Morality without Foundations: A Defense of Ethical Contextualism

Morality without Foundations: A Defense of Ethical Contextualism

Morality without Foundations: A Defense of Ethical Contextualism

Morality without Foundations: A Defense of Ethical Contextualism

Synopsis

Morality Without Foundations investigates fundamental metaethical questions about the meaning, truth, and justification of moral thought and discourse. Mark Timmons maintains that all versions of descriptivism in ethics, particularly certain accounts of moral realism, fail. He argues instead that a correct metaethical theory should embrace some version of non-descriptivism. Timmons defends what he calls "assertoric non-descriptivism" which, unlike traditional non-descriptivist views, holds that moral sentences are typically used to make genuine assertions. In defending this view, he exploits contextual semantics, providing him with the semantic flexibility to develop an irrealist account of moral discourse. Timmons goes on to support a contextualist moral epistemology, completing his overall version of contextualism in ethics. Like his foundationalist rivals, Timmons recognizes that there are moral beliefs that are epistemically basic in providing a basis for the justification of non-basic moral beliefs. Yet, he agrees with the coherentist in maintaining that there are no intrinsically justified beliefs that can serve as a single foundation for a system of moral knowledge. Timmons ultimately finds that regresses of justification of moral belief end with contextually basic beliefs--moral beliefs which, in the relevant context, are responsibly held, but in other contexts might not be suitable as regress stoppers. Timmons' novel defense of morality without foundations offers provocative reading for philosophers working in the areas of ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics. Yet, written with the student in mind, his lucid presentation of difficult ideas makes this book accessible to students and newcomers to the field of metaethics.

Excerpt

My main purpose in writing this book was to gain a better understanding of philosophical issues and questions about the status of morality. I am as much interested in questions of philosophical methodology as I am in the substantive philosophical positions that philosophers articulate and defend. I have thus tried to produce a book that is clearly written and methodologically self-conscious. I have also tried to stake out a metaethical position that is not obviously on the menu of standard metaethical options (though its similarity in many respects to the views of certain other metaethical irrealists will be apparent). Since I wanted the book to be relatively short, I have zeroed in on opposing views and arguments that strike me as providing the clearest and stiffest challenges to the sort of irrealist metaethical view I defend in the pages to follow. My hope is that I have managed to get to the heart of things in making a case for the sort of metaethical view that I favor. I will let the reader judge whether and to what extent I have succeeded in doing these things.

In the recent years that I have been working out the ideas contained in this book, I have benefited from comments and criticisms on part or all of this book from Robert Audi, John Bickle, William Frankena, Michael Gorr, Mitchell Haney, R. M. Hare, William Connolly, Stephan Sencerz, William Throop, and William Tolhurst. I have also benefited greatly from discussions with and written comments from my colleagues David Henderson and John Tienson. The written comments I received from Michael DePaul and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong were very useful in helping me to improve the clarity and content of this work.

I owe my greatest debt to friend and colleague Terry Horgan, who not only coauthored with me a number of articles whose contents have found their way into this book but with whom I have had many useful and illuminating philosophical discussions about ideas, themes, and arguments contained in the chapters to follow. In particular, much of chapter 4, in which I set out an irrealist moral semantics, derives from a paper, Taking a Moral Stance, that I coauthored with Terry and which we presented at a conference in honor of the retirement of . . .

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