Some Epistemological and Practical Challenges to Moral Realism: Evolutionary Debunking, Overgeneralization, and Afterward

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Licon, Jimmy Alfonso
Carruthers, Peter
In this dissertation, I examine epistemological and practical challenges to robust moral realism – the view that moral facts are independent of actual or idealized minds, and causally inert (hereafter moral realism). Following an introductory chapter, in the next two chapters, I examine an epistemic challenge to moral knowledge (given moral realism) emanating from the so-called 'evolutionary debunking arguments' (EDAs). In the second chapter, I argue that capacity approaches are more plausible than content approaches in that the (i) capacity approach is a more pernicious threat to moral realism; and, (ii) the content approach faces a greater explanatory burden. In the third chapter, I argue that the overgeneralization objection to EDAs – they viciously overgeneralize to domains like the epistemic – faces a dilemma: either EDAs don't overgeneralize as there is an independent reason to trust our beliefs in such non-moral domains; or, they benignly overgeneralize to non-moral domains, if we lack an independent reason, and evolution would plausibly be distorting, in that domain. Either way, EDAs don't viciously overgeneralize. In the last chapter, I evaluate moral fictionalism: the view that we have practical reasons to think and act morally (e.g. it enhances self-control), despite holding skeptical or deflationary metaethical views. I argue that there are good philosophical and empirical reasons to think that (a) discarding beliefs is far harder than fictionalists claim; and, (b) robust moral dispositions one would need to effectively think and act morally would inculcate belief, pace moral fictionalism. Finally, I argue that keeping moral beliefs mitigates moral risk: there is a live epistemic possibility that (a) we could be wrong in our skeptical or deflationary metaethical views, and (b) if our views about such matters are mistaken, but we act on them, we risk acting seriously wrongly. This is another practical reason to think and act morally. And we must be motivated to act morally to mitigate moral risk – so we should preserve our moral beliefs. So, we have practical reasons to keep our moral beliefs, instead of morally pretending.