Naturalism and Triviality

Philosophical Writings 32 (Summer):12-31 (2006)
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Abstract
The paper examines Derek Parfit’s claim that naturalism trivializes the agent’s practical argument and therefore abolishes the normativity of its conclusion. In the first section, I present Parfit’s charge in detail. After this I discuss three possible responses to the objection. I show that the first two responses either fail or are inconclusive. Trying to avoid Parfit’s charge by endorsing irreductionist naturalism is not a solution because this form of naturalism is metaphysically untenable. Non- descriptive naturalism, on the other hand, does not answer the pressing concern behind Parfit’s charge. I conclude that we had better turn to the third response: Peter Railton’s vindicatory reductionism. However, I also argue that naturalism can only avoid triviality in this way if it is able to respond to further challenges concerning the vindication of the reduction it proposes. Hence, though not a knockdown argument as it is intended to be, Parfit’s charge can still pose a threat to naturalist accounts of normativity.
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