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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Revolutionary, August 20, 2007
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This review is from: The Myth of Morality (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy) (Paperback)
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*!)

3. So, if we morally ought to do something, we have to have a reason to do it that applies regardless of our desires.

4. Such reasons don't make sense.

(this requires a complicated defense, and I won't attempt to summarize it)

5. Therefore, moral claims make no sense.

This argument, while not exactly a proof of morality's error, is rock-solid when bolstered by Joyce's formidable defense of it. He goes in depth examining premises 1 2 and 4 (the others don't need defending), and his fairness, carefulness, and rhetorical skill in doing so are nearly unmatched.

As if this weren't enough, Joyce provides a natural, evolutionary explanation for why we have morality, making morality's falseness all the more plausible. I was skeptical that morality could be explained naturally at first - isn't it entirely a social construction? But Joyce answered all the objections I could think of. The particular claims of morality may be explained by culture, but our disposition to make moral claims in the first place is natural.

Finally, Joyce goes on to examine fictionalism. This section was very enlightening. Before I had assumed that if something people think is true is actually false, well *obviously* we should just replace it with the truth. Not so, as Joyce explains. Its not just silliness to make-believe something as serious as morality. It might require a change of attitude, but we can pull this off, and its very important that we do so, in order to avoid giving in to our irrational habit of acting on present desires to the detriment of long-term ones.

My one complaint about this book is that it doesn't describe how exactly we might get from here to there. How can we switch the foundation of our society without it collapsing in the meantime? In fairness, though, this is a very tough question that perhaps deserves a book of its own. Overall, I can't recommend the Myth of Morality highly enough - it is philosophically rigorous while maintaining popular accessibility (at least to generally well educated people), and its implications are nothing less than earth-shattering. This book should be on the shelf of anyone who has any serious interest in moral issues.
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