Evolutionary Debunking and the Folk/Theoretical Distinction

Philosophia 52 (2):269-287 (2024)
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In metaethics, evolutionary debunking arguments combine empirical and epistemological premises to purportedly show that our moral judgments are unjustified. One objection to these arguments has been to distinguish between those judgments that evolutionary influence might undermine versus those that it does not. This response is powerful but not well understood. In this paper I flesh out the response by drawing upon a familiar distinction in the natural sciences, where it is common to distinguish folk judgments from theoretical judgments. I argue that this in turn illuminates the proper scope of the evolutionary debunking argument, but not in an obvious way: it is a very specific type of undermining argument that targets those theories where theoretical judgments are inferred merely from folk judgments. One upshot of this conclusion is that it reveals a verboten methodology in metaethics. The evolutionary debunking argument is therefore much less powerful than its proponents have supposed, but it nevertheless rules out what is perhaps a common way of attempting to justify moral judgments.

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Matthew Scarfone
University of Toronto, St. George Campus


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