Non-Naturalist Moral Realism, Autonomy and Entanglement

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It was something of a dogma for much of the twentieth century that one cannot validly derive an ought from an is. More generally, it was held that non-normative propositions do not entail normative propositions. Call this thesis about the relation between the natural and the normative Natural-Normative Autonomy. The denial of Autonomy involves the entanglement of the natural with the normative. Naturalism entails entanglement—in fact it entails the most extreme form of entanglement—but entanglement does not entail naturalism. In a ground-breaking paper “The autonomy of ethics” Arthur Prior constructed some intriguing counterexamples to Autonomy. While his counterexamples have convinced few, there is little agreement on what is wrong with them. I present a new analysis of Autonomy, one which is grounded in a general and independently plausible account of subject matters. While Prior’s arguments do establish shallow natural-normative entanglement, this is a consequence of simple logical relationships that hold between just about any two subject matters. It has nothing special to do with the logical structure of normativity or its relation to the natural. Prior’s arguments leave the fundamental idea behind natural-normative Autonomy intact. I offer a new argument for deep entanglement. I show that in any framework adequate for dealing with the natural and the normative spheres, a purely natural proposition entails a purely normative proposition, and vice-versa. But this is no threat to non-naturalist moral realism. In fact it helps ameliorate the excesses of an extreme non-naturalism, delivering a more palatable and plausible position.
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