Ethical Reductionism

Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 13 (1):32-52 (2018)
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Ethical reductionism is the best version of naturalistic moral realism. Reductionists regard moral properties as identical to properties appearing in successful scientific theories. Nonreductionists, including many of the Cornell Realists, argue that moral properties instead supervene on scientific properties without identity. I respond to two arguments for nonreductionism. First, nonreductionists argue that the multiple realizability of moral properties defeats reductionism. Multiple realizability can be addressed in ethics by identifying moral properties uniquely or disjunctively with properties of the special sciences. Second, nonreductionists argue that irreducible moral properties explain empirical phenomena, just as irreducible special-science properties do. But since irreducible moral properties don't successfully explain additional regularities, they run the risk of being pseudoscientific properties. Reductionism has all the benefits of nonreductionism, while also being more secure against anti-realist objections because of its ontological simplicity.

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Neil Sinhababu
National University of Singapore


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