Metametaethics

I don’t think I have a position in metaethics. Rather, my position is metametaethical. It might be called incoherentism (Don Loeb), variantism, or metametaethical anti-realism. The reason for this is that I don’t think moral discourse is unified enough to warrant it as a single subject, in the interesting sense. (I grant there is a single subject in a thin sense).  This difference between my position and a metaethical anti-realist, like an expressivist or an error theorist, is that these anti-realists agree with the realist that there is some single solution to be figured out about morality.  To speak metaphorically, metaethical anti-realists and realists are talking and disagreeing about a single watermelon.  My position is like Gallagher: I smash the watermelon.  I apologize to the realists and anti-realists sitting in the front row; but carry on speaking about the watermelon now.

Gallagher-smashing-melon-e1312925750573

The terms incoherentism and variantism seem to be sometimes used within the framework of the cognitivist/noncognitivist debate. I think there are ways of framing cognitivism such that it would be untenable to say that sometimes moral language is cognitivist and sometimes it’s noncognitivist. (see Schroeder’s comments) Rather, I approach it more from the realism/antirealism angle.

There are many different conceptions of God: varieties of theism, deism, pantheism etc. They all share a thin-concept of something to be in awe of; but once you dig deeper the concepts start to diverge enough to the point that when a Christian uses the term God and when a pantheist uses the term God, they are not really talking about the same thing. This is how I view moral language.

If a theist were to say that the ‘good’ is resemblance to God’s nature or that it’s what God commands, and that without this component there would not be ‘good’; or when Sam Harris, as an analytic naturalist, says:

If we define “good” as that which supports well-being, as I will argue we must, the regress initiated by Moore’s “open question argument” really does stop. While I agree with Moore that it is reasonable to wonder whether maximizing pleasure in any given instance is “good,” it makes no sense at all to ask whether maximizing well-being is “good.”

Both are saying that if remove a certain component, it would no longer be worthy of being called ‘good’. I don’t think a divine command theorist and an analytic naturalist are really talking about the same subject (in the interesting sense): I think they would be talking past each other instead having genuine disagreement if they were to argue about what is good. Contrast this with how our concept of spacetime has changed. I don’t think Newton would say that if Einstein’s theory was true, then spacetime would no longer be worthy of being called spacetime.

David Enoch thinks Sharon Street’s view “can only plausibly be understood as an error theory, because [Street] is avoiding commitments to the very concept”, while Street thinks we should start from a thinner neutral-concept and build the concept of what a reason is out of that. I think the simpler way to approach this is to just say there are using two different concepts. Why not say that when Enoch utters ‘reason’, he’s saying ‘reason-nonnatural’, and when Street says ‘reason’ she is saying ‘reason-relative’? (Street would disagree with this: she thinks there is a genuine disagreement and not a mere talking past each other.)

This raises the question: At what point do we say there is talking past each other rather than genuine disagreement? I don’t know that there is a definite answer to this question in the similar way that I don’t know how many hairs someone must lose before they become bald. At a certain point we just call someone bald.

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