Days 1-16: A Slow Start

I’d hoped I’d be further in the writing, or even reading process by now. I’ve only (almost) finished one book, The Myth of Morality by Richard Joyce, which was excellent material. The source of my slow start was not procrastination, but instead an issue with my research process. I had planned to read without annotating and then wait to write until I’d finished annotating the second time through. This was not a smart schedule. For one thing, it’s difficult to read philosophy without actively reading. To fully process what you’re reading you have to engage with it, either by talking or by writing. Moreover, it’s simply a waste of time to read a book twice, when you have about sixteen books and at least ten articles to get through. Thus, while the last few weeks have been unproductive in terms of actual research, they’ve been a useful learning experience.

My new plan is to read with my laptop in front of me, taking notes and summarizing important arguments as I read. I’ve also decided to plan on only reading one more book fully. I will read chapters that seem relevant or interesting in the other books I’ve gathered, but it seems unlikely that the entirety of say Mackie’s Persons and Values is relevant to my project.

This is what I have accomplished since starting my project:

  • checked out about twenty books from Swem
  • outlined the structure of my paper
  • determined loosely the arguments I’ll be using for my paper

This is my rough outline with allusions to my arguments:

(Some sections are sparse)

Part 1: Arguments for Error Theory

Categorical Imperatives cannot exist. Categorical imperatives require morality to motivate independent of desire. Humans are motivated by their beliefs and desires coalescing. Nothing can motivate independent of desire.Morality cannot motivate independent of desire. The categorical imperative fails.

Normative “ought” claims require reason. If I ought do X, I have a reason to do X. If I don’t have a reason to do X, it would be strange to say I ought do X.

Reasons are internal and relative. What is a good reason for me to do X is not defined by whether or not that would be a good reason for you, it is due to my personal circumstances (beliefs and desires). We may believe in “objective” reasons, but these are not objective in the sense that they apply for all, but rather objective in that given my desires and if I had perfect beliefs about the world, this would yield the results I would want. We can imagine a mobster raised by mobsters, given the task to kill someone. This mobster has no reason not to kill that person, even if we would wish he didn’t.

Given that reasons are internal and relative and that what we ought do depends on our reasons, it seems difficult to conceive of a traditional concept of Objective Morality, that binds independently of who we are.

Part 2: An Scientific Supplement for Error Theory

This section will focus on the evolutionary background of morality and why this supports error theory. Proponents of objective morality argue from moral intuition. If we all have moral intuitions that are vaguely similar at the core, then isn’t that evidence of objective morality being a force in our world? No. Instead this is evidence of an evolutionary process. Moral intuitions evolved because they were useful in building communities. Morality is a product of cultural evolution, and likewise moral codes differ from culture to culture. Evolution cannot be thought of as striving toward a Good, it is simply a process of adaptation. What is good for the species in one environment can be bad for the same species in a different environment. This is to say that stumbling into some sort of moral naturalism is dangerous.

Part 3: Sorting Through the Remain

This will actually be the bulk of the paper. I’m going to sort through 4 different possible successors to morality.

  1. hypothetical imperatives
  2. practical reasoning
  3. prudence

They all have the issue of subjectivity. We cannot say that it’s objectively true that if you wish for X you should Y, due to epistemic uncertainty regarding beliefs we have about the world. I don’t think we can get through this problem with a simple shrug and deference to our brains ability to reason, especially when a lot of moral problems are complicated and subjective. I cannot tell you what is right to do in any circumstance. Rather given your beliefs and desires we can come to an approximate rationalization of probabilities and from there decide a course of action. Perhaps this is what a prudential life is supposed to be like, but there seems to be a certainty associated with the phrase that makes it a poor successor to morality.

This is all I have for you today.

Signing off,