The Empirical Case for Folk Indexical Moral Relativism

Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy 4 (forthcoming)
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Recent empirical work on folk moral objectivism has attempted to examine the extent to which folk morality presumes that moral judgments are objectively true or false. Some researchers report findings that they take to indicate folk commitment to objectivism (Goodwin & Darley, 2008, 2010, 2012; Nichols & Folds-Bennett, 2003; Wainryb et al., 2004), while others report findings that may reveal a more variable commitment to objectivism (Beebe, 2014; Beebe et al., 2015; Beebe & Sackris, 2016; Sarkissian, et al., 2011; Wright, 2018; Wright, Grandjean, & McWhite, 2013; Wright, McWhite, & Grandjean, 2014). However, the various probes that have been used to examine folk moral objectivism almost always fail to be good direct measures of objectivism. Some critics (Beebe, 2015; Pölzler, 2017, 2018) have suggested that the problems with existing probes are serious enough that they should be viewed as largely incapable of shedding any light on folk metaethical commitments. Building upon the work of Justin Khoo and Joshua Knobe (2018), I argue that many of the existing probes can be seen as good measures of the extent to which people think that the truth of one moral judgment excludes the possibility that a judgment made by a disagreeing party is also true and that the best explanation of the findings obtained using these measures is significant folk support for indexical moral relativism—the view that the content of moral judgments is context-sensitive. If my thesis is correct, many contemporary moral philosophers are deeply mistaken about the metaethical contours of folk morality in one very important respect.

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James R. Beebe
University at Buffalo


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