Nihilism, Nietzsche and the Doppelganger Problem

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 10 (5):441-456 (2007)
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Nihilism, Nietzsche and the Doppelganger Problem Was Nietzsche a nihilist? Yes, because, like J. L. Mackie, he was an error-theorist about morality, including the elitist morality to which he himself subscribed. But he was variously a diagnostician, an opponent and a survivor of certain other kinds of nihilism. Schacht argues that Nietzsche cannot have been an error theorist, since meta-ethical nihilism is inconsistent with the moral commitment that Nietzsche displayed. Schacht’s exegetical argument parallels the substantive argument (advocated in recent years by Wright and Blackburn) that Mackie’s error theory can’t be true because if it were, we would have to give up morality or give up moralizing. I answer this argument with a little bit of help from Nietzsche. I then pose a problem, the Doppelganger Problem, for the meta-ethical nihilism that I attribute to Mackie and Nietzsche. (If A is a moral proposition then not-A is a moral proposition: hence not all moral propositions can be false.) I solve the problem by reformulating the error theory and also deal with a variant of the problem, the Reinforced Doppelganger, glancing at a famous paper of Ronald Dworkin’s. Thus, whatever its demerits, the error theory, is not self-refuting, nor does it require us to give up morality.

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Charles R. Pigden
University of Otago


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