Sophia

, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 437–449

Euthyphro and Moral Realism: A Reply to Harrison

Article

DOI: 10.1007/s11841-016-0545-x

Cite this article as:
Wielenberg, E.J. SOPHIA (2016) 55: 437. doi:10.1007/s11841-016-0545-x
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Abstract

Gerald Harrison identifies two Euthyphro-related concerns for divine command theories and makes the case that to the extent that these concerns make trouble for divine command theories they also make trouble for non-naturalistic moral realism and naturalistic moral realism (call this the parity thesis). He also offers responses to the two concerns on behalf of divine command theorists. I show here that the parity thesis does not hold for the most commonly discussed version of divine command theory. I further argue that his responses to the two concerns fail. Finally, I draw on some of Harrison’s ideas to identify an advantage that non-naturalistic moral realism has over divine command theories and naturalistic moral realism.

Keywords

Euthyphro Divine command Moral realism Harrison 

Introduction

In a recent paper, Harrison (2015) identifies two Euthyphro-related concerns for divine command theories and makes the case that to the extent that these concerns make trouble for divine command theories, they also make trouble for non-naturalistic moral realism and naturalistic moral realism (call this the parity thesis). He also offers responses to the two concerns on behalf of divine command theorists. I show here that the parity thesis does not hold for the most commonly discussed sort of divine command theory; I also critically examine Harrison’s responses to the two concerns, arguing that neither response succeeds. My project is not entirely negative however; I also draw on some of Harrison’s ideas to identify an advantage that non-naturalistic moral realism has over divine command theories and naturalistic moral realism. If I am right, then from the wreckage of Harrison’s defense of divine command theories, one can build the foundation for a (partial) defense of non-naturalistic moral realism.

The Parity Thesis

Following Harrison, I understand moral realism as the view that ‘moral claims are truth apt, that at least some moral claims are true, and that their truth-makers are attitude-independent properties of either a natural or non-natural kind’ (2015, 108–9). Harrison distinguishes two versions of moral realism: non-naturalistic moral realism, according to which moral properties are sui generis and not reducible to natural properties (2015, 110) and naturalistic moral realism, according to which moral properties ‘reduce to, or just are, natural properties’ (2015, 114).1 Finally, we have divine command theory, which is any theory that ‘identifies moral properties with the property of being commanded or favored by a god of some sort’ (2015, 108).2

Harrison identifies two concerns associated with the Euthyphro problem. The first is the horrendous deeds concern, which is the worry that divine command theories imply that “there is a possible world in which Hitler’s deeds were right and praiseworthy despite having been performed with the same intentions and having all the same consequences as they did here” (2015, 110). The horrendous deeds worry involves the following proposition:

Hitler’s Deeds (HD): There is a possible world in which Hitler’s deeds were right and praiseworthy.

The second Euthyphro-related concern is the grounding concern. Harrison explains that concern in the following passage:

The other concern is that if two numerically distinct acts that have all the same natural features can differ morally, then the morality of each has become some kind of brute addition. What we are favoured doing one day we may not be favoured doing the next (the god’s tastes may change) and thus the wrongness of any deed cannot be said to be due to its possession of various natural features. After all, a numerically distinct act possessing exactly the same features could have a different morality. The act is wrong because the god happens to disfavour it, rather than because, say, it causes someone to suffer or manifests a particular character trait. The morality of a deed has come ungrounded. (2015, 110)

The worry here has two parts. The first part is that divine command theory implies that two actions that are exactly alike with respect to their natural properties could differ with respect to their moral properties.3 The second part of the worry is that if two actions that are exactly alike with respect to their natural properties could differ with respect to their moral properties, then no action possesses its moral properties because of the natural properties that it possesses. The worry thus involves the following proposition:

Explanatory Inadequacy (EI): That two act-tokens are identical with respect to their natural properties does not guarantee that they are identical with respect to their moral properties and hence an act-token’s natural properties never explain its moral properties.

Thus, the two worries for divine command theories are (i) the horrendous deeds worry—that such theories entail (HD)—and (ii) the grounding worry—that such theories entail (EI).

One of Harrison’s central contentions is that the horrendous deeds concern and the grounding concern are as much a problem for non-naturalistic and naturalistic moral realism as they are for divine command theories; this is the parity thesis (2015, 110). On the basis of the parity thesis, Harrison further claims that the fact that such problems are typically seen as decisive refutations of divine command theories but only as challenges for non-naturalistic and naturalistic moral realism is best explained as resulting from a double standard or prejudice at work (2015, 111–2).

I think that Harrison’s appeal to a double standard is unwarranted. To see why, first notice that, given Harrison’s characterization of divine command theories, there are various possible versions of divine command theory. A version of divine command theory that is one of the most commonly discussed in contemporary philosophy has it that for an act to be morally wrong is for it to be forbidden by God, for an act to be morally obligatory is for it to be commanded by God, and for an act to be morally permissible is for it to be neither commanded nor forbidden by God, where God is understood to be a being that is, among other things, omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect (see e.g. Quinn 1992 and Adams 1999). Let us call this theory Perfect Being Command Theory.

Harrison is not particularly concerned to defend perfect being command theory:

[I]t is not the essence of divine command theories that the god in question be the god of any religion. The god certainly need not be God. True, most contemporary divine command theorists have God in mind and sometimes – often in fact divine command theory is defined as the view that moral goodness is what God commands (favours, loves, etc.). But this saddles the view with religious baggage that it need not have and works to make the theory less, not more plausible. (2015, 108).

Harrison seems most interested in defending a version of divine command theory according to which the god whose will shapes morality is a ‘naturalizable creature’ somewhat akin to a minotaur or Bigfoot; Harrison remarks that such a theory might reasonably be called ‘strange powerful creature command theory’ (2015, 112–3).

In the rest of this section, I make the case that while the parity thesis may hold with respect to strange powerful creature command theory, it does not hold with respect to perfect being command theory. Furthermore, it is the failure of the parity thesis with respect to perfect being command theory that explains the differing attitudes philosophers take toward Euthyphro-type problems for divine command theory on the one hand and such problems for non-naturalistic and naturalistic moral realism on the other.

To begin, note the distinction between the two following sorts of objections that might be raised against a theory T:
  • Objection A: not-P is true; theory T entails P; therefore, T is incompatible with a truth and hence T is false.

  • Objection B: not-P is true and not-P’s truth must have some explanation or other; theory T fails to provide an explanation for not-P’s truth, whereas some of T’s rivals do explain not-P’s truth; therefore, theory T has a weakness that some of its rivals lack.

  • Objection A is more serious than Objection B. If Objection A is sound, then theory T is decisively refuted, whereas Objection B, even if sound, does not decisively refute T. Instead, Objection B identifies one weakness that T possesses in contrast with some of its rivals. Even if Objection B is sound, it could nevertheless be the case that, all things considered, theory T is more plausible than any of its competitors, for the final tally of the various strengths and weaknesses of all of the theories on offer might reveal that theory T is the strongest overall theory. Objection A, if sound, strikes a fatal blow against theory T; Objection B, if sound, merely wounds theory T, leaving open the possibility that T is ultimately victorious.

Harrison is right that worries related to (HD) and (EI) can be (and have been) raised for divine command theory, non-naturalistic moral realism, and naturalistic moral realism alike. However, the worry for divine command theories typically takes the form of Objection A: not-(HD) and not-(EI) are true; divine command theory entails (HD) and (EI); therefore, divine command theory is incompatible with a truth and hence divine command theory is false. By contrast, the worry for non-naturalistic and naturalistic moral realism typically takes the form of Objection B: not-(HD) and not-(EI) are true and their truth must have some explanation or other; non-naturalistic and naturalistic moral realism fail to provide an explanation for not-(HD) and not-(EI)’s truth, whereas some of their rivals do explain not-(HD) and not-(EI)’s truth; therefore, non-naturalistic and naturalistic moral realism have a weakness that some of their rivals lack.

Consider perfect being command theory. The horrendous deeds worry for such a theory is that because God is omnipotent, He has the power to command that Hitler’s deeds be performed and hence there is a possible world in which Hitler’s deeds are commanded by God. So, according to perfect being command theory, Hitler’s deeds are morally obligatory in such a world (which presumably entails that they are morally right and praiseworthy in that world). Thus, the worry is that perfect being command theory entails that (HD) is true (see e.g., Morriston 2009). Similarly, if we assume that in the actual world God forbids Hitler’s deeds, then the reasoning just given suggests that perfect being command theory also entails (EI), since the theory entails that Hitler’s deeds are morally wrong in the actual world and morally obligatory in another possible world despite being identical with respect to their natural properties in the two worlds.4

Let us now consider the worries for other forms of moral realism involving (HD) and (EI). First consider non-naturalistic moral realism. One influential statement of the (EI)-related worry for non-naturalistic moral realism is given by Mark Schroeder:

[I]t is widely thought to be uncontroversial … that the set of all normative properties and relations supervenes on the set of all non-normative properties and relations over the set of all possible worlds. If so, that entails that an awful lot of ways of recombining normative with non-normative properties turn out to be metaphysically impossible. But that certainly seems to call out for some kind of explanation! (2007, 70; see also Shafer-Landau 2003, 89–90 and Vayrynen forthcoming)

It is no accident that Schroeder here does not claim that non-naturalistic moral realism entails that (EI) is true; unlike perfect being command theory, non-naturalistic moral realism includes no claims that appear to entail (EI). The worry here is that non-naturalistic moral realism fails to explain the truth of not-(EI)—as Harrison’s own presentation of the worry suggests: ‘if moral properties are not reducible, then there seems no principled way of ruling out the possibility of a naturalistically identical world to this one in which moral properties are differently arranged’ (2015, 110, emphasis added).5 Similarly, Harrison’s own discussion suggests that the worry for naturalistic moral realism is not that it entails (EI) but rather that it fails to explain why not-(EI) is true: “Naturalist reductionist views do not entail [(EI)’s falsity] and so cannot explain it” (2015, 116; see also Shafer-Landau 2003, 85).6 Thus, while the worry for perfect being command theory typically found in the philosophical literature is that it entails what is false, the worry for both naturalistic and non-naturalistic moral realism is that they fail to explain certain truths that, according to their critics, they ought to explain.

My point can perhaps be made clearer if we imagine a version of non-naturalistic moral realism that includes the claim that the distribution of all non-natural properties is determined by some sort of supernatural random process—a toss of the Heavenly Dice, let us say. By including the existence of Heavenly Dice, the Heavenly Dice theory implies that there are naturalistically identical possible worlds that are non-naturalistically different, and by identifying moral properties with non-natural properties, the Heavenly Dice theory further implies that (EI) is true.7 Perfect being command theory includes the claim that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect God and that it is the commands of that God that determine the moral statuses of actions. Consequently, perfect being command theory appears to imply that there are naturalistically identical possible worlds that differ with respect to the divine commands given in them, and by identifying moral obligation with divine commands, the theory further implies that (EI) is true. However, because non-naturalistic moral realism does not posit Heavenly Dice, there is no reason to think that it entails that (EI) is true. Rather, the challenge for the non-natural moral realist and the naturalistic moral realist is to provide some account of (EI)’s falsity.8

What about Harrison’s preferred version of divine command theory—strange powerful creature command theory? It is unclear whether Objection A can be advanced against strange powerful creature command theory, primarily because Harrison tells us very little about the attributes of the god involved in this theory. In contrast with perfect being command theory, there is nothing in strange powerful creature command theory that supports the assertion that the god of morality has the power to command that Hitler’s deeds be performed. So, it may be that strange powerful creature command theory is subject only to Objection B—which is to say, it may be that the parity thesis holds for strange powerful creature command theory.

As I noted earlier, Harrison appeals to the parity thesis to support his contention that there is a double standard at work in contemporary meta-ethics. He claims that divine command theories and other forms of moral realism ‘share the same problem’ and divine command theories are ‘considered decisively refuted by it,’ but other forms of moral realism are not. He further proposes that perhaps this difference is the result of a ‘prejudice’ (2015, 112). But, once we distinguish different versions of divine command theory and different versions of the parity thesis, we can see that the appeal to a double standard is unwarranted. What is going on instead is that the parity thesis is false when it comes to perfect being command theory; that theory really does face more serious Euthyphro problems than other versions of moral realism. And it seems likely that it is that fact that explains philosophers’ differing attitudes toward Euthyphro concerns for divine command theory on the one hand and Euthyphro concerns for other versions of moral realism. The parity thesis may hold for strange powerful creature command theory, but that fact does not support the existence of a double standard at work in contemporary meta-ethics because so far there has been almost no discussion of strange powerful creature command theory in contemporary meta-ethics.9

However, Harrison does more than argue for the existence of a double standard. He also offers responses to the horrendous deeds concern and the explanatory inadequacy concern—responses that, if successful, would be available to divine command theorists of all stripes. In the next two sections, I examine these responses and argue that they are unsuccessful.

Harrison’s Response to the Horrendous Deeds Concern

As I noted earlier, Harrison says that the horrendous deeds concern for divine command theories is that they imply that “there is a possible world in which Hitler’s deeds were right and praiseworthy despite having been performed with the same intentions and having all the same consequences as they did here” (2015, 110). The worry, then, is that such theories entail the following proposition:

Hitler’s Deeds (HD): There is a possible world in which Hitler’s deeds were right and praiseworthy.

Before turning to Harrison’s response to this worry, it is helpful to identify some other possible worries in the neighborhood that are distinct from the worry just described. The worry here is not that divine command theories imply that there is an entire possible world that is naturalistically identical to the actual world and in which Hitler’s deeds were right and praiseworthy. The worry is also not that divine command theories imply that there is a possible world in which we have the clear and distinct intuition that Hitler’s deeds were wrong and yet those deeds are right and praiseworthy. Rather, the worry is that divine command theories imply that somewhere in the infinitely many possible worlds, there is Hitler (or his counterpart), doing just the same acts that he did in the actual world, with the same intentions and consequences, and yet those acts are morally right and praiseworthy.10 That is how Harrison initially characterizes the horrendous deeds concern; more importantly, that is the concern that has been raised against divine command theory in the literature. So, if Harrison is to make progress in defending divine command theories, that is the concern that he needs to address.

I have belabored this point somewhat because Harrison’s response appears not to address the actual worry at hand. Harrison suggests that ‘we have a very clear and distinct intuition’ that Hitler’s deeds were wrong and that the existence of such an intuition entails the wrongness of Hitler’s deeds (2015, 117). Furthermore, “in all naturalistically identical possible worlds to this one we … have the same moral intuitions, and thus will also have the strong moral intuition that horrendous deeds, such as Hitler’s, are wrong there” (2015, 117). From these claims, argues Harrison, it follows that Hitler’s deeds are wrong in every world in which we have a clear and distinct intuition that those deeds are wrong, which means that Hitler’s deeds are wrong in every world that is naturalistically identical to our world.

Let us divide all the possible worlds containing Hitler’s deeds as performed in the actual world (including their intentions and consequences) into two groups. In the first group are those worlds in which someone has the clear and distinct intuition that Hitler’s acts are wrong; in the second group are those worlds in which no one has that intuition. Since we have that intuition in the actual world, all worlds that are naturalistically identical to the actual world are included in the first group of worlds. Thus, Harrison’s reasoning shows that any possible world that either (a) is naturalistically identical to the actual world or (b) includes the clear and distinct intuition that Hitler’s acts were wrong will also be a world in which Hitler’s acts are wrong. There are possible worlds in which Hitler’s acts are not wrong—but those are worlds devoid of the clear and distinct intuition that Hitler’s acts are wrong and are naturalistically distinct from the actual world, so the existence of such possible worlds should not trouble the divine command theorist. Or so Harrison seems to argue.

This reply fails to address the horrendous deeds concern as that concern is typically understood in the philosophical literature. The failure of Harrison’s reply appears to stem from a misunderstanding of the nature of the moral intuition that drives the horrendous deeds concern. Harrison writes: ‘[W]hy is it absurd to allow that it is metaphysically possible for there to be a naturalistically identical world to the actual world but in which horrendous deeds are morally right? Presumably it is absurd because we have the very clear and distinct intuition that such acts are wrong, an intuition so clear and distinct it is simply inconceivable that it might be mistaken’ (2015, 117). But that is not quite right; the intuition that drives the horrendous deeds concern is not simply that Hitler’s acts are wrong but that it is impossible for Hitler’s deeds not to be wrong as long as they are performed with the same intentions and have the same consequences. Thus, one implication of the intuition behind the horrendous deeds concern is that the wrongness of Hitler’s deeds in a given world does not depend upon the existence in that very world of the intuition that Hitler’s deeds were wrong. Consider the following recent presentation of the horrendous deeds concern:

If God were to issue a morally abhorrent command, he would render the action, no matter how seemingly bad, morally obligatory. … Any theory that entails the possibility of morality of child torture is a failed theory. … [M]orality itself just can’t feature such nonsense. … The badness and wrongness of child torture for fun sports the requisite credentials to qualify as about the best candidate for a necessary moral truth that we can imagine. (Baggett and Walls 2011, 131)

Notice the distinction between (i) having a clear and distinct intuition that p and inferring, from the strength of the intuition, that it is impossible for that intuition to be mistaken and (ii) having a clear and distinct intuition that necessarily, p. Harrison takes it that an instance of (i) drives the horrendous deeds concern whereas the concern is actually driven by an instance of (ii). In fact, the horrendous deeds concern is often advanced by way of merely possible actions (see Morriston 2009, 249–50). For example, suppose that I were to torture my children just for fun and no one had the intuition that such torture is wrong. I have the intuition that such an act would be morally wrong – and necessarily so.11 But every possible world, w, that is naturalistically identical to a world in which such torture occurs is a world in which there are no intuitions that the torture is wrong, so even if the presence of such intuitions entails the wrongness of the torture, Harrison’s principles do not imply that the torture is wrong in w. Therefore, Harrison’s reasoning fails to secure the result that it is impossible for the torture to be morally right and praiseworthy.12 This leaves the divine command theorist with no response to the worry that divine command theory implies that the there is a possible world in which the torture is right and admirable.

The upshot here is that Harrison’s response to the horrendous deeds concern simply fails to address the most challenging version of that concern as it is typically understood in the philosophical literature. Harrison’s response does address other concerns involving Hitler’s horrendous deeds that might be raised against divine command theories, but those concerns are not the ones that have exercised philosophers writing on divine command theory, nor are they the most challenging objections in the vicinity.

Harrison’s Response to the Grounding Concern

Let us turn now to Harrison’s response to the grounding concern. Recall that the grounding concern for divine command theories is that such theories entail the following proposition:
  • Explanatory inadequacy (EI): That two act-tokens are identical with respect to their natural properties does not guarantee that they are identical with respect to their moral properties and hence an act-token’s natural properties never explain its moral properties.

  • In his initial explanation of the grounding concern, Harrison says that the worry for divine command theories is that they imply that ‘the wrongness of any deed cannot be said to be due to its possession of various natural features’ (2015, 110). We can distinguish two versions of this concern. One version of the worry is that divine command theories imply that an act-token’s natural properties never even partially explain its moral properties (call this the partial grounding concern); another version of the worry is that divine command theories imply that an act-token’s natural properties never fully explain its moral properties (call this the full grounding concern).

In response to the grounding concern, Harrison writes:

I maintain that the grounding concern is confused. It is enough that some of a token act’s natural features have given rise to its moral properties on that particular occasion for it to be true to say that the act is wrong in virtue of those features. There is no need for them to have done so necessarily. Take me. Sometimes I like a curry because of its spicy heat. Sometimes I dislike a curry because of its spicy heat. I’m changeable like that. … If moral norms are the commands of a god then it seems clear that this god dislikes it when we hurt others for fun. Such acts are wrong, then, because they involve hurting others for fun. That natural feature of such acts that is inspiring the god of morality to disfavor us performing them, and her disfavourings just are the wrongness of such deeds. To the question ‘why do I dislike curry today’ comes the answer ‘because of its spicy heat’. To the question ‘why does morality condemn hurting others for fun’ comes the answer ‘because such acts cause others to suffer’. (2015, 118)

Harrison’s reply here adequately addresses the partial grounding concern but not the full grounding concern. Suppose that scientists want to understand why Harrison likes a curry on a given occasion. It is clear that while the fact that the curry was spicy hot may be part of the explanation it will not be the whole explanation; the full explanation will appeal to some feature of Harrison as well. Harrison’s remark that he is “changeable like that” brings this out; if the curry does not change while Harrison’s attitude toward it does, then something must have changed about Harrison to account for that. Similarly, divine command theory implies that a full explanation of the wrongness of immoral actions will appeal both to features of those actions and features of the relevant god(s). Thus, the partial grounding worry is put to rest; natural features of actions will indeed help to explain the moral statuses of those actions. However, the full grounding worry remains unanswered.

Harrison’s remarks about the curry case may appear to answer the full grounding worry due to the fact that in ordinary conversation, we routinely identify just one particularly salient aspect of the situation in order to explain some fact or event. For example, suppose that you know that there is a thunderstorm going on outside and one of your children walks through the room dripping wet. ‘Why are you all wet?’ you ask; ‘I went outside’ comes the reply. Because you can easily fill in the rest of the story on your own, you are satisfied. In ordinary speech, we may say that your child’s going outside explains or gives rise to his or her wetness. Nevertheless, a complete explanation of your child’s wetness will make reference to the thunderstorm as well. Similarly, Harrison’s remarks suggest that on divine command theory, a full explanation of the moral status of any action will make reference to god.

It seems to me that the failure of Harrison’s response to address the full grounding concern is a weakness of that response. It is plausible that in at least some cases, an action’s natural features fully explain the action’s moral status. Take the case of Hitler’s deeds. It seems to me that the Hitler’s intentions in performing those deeds and the consequences of the deeds completely explain the moral wrongness of the deeds. But, Harrison’s remarks about curry and the god of morality suggest that divine command theories imply that a full explanation of the wrongness of Hitler’s deeds must appeal to some aspect of the god of morality. And that seems false.

In sum, then, Harrison has made a good case that divine command theories do not imply that the full explanation of the wrongness of a given act will always consist merely of the fact that the god of morality disapproves of the action. Harrison is right that divine command theories allow that the natural properties of act-tokens help to explain the wrongness of those acts. But, Harrison has not addressed the worry that divine command theories imply that the natural properties of act-tokens never completely explain the wrongness of those acts. And as the case of Hitler’s deeds suggests, sometimes an act’s natural properties do fully explain its moral status.

Here is a summary of my critique of Harrison’s defense of divine command theories. The parity thesis does not hold with respect to perfect being command theory. Contra Harrison, it is not true that ‘all moral realists face the [same] Euthyphro’ (2015, 120). It may be true that all moral realists face Euthyphro-ish concerns; however, the Euthyphro-ish concerns for perfect being command theory are more serious than those for non-naturalistic and naturalistic moral realism. Additionally, it is because most contemporary philosophical discussion of divine command theory focuses on perfect being command theory that the horrendous deeds and grounding concerns are seen as more serious problems for divine command theory than for non-naturalistic and naturalistic moral realism; there is no reason to posit a double standard here. Harrison’s response to the horrendous deeds concern fails to address the most challenging version of that concern as it is typically understood in the literature. His response to the grounding concern is more successful in that it adequately addresses the partial grounding concern. However, that response is not entirely adequate because it fails to address the full grounding concern.

An Advantage for Non-naturalistic Moral Realism

I turn now to an area of agreement between Harrison and myself. He writes:

[N]ormally when we ask ‘why are my shoes full of water?’ we are not inquiring what the water that is in the shoes is made of, but how the water has come to be there. Similarly, when we ask ‘why is this act wrong?’ we are not asking what the wrongness is made of, but rather what it is about the act that lead to it having this property. The answer to that question is not ‘because it has the non-natural property of wrongness’ or ‘because a god disapproves of it’ but will be something like ‘because it causes someone to suffer’ or ‘because it breaks a promise’. (2015, 119)

Here, Harrison highlights the distinction between (a) explaining what constitutes a given property and (b) explaining what caused a particular entity to have that property. Harrison also speaks of an act’s natural features giving rise to its moral properties (2015, 119). I take it, then, that Harrison would endorse the following claim:

Causal Claim (CC): At least sometimes, an action’s natural properties completely cause its moral properties.13

I accept (CC) as well.14 Furthermore, it seems to me that (CC) favors non-naturalistic moral realism over both divine command theory and naturalistic moral realism. Divine command theories appear to be incompatible with (CC) because they imply that some aspect of god will be at least part of the cause of any action’s moral properties, as suggested by Harrison’s curry example. The relationship between naturalistic moral realism and (CC) is somewhat more complex. On naturalistic moral realism, presumably all moral properties are caused by natural properties because naturalistic moral realism has it that moral properties just are certain natural properties. The problem for naturalistic moral realism is not that it is incompatible with (CC) but rather that naturalistic moral realism implies that whichever of an action’s moral properties are intuitively most morally relevant do not cause the action’s moral properties but instead constitute its moral properties. To see what I mean, suppose the truth of a simple version of consequentialism, actions are morally right just in case they maximize overall happiness. If such a view is true, then it seems that those who find (CC) plausible should be inclined to hold that maximizing overall happiness causes or produces moral rightness. However, combining simple consequentialism with naturalistic moral realism suggests that moral rightness just is the maximization of overall happiness—which conflicts with the claim that maximizing overall happiness causes moral rightness. Thus, while (CC) is, strictly speaking, compatible with naturalistic moral realism, there nevertheless appears to be a tension between the two views. The non-naturalistic moral realist, by contrast, can hold that moral properties are not reducible to or constituted by natural properties and are fully produced or caused by natural properties and hence can endorse (CC)—and can also hold that it is the most morally relevant natural properties that cause or give rise to moral properties. For example, a non-naturalistic moral realist who accepts the simple version of consequentialism introduced above can straightforwardly hold that maximizing overall happiness causes or produces moral rightness. That non-naturalistic moral realism coheres better with (CC) than do either of its two rivals is one important advantage that non-naturalistic moral realism has over its two rivals. Of course, there are many other alleged advantages and disadvantages of divine command theories and the two versions of moral realism that should be considered.15 But, I hope here to have shown that Harrison’s defensive maneuvers on behalf of divine command theorists are unsuccessful and to have drawn on Harrison’s discussion to identify one advantage of non-naturalist moral realism that has not yet been widely appreciated.16

Footnotes
1

Recent defenses of the former sort of theory include Shafer-Landau (2003), Huemer (2005), Enoch (2011), and Parfit (2011); recent defenses of the latter sort of theory include Brink (1989), Jackson (1998), and Railton (2003).

 
2

Recent defenses of this sort of theory in the Christian tradition include Adams (1999), Baggett and Walls (2011), and Evans (2013).

 
3

As Harrison points out, we need to exclude the actions’ spatiotemporal properties to prevent the denial of this claim from being a trivial truth (2015, 115); accordingly, ‘natural properties’ should be read as ‘natural properties minus spatiotemporal properties.’ I relegate this point to a note because it plays no role in the arguments I advance.

 
4

For a defense of the worry that the version of divine command theory discussed here is incompatible with the supervenience of moral properties on natural properties, see Murphy (2002); see also Sturgeon (2009), 62–7, and Alexander (2011).

 
5

It might be suggested because non-naturalistic moral realism does not provide a principled explanation for the falsity of (EI) the theory entails (EI). But, that cannot be right; evolutionary theory (for example) does not provide a principled explanation for the falsity of (EI), but it hardly follows that evolutionary theory entails that (EI) is true.

 
6

Harrison distinguishes trivial and nontrivial versions of what he calls ‘the local moral supervenience thesis’ (2015, 115–6); this distinction is irrelevant to the points I make, so I do not discuss it.

 
7

Similarly, consider a Christian version of non-naturalistic moral realism according to which the arrangement of non-natural moral properties is under the control of an omnipotent God; such a theory seems as susceptible to Objection A as perfect being command theory is. Of course, the version of divine command theory most commonly discussed in the literature includes the existence of a perfect God, whereas the most commonly discussed version of non-naturalistic moral realism does not, so there is no need to appeal to a double-standard to explain philosophers’ differing assessments of how serious Euthyphro problems are for divine command theory and non-naturalistic moral realism.

 
8

Harrison writes: ‘Zangwill attempts to deal with non-naturalism’s Euthyphro by denying that the global moral supervenience thesis needs to be explained. If that is a viable way of dealing with the problem it is equally open to the divine command theorist to refuse to explain things’ (2015, 113). This claim is mistaken: establishing that supervenience needs no explanation is sufficient to address the worry that a given theory fails to explain the truth of supervenience but is not sufficient to address the worry that a given theory is inconsistent with supervenience.

 
9

I take it that one of Harrison’s goals is to make the case that something like strange powerful creature command theory should receive more attention from philosophers. Indeed, Harrison could accept my contention that the parity thesis does not hold for perfect being command theory but may hold for strange creature command theory and offer it as one more reason to reject perfect being command theory in favor of strange powerful creature command theory. Fair enough, my point here is simply that Harrison’s claim about the existence of a double-standard is unwarranted.

 
10

To put my point a bit more technically, the horrendous deeds worry is about whether the wrongness of Hitler’s deeds individually supervenes on the natural properties of those deeds whereas rather than whether moral properties globally supervene upon natural properties. For a helpful discussion of the distinction between individual and global supervenience, see McLaughlin and Bennett (2014).

 
11

What justifies this claim is an intuition in the actual world that the act in question is wrong in all possible worlds.

 
12

Harrison’s reasoning also fails to establish the weaker claim that the torture is wrong in every possible world that is naturalistically identical with the nearest world in which the torture occurs, since all such worlds will also be devoid of intuitions that the torture is wrong.

 
13

More precisely (and pedantically), at least sometimes, that an action instantiates the moral properties that it does is completely caused by the fact that the action instantiates the natural properties that it does.

 
14

For discussion of this idea, see Wielenberg (2014, 18-21).

 
15

Harrison advances some alleged advantages of divine command theories in Sect. 6 of his paper; a proper discussion of his claims there is outside the scope of the present paper. However, for some relevant discussion from the non-naturalistic moral realist camp, see Shafer-Landau (2003, 203–9).

 
16

 I am grateful to two anonymous referees for Sophia for helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.

 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDePauw UniversityGreencastleUSA

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