Monday, February 25, 2013

Moral Conventionalism


Moral conventionalism may be described as a theory of moral conduct, according to which the criteria for right and wrong (or good and bad) conduct are based on general agreement or social convention. It judges the rightness or wrongness of actions by their degree of compliance with social norms or conventional standards of morality.
      Moral conventionalism may vary in the strictness and consistency with which it demands adherence to social norms or conventional standards of morality. In some cases, it may be susceptible to criticism for its lack of strictness and lack of consistency. 
      It may be viewed as a deontological (rather than teleological or consequentialist) theory, insofar as it may judge the rightness or wrongness of actions by their degree of conformity to duty (defined, in this case, as merely the duty to conform to conventional moral standards), rather than by their results or consequences. It may be complete (consistent, and unmitigated by other deontological and teleological considerations) or incomplete (inconsistent, and mitigated by other considerations) depending on whether, and to what extent, it demands that all or only some actions comply with social norms or conventional moral standards.
      It may also be regarded as a deontological theory insofar as in its most extreme form, it may hold that the best action to perform in a given situation is always the most conventional action, regardless of the consequences of that action. The conventionality of moral behavior may in this case be taken as the sole criterion of the appropriateness of that behavior.
      However, moral conventionalism as effect may need to be distinguished from moral conventionalism as motivation. Many different forms of morality may have the effect of leading to behaviors that are considered to be conventional by those who adhere to those particular forms of morality. However, moral conventionalism may also motivate moral agents to choose particular actions to perform in given situations, based on the theory that the best actions to perform are always the most conventional actions. Moral conventionalism may be seen as not only a result of adherence to moral standards, but also a moral standard in itself.
      An advantage of moral conventionalism is that it may lead to some regularity and predictability of response by moral agents. If the conventional response to a given situation is always the most preferred response, then some regularity and predictability of response may reasonably be expected.
      Another advantage of moral conventionalism is that moral agents will know when they comply with a conventional moral standard that their behavior will generally be approved and not be criticized. They will know how to choose those actions that are most likely to be approved by most members of society.
      A basic defect of moral conventionalism, however, is that it may rationalize or encourage a less than ideal mode of moral conduct. An individual may view the conventional moral response to a given situation as the most preferred response, even if she could just as readily choose a better moral response to that situation. By allowing an individual to fall back on the conventional response to a given situation when a better response to that situation may be available, moral conventionalism may encourage moral weakness, lethargy, timidity, and cowardice. Clearly, there may always be some unforeseen situations in which conventional moral responses are inadequate, and in those kinds of situations the conventionalist has no other guide than convention as to what kind(s) of moral response(s) she should make. Moral conventionalism may not allow for the kinds of positive contributions that moral insight and imagination can make to moral judgment and conduct.
      Another basic defect of moral conventionalism is that it may rationalize, legitimize, or encourage adherence to conventional moral standards without any evaluation of the adequacy and validity of those standards. The moral standards that are accepted by convention may in some cases simply be the most convenient or expedient ones to accept. In those cases where conventional moral standards are inadequate or misguided, the conventionalist may nevertheless adhere to those inadequate or misguided moral standards. Thus is provided the supposed rationale for the excuse that "I was only following orders," or "I was only doing what I was told to do," in cases where adherence to conventional standards of duty is subsequently shown to be blameworthy and irresponsible.
      According to moral conventionalism, the moral value of an action may be determined by how closely the action conforms to conventional moral standards, rather than by the praiseworthiness of the desires, thoughts, feelings, and emotions that motivated the action. Thus, the motives for adherence to conventional moral standards may be morally superficial or shallow and yet satisfy the requirements of moral conventionalism. Moral hypocrites may strictly adhere to conventional standards of morality and yet have very objectionable and blameworthy motives for their adherence to those standards.
      Moral conventionalism may be opposed to (or may be an alternative to) moral rationalism, insofar as it may hold that moral norms are determined (for the most part) by social convention and not (for the most part) by reason. It may be compatible with (or may be a form of) moral positivism, insofar as it may hold that the only way to discover moral truths is to examine the evidence of ordinary experience and not speculate about possible metaphysical or religious explanations. 
      It may also be compatible with moral subjectivism or non-objectivism, insofar as it may hold that moral truths cannot be established objectively and that they are merely determined by public opinion. However, it may also, to some extent, be compatible with moral objectivism, if it holds that there are objective moral truths or facts about which there can be general agreement, and that the moral conduct that is governed by those truths or facts, rather than the truths or facts themselves, is the aspect of morality that is determined by social convention. 
      Moral conventionalism may also be compatible with moral relativism, insofar as it may hold that there are no absolute moral truths and that all moral truths are relative to the viewpoint of a particular individual, group, culture, or society.
      What can make one form of moral conventionalism better than another? Presumably, a form of moral conventionalism that encourages adherence to praiseworthy conventions of moral reasoning, judgment, and conduct will be better than a form that merely encourages blind or shallow adherence to conventional standards of conduct. A form that offers a more sophisticated and comprehensive form of encouragement to the development of moral virtues in an individual, group, or society will presumably be better than a form that merely promotes an unreflective and mechanical compliance with social norms.
      Moral conventionalism may be a conventionalism not only of moral conduct, but also of moral thought, expression, and language. Linguistic conventions may govern such things as the syntax, semantics, pragmatics, rhetoric, and stylistics of moral behavior. Moral conventionalism may also serve as a foundation for other kinds of conventionalism (aesthetic, religious, social, and cultural).
      Moral conventionalism may govern not only the kinds of conduct that are considered to be morally acceptable, desirable, or necessary within a particular sociocultural setting, but also the rewards and sanctions that are administered for compliance or noncompliance with conventional standards of whatever is considered morally acceptable, desirable, or necessary. Thus, moral approval (or disapproval) of compliance (or noncompliance) with conventional moral standards must itself adhere to conventional moral standards. Similarly, the distribution of rewards and sanctions to moral agents for their compliance (or noncompliance) with conventional moral standards must itself comply with conventional moral standards.
      Despite the potential shortcomings of moral conventionalism, moral non-conventionalism may in some cases be a rejection of all conventional moral standards and may therefore become a form of extreme moral skepticism. Moral non-conventionalism may also in some cases have difficulty defining any moral standards of its own that are more generally applicable and practical than conventional moral standards.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments


Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a political economist and moral philosopher, born in Kirkaldy, Scotland. He attended the University of Glasgow from 1737-1740, and Balliol College, Oxford from 1740-1746. He became professor of logic at the University of Glasgow in 1751, and professor of moral philosophy a year later. In 1764, he left Glasgow to accept a position as tutor to the young Duke of Buccleuch. He spent many years working on his best-known book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which was published in 1776. His other works included The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), and Lectures in Jurisprudence (1766). He became commissioner of customs in Edinburgh in 1778, and lord rector of the University of Glasgow in 1787. He died in Edinburgh in 1790.
      The Theory of Moral Sentiments is an inquiry into such questions as: How do we make moral judgments? What disposes us to approve or disapprove of the actions of other individuals? How do we decide what is right or wrong? What is the role of emotions in moral judgments? What is the nature of moral virtue?
      According to Smith, the harmony of the feelings of others with our own is a source of happiness, and the disharmony of the feelings of others with our own is a source of unhappiness. Our own feelings may be influenced by our perceptions of how others may respond to them. Thus, we may feel a greater degree of joy or a lesser degree of sorrow if we perceive that others are attuned to our feelings of joy or sorrow. Similarly, we may judge the actions of others by determining whether the sentiments that motivated their actions were in harmony with the sentiments that we would have had if we had been in the same situation. We may consider to be most praiseworthy those actions that are performed by individuals whose sentiments are in harmony with our own, and we may consider to be least praiseworthy those actions that are performed by individuals whose sentiments are in disharmony with our own.
      We may also evaluate our own actions by determining whether others would sympathize with the sentiments that motivated those actions and whether they would have had similar sentiments if they had been in the same situation. In order to evaluate the merit or lack of merit of own own sentiments, we must attempt to view them objectively, and we must attempt to view them as others would have viewed them if they had experienced them in the same situation.
      Each of us has a desire to be approved and an aversion to being disapproved by others, says Smith. On the other hand, most of us do not seek or have a desire to receive unmerited praise or blame.
      There is also a distinction to be made between the desire to be praiseworthy and the desire to obtain praise, just as there is a distinction to be made between the desire to avoid blameworthiness and the desire to avoid blame. The desire to be praiseworthy is not necessarily associated with the desire to obtain praise, and the desire to avoid blame is not necessarily associated with the desire to avoid blameworthiness.
      In general, the more certain we are about the propriety of our own sentiments and about the correctness of our moral judgments, the more important it is to us that others agree with or are in harmony with our own sentiments and moral judgments. The less certain we are about the propriety of our own sentiments, the less important it is to us that others agree with or are in harmony with our own sentiments.
      We may judge actions as good if we sympathize with the sentiments that motivated them, and we may judge actions as bad if we do not sympathize with the sentiments that motivated them. The moral quality of actions depends primarily on their motives, says Smith, and it only secondarily depends on their consequences. The motives of actions are the true foundations for our sentiments about whether those actions are right or wrong. However, the consequences of actions do, to some degree, influence our sentiments about their rightness or wrongness.
      The consequences of actions may be intended or unintended by the individual who performs those actions, but only the intended consequences merit our praise or blame of that individual, says Smith. Actions may be properly described as good only if they have good motives. The consequences of actions are not sufficient to determine their moral quality.
      We may feel gratitude or resentment toward an individual if that individual has caused us to experience happiness or unhappiness, and if that individual intended us to experience that happiness or unhappiness. Our gratitude toward, or resentment of, an individual may be determined by our perceptions of that individual's motives.
      What causes us to agree or sympathize with the motives that may, in a given case, have inspired an individual's actions? Insofar as we can most fully approve of an individual's actions only if they are the most praiseworthy actions that could have been performed, the sentiments that motivate them will be most fully in accord with our own if they are considered by us to be morally virtuous. Of what then does moral virtue consist?
      Smith explains that in order to be virtuous we must act according to the rules of prudence, justice, and benevolence. But in order to act according to these rules, we must also be acquainted with them and have the self-command to follow them. The rules of propriety dictate that there are proper degrees to which various passions may be expressed. Self-command enables us to express a proper degree of passion or emotion. Thus, the four cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, benevolence, and self-command.
      Actions are good insofar as they promote the greatest possible good, says Smith, and thus they are good insofar as they promote the general happiness of humankind. The utility of actions is derived from their ability to promote individual and collective happiness. Actions that promote the happiness of a single individual are good only insofar as they promote the greatest possible good and insofar as they promote the general happiness of all individuals.

REFERENCES

Smith, Adam. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Why it may be difficult to make one's voice heard


What are the possible causes of difficulty in making one's voice heard? The causes may be divided into those that are related to limitations of receptive capacity on the part of others and those that are related to limitations of expressive capacity on the part of oneself. An example of the former is deafness on the part of the listener or audience. An example of the latter is aphonia (loss or lack of voice) on the part of oneself.
      The deafness of others to the sounds of one's voice (and to the significance of whatever one wants to say) may be literal or figurative. Figurative deafness on the part of the listeners or audience may in some cases be due to their preoccupation with other matters or their lack of interest in whatever one is saying. It may in other cases be due to their lack of understanding or their unwillingness to listen to whatever one is saying. It may in still other cases be due to their narrow-mindedness, rigidity, biased or intolerant attitudes, or tendency to make prejudgments about things.
      Aphonia may similarly be literal or metaphorical. Physical causes of (complete or partial) aphonia include laryngitis, vocal cord nodules or polyps, vocal cord paralysis, laryngeal cancer, laryngectomy, spasmodic dysphonia, voice tremor, and neurological conditions such as myasthenia gravis, Parkinson's disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Other causes of speech impairment include speech fluency disorders (such as stuttering), speech articulation disorders (such as lisps), dysarthria (which can cause slurring of speech), dysprosody (which can cause disruption in the intensity, rhythm, and intonation of speech), speech apraxia (which can can cause difficulty producing sounds and syllables in correct sequence), and expressive aphasia (which can cause decreased fluency of speech, decreased spontaneous speech, difficulty finding words in order to make verbal responses, difficulty naming objects, and difficulty producing complete sentences). Metaphorical aphonia, on the other hand, may be a socially-determined loss of voice that is caused by (psychological, moral, religious, professional, or legal) inhibitions, prohibitions, and deterrents against being able to make one's voice heard by others.    
      When one wants to say something and no one is willing to listen, one may in some cases be confronted by one's own unimportance, lack of social standing, lack of recognizable impact on the attitudes of others, and powerlessness to make one's voice heard. 
      Other people may in some cases refuse to acknowledge one's right to speak and may feel that their being allowed to speak is more important. They may in some cases have a vested interest in refusing to allow others to speak, or they may intrude on others' turns to speak, or they may simply refuse to listen, or they may be too busy to listen, or they may want to speak first and keep others waiting for their turns to speak. 
      There may also in some cases be socially or institutionally imposed silence (which may determine, to varying degrees, when and where a person is allowed to speak, and what she is allowed to say). A person may be silenced by implicitly or explicitly being told that her opinions don't matter or that a particular decision that affects her livelihood or well-being cannot be changed or revoked. She may be told that an undesirable state of affairs is a fait accompli, and that she shouldn't "rock the boat" or "make a scene" about it. 
      One may also be silenced by being held to a professional or vocational code of silence, by being made subject to a legal injunction against speaking publicly, by being subjected to censorship (political, religious, corporate, or professional), by being refused publication of one's views in print, visual, or broadcast media, and by not being allowed to read books, journals, newspapers, and magazines. 
      One may also be silenced by the effect of social norms that discourage one's speaking about particular subjects, feelings, and experiences. One may be deterred from speaking about particular subjects because of verbal and nonverbal cues provided by others regarding the topics that they desire, or do not desire, to discuss. One may also be silenced by having one's voice drowned out by louder voices or by a flood of other voices.
      In some cases one may not be able to put one's thoughts into words or may not consider oneself to occupy a position of sufficient status for one's words to be taken seriously by others. One may not consider oneself sufficiently qualified to contribute something meaningful to public discourse, or one may not be used to speaking in public, or one may have to (literally or figuratively) strain to make one's voice heard, or one may be reluctant or unwilling to expose oneself to the possible ridicule, humiliation, or embarrassment that one may be subjected to whenever others reject or disagree with whatever one has to say, or one may be reluctant to raise one's voice sufficiently in order to make oneself heard if the audience appears to be distracted, uninterested, disorderly, hostile, threatening, or agitated.
      Being unable to make one's voice heard may in some cases merely be a matter of being unable to find someone willing to listen. Finding someone to listen may often be more difficult than actually voicing one's thoughts and feelings, given that one may need to address a listener or audience of some kind in order for the utterance of one's thoughts and feelings to mean anything to someone other than oneself.
      One may be able to make oneself heard by calling attention to oneself (through styles of speech, styles of clothing, nonverbal behaviors, behavioral mannerisms, etc.), and by lobbying, demonstrating, protesting, campaigning, and demanding that others address one's needs and concerns. One may also be able to call attention to oneself by engaging in public debate and by making public appearances in person or via broadcast media. Another way of making one's voice heard is to enlist the help of someone more recognized and well-known than oneself (such as a legislator, journalist, lobbyist, celebrity, public spokesman, or human rights organization) in order to give voice to one's needs and concerns.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Ideal Moral Agency


Various approaches (deontological, consequentialist, virtue-oriented, and pragmatic) may be taken toward establishing the criteria for an ideal moral agent. Various approaches may also be taken toward establishing the principles that should guide an ideal moral agent.
      Presumably, the ideal moral agent will be an ideal observer (an impartial, fully informed, and competent observer) of situations in which moral decisions must be made. The ideal moral agent will also be an ideal moral observer (an observer who observes from a moral, but not moralistic, viewpoint, and who can fully recognize, understand, and respond to the moral implications of whatever she observes). Thus, she will be an ideal evaluator of (and if necessary, an ideal participant in) those situations with which she is confronted. If the ideal moral agent is truly moral, then she will also embody all the moral virtues (such as wisdom, understanding, empathy, compassion, honesty, integrity, impartiality, diligence, discipline, and humility) that should belong to an ideal moral agent.
       Any moral judgment made by an ideal moral agent will, of course, be an ideal judgment (impartial, correct, apt, adroit, and fully justified). An apt judgment may be one that is suited to the agent's own interpretive and judgmental skills and to the particular situation. An adroit judgment may be one that is deft, resourceful, nimble, and skillful. According to Kantian ethics, any moral judgment made by an ideal moral agent will also be capable of being universalized (being taken as a universal guide for moral conduct). 
       If we accept the ideal moral agent as a role model for our own conduct as moral agents, then any decisions that we make should be those that would be made by an ideal moral agent if she were acting in the same situation. In examining the rightness or wrongness of our own moral conduct, we may ask ourselves if our actions were the same as those that would have been performed by an ideal moral agent if she were acting in the same situation. Such comparisons between ourselves and the ideal moral agent, of course, presuppose that there is an ideal mode of moral conduct for (or an ideal moral response to) a given situation. If there is no ideal mode of moral conduct for a given situation, or if no such mode of conduct is possible in a given situation, then adherence to a moral ideal (or conformity to the moral standards that would be fulfilled by an ideal moral agent) may require that we perform the best (or most right) action that we are capable of performing in that situation.
      If we attempt to emulate an ideal moral agent, we will, of course, set ourselves up for the possibility of failure. But the willing acceptance of our own moral imperfections and of the resultant possibility of our failure to meet an ideal standard of moral conduct is, in itself, a morally virtuous action. It may be the case that only by attempting to do what an ideal moral agent would do in a particular situation can we ever hope to transcend our own moral faults and imperfections.
      The ideal moral agent may also be conceptualized as an ideal speaker of a moral language. The ideal speaker of a moral language will, of course, be fully competent in the rules and usage of that language (she will have a full command of the vocabulary and syntax of that language, and she will be fully proficient in the use of that language for social and communicative purposes). The ideal speaker's use of the moral language will also be commensurate with her knowledge of the language, and she will have an ideal knowledge without any perceptible faults or deficiencies (no lack of correspondence will be seen between her knowledge of the rules and usage of the language and her ability to use the language for social and communicative purposes). 
      If we share a moral language, then the ideal speaker of that language may be seen as a role model for our moral conduct as communicators. Insofar as we share a moral language, we also share a means of moral expression, and we become members of a linguistic (expressive and interpretive) community.
      An objection that may be made to the concept of an ideal moral agent is that moral decisions may be more appropriately made by adopting the viewpoint of a real, rather than an ideal, observer. If the ideal moral agent is merely an abstract model, of what use is that model for moral decision-making in real situations? Presumably, our moral conduct will be truly virtuous when it conforms to moral standards or expectations that are both real and ideal.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Some preliminary definitions of meta-ethical terms


amoralism - 1. a mode of thought or behavior that disregards all moral concepts, principles, or values. 2. a denial of the existence of morality. 3. an indifference to, or disregard of, moral principles or norms

meta-ethics - 1. the study of the origin, nature, and meaning of moral judgments, attitudes, properties, and values. 2. the study of the methods, language, and modes of reasoning that are employed in ethics

moral absolutism - the theory that there are absolute moral truths that are not relative to the individual moral agent or the sociocultural context in which moral judgments are made

moral anti-realism (or irrealism) - the theory that moral properties or values do not exist independently of our perceptions of them

moral cognitivism - 1. the theory that there are moral facts, and that moral statements express propositions (which can be shown to be true or false). 2. the theory that moral judgments are cognitive evaluations of facts, and that they have the same cognitive status as beliefs. 3. the theory that moral judgments are beliefs that have propositional content.
      Terry Horgan and Mark Timmons (2000) explain that moral cognitivism may be descriptivist or non-descriptivist, insofar as there may or may not be moral evaluative beliefs that are reducible to, or a species of, moral descriptive beliefs.1
      Alfred Mele (1996) explains that moral cognitivism may also be internalist or externalist with regard to its analysis of moral motivation (depending on whether it regards an individual's own moral judgments as necessarily or only contingently motivating him/her to perform a particular action).

moral coherentism - the theory that moral judgments are justified insofar as they cohere with other moral judgments that are held to justified

moral constructivism - the theory that moral truths are (psychologically, rationally, or socially) constructed

moral contextualism - the theory that moral truths are context-sensitive, and that the validity of moral judgments depends on the context in which they are made

moral descriptivism - the theory that moral judgments describe facts

moral discourse - language that occurs within a specific (situational, sociocultural, or historical) context, and that concerns moral perceptions, feelings, emotions, concepts, attitudes, judgments, or values

moral emotivism - the theory that moral judgments do not express propositions, and that they instead express emotions or feelings

moral epistemic foundationalism - the theory that there are justified moral beliefs or judgments that are basic and foundational elements of moral knowledge, insofar as they do not have to be inferred from, or justified by, other justified moral beliefs or judgments. Epistemic foundationalism is therefore a solution to the problem of infinite regress in epistemic justification (the problem of an infinite number of inferences being required to justify any belief or judgment, unless there are some beliefs or judgments that are self-evidently justified and that do not require inferential justification).

moral epistemic reliabilism - the theory that a moral judgment is epistemically justified if the method by which the judgment was made is epistemically reliable.

moral epistemology - the study of the origin, nature, and limits of moral knowledge. Various approaches to moral epistemology (including intuitionism, coherentism, constructivism, and reliabilism) may be taken in order to explain how moral knowledge is possible.

moral error theory - 1. the theory that all moral beliefs are false, because they ascribe moral properties to things that have no moral properties.3 2. the theory that all moral beliefs are false, because there are no moral facts or properties that could enable them to be true.Moral error theory may be compatible with moral subjectivism and moral fictionalism. It may also be compatible with moral anti-realism, but it may not be compatible with the epistemological claim made by moral non-cognitivism that moral statements cannot be shown to be true or false.

moral expressivism - the theory that moral judgments do not express propositions, and that they are instead expressions of feelings or emotions

moral externalism (or motivational externalism) - the theory that the moral motivation for an individual's actions is (or may be) provided by factors other than his/her own moral reasoning, attitudes, and judgments.

moral fictionalism - the theory that moral properties are not literally present in things, and that they are merely fictions created for the sake of convenience or expediency

moral functionalism - as described by Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit (1995), a theory of moral content according to which the evaluative content of moral judgments supervenes upon their descriptive content and thus functions to provide the motivation for moral action.5

moral generalism - the theory that there are general moral principles that can be used to guide moral conduct in particular situations

moral identity - the aspect of a person's social identity that is defined by his/her moral perceptions, feelings, reasoning, emotions, attitudes, and behavior 

moral imagination - the ability to imagine alternative moral actions, principles, and values, and to consequently engage with, and have a fuller conception of, the moral capacities of the individual, group, or society

moral internalism (or motivational internalism) - the theory that the moral motivation for an individual's actions is provided by his/her own moral reasoning, attitudes, and judgments. The theory may have strong and weak forms, depending on whether an individual's own moral reasoning, attitudes, and judgments are seen as determining or merely contributing to his/her actions. 

moral intuitionism - the theory that some justified moral judgments can be made intuitively, without having to be justified by other judgments. Moral intuitionism may be a kind of foundationalism, insofar as intuitively-made justified judgments may be considered to be foundational for other judgments.6

moral language - 1. the language of morality. 2. language that employs moral concepts, terms, and arguments. 3. language that has moral meaning, aims, and content. 4. language that presupposes (or advocates for) a particular set of moral values or norms

moral naturalism  - the theory that there are moral facts or properties in the natural world (or that moral properties are determined by natural properties)7

moral nihilism - 1. rejection of any concept of morality. 2. rejection of any mode of moral judgment. 3. denial of the existence of any objective moral truths, values, properties, or facts

moral non-cognitivism - 1. the theory that there are no moral facts, and that moral statements therefore do not express propositions.2. the theory that moral judgments do not have the same cognitive status as beliefs, because there are no moral facts about which moral judgments can be made. Moral non-cognitivism may be a kind of non-objectivism.

moral non-descriptivism -  the theory that moral judgments do not describe facts

moral non-naturalism - the theory that there are no moral facts or properties in the natural world 

moral non-objectivism - the theory that there are no objective moral truths or facts

moral normativity - 1. the ability or tendency of something to be morally normative. 2. the ability or tendency of something to establish a moral norm or standard of behavior

moral objectivism - the theory that there are objective moral truths, properties, or values

moral particularism - the theory that there are no general moral principles that can be used to guide moral conduct in particular situations

moral philosophy - 1. the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of morality, and that explores the nature of right and wrong. 2. the branch of philosophy that investigates the origin and nature of moral reasoning, principles, values, and conduct. 3. the branch of philosophy that examines the applications of moral norms to human behavior. 

moral prescriptivism - the theory that moral judgments have prescriptive rather than descriptive content

moral projectivism - the projection of moral properties, attitudes, or values onto persons or things

moral psychology - the study of mental states and processes as they relate to moral reasoning, judgment, and conduct. Moral psychology may include the study of moral identity, moral development, moral motivation, and the neuroscience of cognition as it relates to moral thinking, attitudes, and behavior.

moral quasi-realism - as described by Simon Blackburn (1993), the theory that moral judgments do not express propositions, and that they merely express or project feelings (or attitudes) as if the latter were about actual facts. Quasi-realism is compatible with non-cognitivism, expressivism, projectivism, and anti-realism.9

moral queerness - a property described by J.L. Mackie (1977), who argues that there are no objective moral facts or values, and that if there were, they would be facts or values of a very strange and queer sort, unlike anything else in the universe. They would require some special faculty of intuition or perception, unlike any other kind of human perception, in order to be recognized.10 Mackie calls this argument against moral objectivism "the argument from queerness."

moral rationalism - the theory that the truth or falsehood of moral judgments can be determined by reason alone

moral realism - the theory that there are moral facts, attributes, or values that exist independently of our perception of them

moral relativism - the theory that there are no moral truths, properties, or values that are not relative to the judgment of the individual moral agent or to the sociocultural setting in which moral judgments are made

moral skepticism -  an attitude of doubt regarding the existence of any objective moral truths or facts, and doubt regarding the validity of any moral judgments that presuppose such truths or facts

moral subjectivism - the theory that all moral judgments, properties, or values are subjective. Moral subjectivism may be a kind of anti-realism or skepticism.11

moral supervenience - a relation whereby moral properties supervene on non-moral properties, so that a given set of moral properties is found wherever a given set of non-moral properties is found. Moral anti-realists argue that moral realists have not provided any convincing argument for why moral supervenience should hold.12

moral understanding - 1. the understanding of moral principles and reasoning. 2. the ability to combine moral reasoning with other kinds of reasoning

moral vision - a particular moral viewpoint, perspective, or way of looking at the world


1Terry Horgan and Mark Timmons, "Nondescriptivist Cognitivism: Framework for a New Metaethic" in Philosophical Papers 29 (2000), 121-53.

2Alfred R. Mele, "Internalist Moral Cognitivism and Listlessness," in Ethics, Vol. 106, No. 4 (1996), pp. 727-753.
3Bart Streumer, "Can We Believe the Error Theory?" (2012), forthcoming in the Journal of Philosophy.
4Richard Joyce, "Error theory," International Encyclopedia of Ethics, ed. by Hugh LaFollette (Wiley-Blackwell), 2013.
5Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit, "Moral Functionalism and Moral Motivation" in The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 178 (Jan., 1995), pp. 20-40.
6Mark van Roojen "Moral Intuitionism, Experiments and Skeptical Arguments" in Intuitions, edited by Anthony Booth and Darrell P. Rowbottom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
7Nick Zangwill, "Against Analytic Moral Functionalism" in Ratio XIII 3 September 2000, p. 275.

8Mark van Roojen, "Moral Cognitivism vs. Non-Cognitivism," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2009), online at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-cognitivism/.

9Simon Blackburn, Essays in Quasi-Realism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).

10J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977), p. 38.

11Ibid., p. 18.

12Nick Zangwill, "Moral Supervenience," in Midwest Studies in Philosophy, XX (1995), p. 240.