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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best expression of moral expressivism!, February 19, 2006
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forehandshanker (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Wise Choices, Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgment (Paperback)
Presumably you are checking out this book because you are interested in moral philosophy. Just to set up a little bit of background, Gibbard's book is about meta-ethics: the analysis of our moral concepts. Or to put it in more philosophical terms of art, it is about the metaphysics, epistemology and semantics of morality. Gibbard's book does not pretend to give us a substantive moral theory, nor does it aim to settle specific moral questions (e.g., is abortion always wrong?).

One way to characterize the central dispute in metaethics is to ask what the moral judgements of the form, 'X is right', really amounts to. Some say moral judgements are really the recognition that the property of rightness attaches to X. Call these folks moral realists. Others say they express an attitude of approval, prescription or endorsement on the part of those who say 'X is right'. Call these folks moral expressivists. Gibbard sides with moral expressivists, but goes to great effort to use the resources of moral realists to avoid their objections.

To spell this out very roughly, Gibbard tells us morality is about deliberating about how to live. Moral talk is about which moral norms are relevant to the situations in our lives. Situations in our lives can be described as facts. What we ought to do is a function of both the norms we accept and the facts about our lives. Yet what we ought to do is ultimately up to us to decide. If we disagree on a specific course of action, then Gibbard tells us we begin to have normative conversations about which norms are appropriate and which facts are relevant to the case in hand. Further conversation may reveal that there are higher-ordered commitments which may explain why we are in dispute. If we are reasonable people who care about what others think, we are open to persuasion by our peers (and/or willing to do all we can to persuade them).

I admit all of this is spelled out rather abstractly, and Gibbard does an excellent job of telling various parables to spell this out. I have also left out numerous topics which Gibbard does address which are also of great interest: the open question argument, error theory, practical reason, guilt and shame. Although I disagree with some of Gibbard's analysis at various points, I heartily recommend that anyone interested in moral philosophy should read this book.
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27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great moral theory and the best evolutionary ethics, December 23, 1999
This review is from: Wise Choices, Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgment (Paperback)
Gibbard argues that, while there aren't any moral facts, there is an objective criterion (besides coherence of one's own values, which he says is not enough) by which to make a moral judgment. The criterion is the extent to which the judgment compromises with one's interlocutors' preferences and promotes coordination and cooperation with them. His key argument is that it isn't reasonable to cling to one's own set of judgments, since one's powers of judgment have been naturally selected for their tendency to promote coordination and cooperation in one's clan. Excluding the relevance of coordination and cooperation would require turning a deeply skeptical eye to the very judgments one would cling to. This is the skeleton of a deep and rich book, in which every page delves into issues with great clarity and insight. However, you may question the premise that coherence is not enough for rationality and morality. Also, the key argument may be flawed. The fact that one's desires have been formed partly by a tendency to heed the influence of others' opinions does not actually entail that one should consciously try to accept more of their influence. It seems that one's values (assuming they are coherent and informed about the facts) are enough. Their origin in non-rational evolutionary forces doesn't give one reason to accept more of those non-rational forces now. For Gibbard to raise the spectre of skepticism, as he does, he would have to assume that there are objective moral facts that we are trying to discover when we form a moral judgment. But that is exactly what he is trying to avoid saying, as he should. Why, then should one compromise with communists or radical utilitarians? It may be rational or morally right to cling to one's moral values even if it means a breakdown of cooperation or even death.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read for All Interested in Meta-Ethics, April 8, 2010
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This review is from: Wise Choices, Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgment (Paperback)
Gibbard's theory of meta-ethics is simply the best one out there, and this book provides an excellent introduction.
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Wise Choices, Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgment
Wise Choices, Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgment by Allan Gibbard (Paperback - January 1, 1992)
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