Metaethical Minimalism: A Demarcation, Defense, and Development

Dissertation, University of California, Santa Cruz (2020)
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The aim of this work is to demarcate, develop, and defend the commitments and consequences of metaethical minimalism. Very roughly, this is the position that a commitment to objective moral truths does not require any accompanying ontological commitments. While there are few, if any, who call themselves “metaethical minimalists”, I endeavor to uncover existing articulations of metaethical minimalism which have been presented under different names, attempting to identify the common ground between them. As I interpret the position, all metaethical minimalists are committed to the same positive pair of claims (what I call the Objectivity Thesis): “a) Moral truths are strongly mind-independent; b) there are moral truths.” Taken by itself, however, this pair of claims is not sufficient for differentiating their view from the moral realist’s. Consequently, the minimalist must also articulate that which they are denying about the non-minimalist approach, or what I call the “negative ontological thesis”. I offer my own version of this negative thesis and argue for its dialectical advantages. In Chapters 3 and 4, I focus my attention on attacks on the viability of metaethical minimalism in the form of two “challenges” that aim to problematize a commitment to objective moral truths absent any accompanying ontological commitment. The big-picture takeaway from these chapters is that minimalism can defend itself by playing to the dialectical advantage I find for it in Chapter 2 as well as by being creative about minimalist constructions/reworkings of plausible principles/lines of reasoning that seem to contradict it. The temptation to embrace quietism is strong among minimalists, but in Chapters 5, 6, and 7 I aim to show that there is a positive alternative available for the minimalist interested in developing a full picture of their position. Chapter 5 is aimed at providing an adequate understanding of the distinction between the objects of purely normative thoughts and objects of thoughts about reality. Building on this are Chapters 6 and 7, which argue in favor of an account of the relationship between emotion and evaluative knowledge that is consistent with metaethical minimalism.
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