Recalibrating evolutionary debunking

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (forthcoming)
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Evolutionary debunking arguments purport to show that, if moral realism is true, all of our moral beliefs are unjustified. In this paper, I respond to two of the most enduring objections that have been raised against these arguments. The first objection claims that evolutionary debunking arguments are self-undermining, because they cannot be formulated without invoking epistemic principles, and epistemic principles are just as vulnerable to debunking as our moral beliefs. I argue that this objection suffers from several defects, the most serious of which is that it has the unpalatable consequence that we should never revise our moral beliefs in response to evidence that our capacity for normative cognition is globally impaired. The second objection, which comes to us from Katia Vavova, claims that evolutionary debunking arguments are doomed to fail, because they attempt to show that our moral beliefs are unreliable without making any assumptions about the nature of morality, and this is impossible. I argue, to the contrary, that the etiological higher-order evidence cited by debunking arguments can give us good reason to think that our moral beliefs are unreliable, even if we make no assumptions about what morality is like.

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Justis Koon
Trinity College


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