality is committed to categorical reasons, but I do not agree that morality does not exist. I also find that his solution of factionalism, which continues the use of moral language just in a new way, is completely unrealistic.

If you have a serious interest in morality, this is very well-constructed book. Although you, as I, may not agree with him, you will find that he does an excellent job arguing his points. I have read as well Richard Garner's Beyond Morality, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong by J. L. Mackie [1991], and Ethical Intuitionism by Huemer.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Nan Chen on April 24, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a thought provoking book that has left indelible marks in my moral consciousness. I can say now that I can grasp the terrain of much of the battlegrounds where modern meta-ethical debates are fought (which I had difficulty understanding before). Often in philosophy, understanding that there is a real problem is the first and necessary step to grasping the discourse on which the problem is to be resolved. Joyce ably sets out the problems and the contemporary positions regarding meta-ethics.

Joyce then defends a fictionalist meta-ethics. That is, a position that claims moral discourse makes assertions about the world and that such assertions are not true because they lack truthmakers (moral facts) to make them either true or false. Fictionalism additionally claims that such discourse, though strictly speaking, not true, are nevertheless, important to human society and ought to be kept for pragmatic reasons.

Basically, Joyce argues that moral discourse necessarily commits to the existence of certain kinds of objective reasons (categorical reasons) but that such reasons don't exist. His argument here is very intricate. I thought it was the weakest part of the whole book because much of it was quite convoluted, opaque, and not very convincing. I do not think that morality commits one to categorical reasons and moreover I believe that there are robust moral discourse that make use of only "hypothetical reasons." Furthermore, I do not think Joyce's argument that there are no such categorical reasons convincing. Of course, Joyce disagrees but like I said, his argument here seems to be much weaker than other parts of the book.
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