Further problems with projectivism

South African Journal of Philosophy 35 (1):92-102 (2016)
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From David Hume onwards, many philosophers have argued that moral thinking is characterized by a tendency to “project” our own mental states onto the world. This metaphor of projection may be understood as involving two empirical claims: the claim that humans experience morality as a realm of objective facts (the experiential hypothesis), and the claim that this moral experience is immediately caused by affective attitudes (the causal hypothesis). Elsewhere I argued in detail against one form of the experiential hypothesis. My main aim in this paper is to show that, considering recent psychological studies about folk metaethics and the relation between moral judgements and emotions, the causal hypothesis must be considered problematic too. First, the most common argument in favor of the causal hypothesis is based on an implausible premise and a dubious assumption. Second, ordinary people’s moral experience is influenced by a non-affective factor, namely their openness to divergent moral views. And third, projectivism in general and its causal hypothesis in particular might not even hold true for affective moral judgements. This negative assessment of projectivism is significant both for our understanding of moral cognition as an empirical phenomenon and for metaethics.

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Thomas Pölzler
University of Graz


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