- 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: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #782,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Myth of Morality (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy) 1st Edition
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'[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
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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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.
I'm also skeptical of Joyce's recommendation that we can keep moral discourse for pragmatic reasons can be successfully implemented for I believe that acceptance of the lack of truth in moral discourse cannot be buffered very well by any fictionalist "pretend" talk even ones used with our best pragmatic intentions. People will likely simply see right through such talk as insincere and empty if they come to accept the lack of truth in morality.
Joyce's argument that evolution explains why we may have beliefs that there are these categorical reasons even though we are ultimately mistaken is much stronger and better articulated. Other parts of his argument such as his example employing the Polynesian concept of "tapu" (where we get the word "taboo") are interesting as well as the section making use of the distinction between objective and subjective reasons. Joyce also goes into much detail about what he means by fictionalism and why we may want to keep moral discourse and how that can be done even if we, strictly speaking, do not believe in what we are saying is also interesting and informative.
Even if you're not wholly convinced of Joyce's argument (and I wasn't), you might still really like this book because of its explanation of the basic meta-ethical problems (as I was) and you get a clearer understanding of the arguments put forth in the debate. That in itself is very valuable.
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.