Three Millian Ways to Resolve Open Questions

By Cullison, Andrew | Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Three Millian Ways to Resolve Open Questions


Cullison, Andrew, Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy


I. The Open Question Argument: First Version

ETHICAL NATURALISM IS AS FOLLOWS:

Ethical Naturalism

(EN1) Each moral property is identical to some natural property.

(EN2) Each moral term (e.g., good) refers to some natural property and has that property as its semantic content.

The Open Question Argument is alleged to show that if moral realism is true, then each moral property must be identical with some non-natural property and that each moral term like "good" does not have some natural property as its content.

Consider the following question schemas:

(Q1) Helping a starving child is good, but is helping a starving child N?

(Q2) Helping a starving child is good, but is helping a starving child good?

Let N range over natural properties. The assumption is that for any candidate natural property for N, the question yielded by filling in the variable in (Q1) would always be open, whereas the question yielded by filling in the variable in (Q2) would always be closed.

What it is for a question to be open and closed is difficult to explain, and it might help if we had an example. So let's substitute pleasant-ness for N. We get the following two questions by filling in the variables from (Q1) and (Q2):

(Q1A) Helping a starving child is good, but is helping a starving child pleasant?

(Q2A) Helping a starving child is good, but is helping a starving child good?

Q1A and Q2A differ in cognitive significance. A reasonable person might sensibly ask Q1A. But it seems that a person could not sensibly ask Q2A. Q2A is closed in the sense that once you have made a judgment that something is good, you already have your answer to the question "Is it good?" Q1A is open in the sense that, having made a judgment about the goodness of helping the poor, you do not necessarily have an answer to that question.

The problem for ethical naturalism is that if good-ness is identical to some natural property and "good" refers to some natural property, then if Q2 questions are closed, then Q1 questions should also be closed (once you plug in the appropriate natural property for N). However, it seems that the two could come apart. Q1A and Q2A should be the same question if ethical naturalism is true, but they are not. You have an answer to one, but not the other.

The Open Question Argument

(1) If ethical naturalism is true, then there is some natural property N, such that schemas Q1 and Q2 yield the same questions.

(2) There is no natural property N such that schemas Q1 and Q2 yield the same questions.

(3) Therefore, ethical naturalism is not true.

Ethical naturalism is committed to (1). If good is identical to some natural property N and the term "good" just means N, then any sentence using a term T other than good that means N will express the same proposition as a sentence that substitutes T with good. A substitution will yield the same proposition; a substitution of terms would also yield the same question.

But in the case above we are supposed to think that they are not the same question. They are not the same question because the questions have different properties; the property being-open is had by Q1A (and not Q2A). The property being-closed is had by Q2A (and not Q1A). That is the motivation for (2). We are supposed to see that this would be true no matter what natural property we might try to identify with good; so there is no natural property N such that Q1 and Q2 would yield the same questions. For any natural property, there would be this difference in cognitive significance. (1)

II. Ways-Millianism

In this section I will lay out what I think is one of the best responses to the Open Question Argument. As we shall see, the Open Question Argument is basically a kind of Frege Puzzle. Frege's Puzzles are problems for a theory in philosophy of language called Millianism. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Three Millian Ways to Resolve Open Questions
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.