Realist Ethical Naturalism for Ethical Non-Naturalists

Philosophical Studies 175 (2):339-362 (2018)
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It is common in metaethics today to draw a distinction between “naturalist” and “non-naturalist” versions of moral realism, where the former view maintains that moral properties are natural properties, while the latter view maintains that they are non-natural properties instead. The nature of the disagreement here can be understood in different ways, but the most common way is to understand it as a metaphysical disagreement. In particular, the disagreement here is about the reducibility of moral properties, where the “naturalists” maintain that moral properties are in some way reducible to the lower-level natural properties on which they supervene, while the “non-naturalists” maintain that moral properties are sui generis and robustly irreducible. In this paper I present a novel version of realist ethical naturalism—a view that I call Emergentist Ethical Naturalism—that reveals this common way of understanding the distinction between naturalism and non-naturalism to be flawed by combining a commitment to ethical naturalism with a commitment to the sui generis and robustly irreducible nature of moral properties that typically defines non-naturalism. Then, after presenting the theory and addressing a few worries that one might have about it, I show how it offers some novel, emergence-based responses to the various supervenience challenges that plague moral realism and thereby gives the ethical naturalist a robustly non-reductive option for dealing with these challenges.

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Ryan Stringer
Lincoln Land Community College


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