The Self-Undermining Arguments from Disagreement

Oxford Studies in Metaethics 14 (forthcoming)
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Arguments from disagreement against non-skeptical moral realism begin by noticing (or supposing) widespread, fundamental moral disagreement among a certain group of people (e.g., the folk, moral philosophers, idealized agents). Then, some skeptical or anti-realist-friendly conclusion is drawn. I argue that arguments from disagreement share a structure that makes them vulnerable to a single, powerful objection: they self-undermine. For each formulation of the argument from disagreement, at least one of its premises casts doubt either on itself or on one of the other premises. On reflection, this should not be surprising. Proponents of these arguments seek to derive a very strong metaphysical or epistemological conclusion about morality (e.g., that there are no moral facts, that none of our moral beliefs are epistemically justified). They must therefore employ very strong metaphysical or epistemological premises. But, given the pervasiveness of disagreement in philosophy—especially about metaphysics and epistemology—very strong premises are almost certain to be the subject of widespread, intractable disagreement. And this is precisely the sort of disagreement that proponents of these arguments think undermine moral claims. If so, then these arguments undermine their own premises. If the argument presented in this paper is sound, it provides realists a single, unified strategy for responding to arguments from disagreement. It also provides a challenge for any future arguments from disagreement that philosophers might advance.
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