On Herbert J. Phillips’s “Why Be Rational?”

Ethics 125 (3):826-828, (2015)
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In recent metaethics, moral realists have advanced a companions-in-guilt argument against moral nihilism. Proponents of this argument hold that the conclusion that there are no categorical normative reasons implies that there are no epistemic reasons. However, if there are no epistemic reasons, there are no epistemic reasons to believe nihilism. Therefore, nihilism is false or no one has epistemic reasons to believe it. While this argument is normally presented as a reply to Mackie, who introduced the term “companions-in-guilt” in his Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong of 1977, Herbert J. Phillips presented a form of this argument in Ethics in 1940. In this paper, I will discuss Phillips’ version of the companions-in-guilt argument, demonstrate how recent epistemology bears out an important premise of the argument, and compare Phillips’ argument to Derek Parfit’s recent work

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Max Siegel
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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