Advertisement

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 10, Issue 5, pp 499–513 | Cite as

Abolishing Morality

  • Richard GarnerEmail author
Article

Abstract

Moral anti-realism comes in two forms – noncognitivism and the error theory. The noncognitivist says that when we make moral judgments we aren’t even trying to state moral facts. The error theorist says that when we make moral judgments we are making statements about what is objectively good, bad, right, or wrong but, since there are no moral facts, our moral judgments are uniformly false. This development of moral anti-realism was first seriously defended by John Mackie. In this paper I explore a dispute among moral error theorists about how to deal with false moral judgments. The advice of the moral abolitionist is to stop making moral judgments, but the contrary advice of the moral fictionalist is to retain moral language and moral thinking. After clarifying the choice that arises for the moral error theorist, I argue that moral abolitionism has much to recommend it. I discuss Mackie’s defense of moral fictionalism as well as a recent version of the same position offered by Daniel Nolan, Greg Restall, and Caroline West. Then I second some remarks Ian Hinckfuss made in his defense of moral abolitionism and his criticism of “the moral society.” One of the worst things about moral fictionalism is that it undermines our epistemology by promoting a culture of deception. To deal with this problem Richard Joyce offers a “non-assertive” version of moral fictionalism as perhaps the last option for an error theorist who hopes to avoid moral abolitionism. I discuss some of the problems facing that form of moral fictionalism, offer some further reasons for adopting moral abolitionism in our personal lives, and conclude with reasons for thinking that abolishing morality may be an essential step in achieving the goals well-meaning moralists and moral fictionalists have always cherished.

Keywords

Ethics John Mackie Metaethics Moral abolitionism Moral anti-realism Moral fictionalism Morality The error theory 

References

  1. Ayer AJ (1952) Language, truth and logic. Dover, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Blackburn S (1993) Errors and the phenomenology of value. In: Blackburn S (ed) Essays in quasi-realism. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 149–165Google Scholar
  3. Blackburn S (1998) Ruling passions. Clarendon, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  4. Hinckfuss I (1987) The moral society: its structure and effects. Discussion papers in environmental philosophy. Australian National University, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  5. Joyce R (2001) The myth of morality. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  6. Joyce R (2006) The evolution of morality. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  7. Lycan W (1985) Moral facts and moral knowledge. South J Philos 24:79–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Mackie J (1977) Ethics: Inventing right and wrong. Penguin Books, HarmondsworthGoogle Scholar
  9. Mackie J (1980) Hume’s moral theory. Routledge and Kegan Paul, LondonGoogle Scholar
  10. Nolan D, Restall G, West C (2005) Moral fictionalism versus the rest. Australas J Philos 83:307–330CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

Personalised recommendations