Attitudinal Ambivalence: Moral Uncertainty for Non-Cognitivists

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 100 (3):580-594 (2022)
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In many situations, people are unsure in their moral judgements. In much recent philosophical literature, this kind of moral doubt has been analysed in terms of uncertainty in one’s moral beliefs. Non-cognitivists, however, argue that moral judgements express a kind of conative attitude, more akin to a desire than a belief. This paper presents a scientifically informed reconciliation of non-cognitivism and moral doubt. The central claim is that attitudinal ambivalence—the degree to which one holds conflicting attitudes towards the same object—can play the role of moral doubt for non-cognitivists. I will demonstrate that ambivalence has all of the features that we would expect it to have in order to play the role of moral doubt. It is gradable, can vary through time, covaries with strength of motivation, and is suitably distinct from the other features of our moral judgements. As well as providing a defence of non-cognitivism, this insight poses a new challenge for the view: deciding how to act under moral ambivalence.

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Nicholas Makins
University of Leeds


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