Res Publica

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 283–301 | Cite as

Naturalistic Moral Realism and Moral Disagreement: David Copp’s Account

  • Mark Hanin
Winner of the 2011 Postgraduate Essay Prize


To enhance the plausibility of naturalistic moral realism, David Copp develops an argument from epistemic defeaters aiming to show that strongly a priori synthetic moral truths do not exist. In making a case for the non-naturalistic position, I locate Copp’s account within the wider literature on peer disagreement; I identify key points of divergence between Copp’s doctrine and conciliatorist doctrines; I introduce the notion of ‘minimal moral competence’; I contend that some plausible benchmarks for minimal moral competence are grounded in substantive moral considerations; and I discuss two forms of spinelessness that Copp’s moral naturalism could result in.


Moral naturalism Moral non-naturalism Moral disagreement David Copp Naturalizing ethics Minimal moral competence Conciliatorism Ethical anti-Archimedeanism 



I am grateful to Robert Audi, David Christensen, Frank Jackson, Matthew Kramer, Gerald Lang, Hallvard Lillehammer, and an anonymous referee for Res Publica for helpful comments.


  1. Audi, Robert. 2000. Philosophical naturalism at the turn of the century. Journal of Philosophical Research 25: 27–45.Google Scholar
  2. Audi, Robert. 2011. The ethics of belief and the morality of action: Intellectual responsibility and rational disagreement. Philosophy 86: 5–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blackburn, Simon. 1984. Supervenience revisited. In Exercises in analysis: Essays by students of Casimir Lewy, ed. Ian Hacking, 47–67. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Christensen, David. 2007a. Does Murphy’s Law apply? In Oxford studies in epistemology, vol. 2, eds. Tamar Szabó Gendler and John Hawthorne, 3–31. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Christensen, David. 2007b. Epistemology of disagreement: The good news. Philosophical Review 116: 187–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Christensen, David. 2009. Disagreement as evidence: The epistemology of controversy. Philosophical Compass 4: 756–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Christensen, David. 2011. Disagreement, question-begging and epistemic self-criticism. Philosophers’ Imprint 11: 1–22.Google Scholar
  8. Copp, David. 2007a. Moral naturalism and self-evident moral truths. In Morality in a natural world: Selected essays in metaethics, 93–112. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Copp, David. 2007b. Why naturalism? In Morality in a natural world: Selected essays in metaethics, 33–54. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Dancy, Jonathan. 2005. Ethical non-naturalism. In The Oxford handbook of ethical theory, ed. David Copp, 112–145. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Dworkin, Ronald. 1996. Objectivity and truth: You’d better believe it. Philosophy and Public Affairs 25: 87–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dworkin, Ronald. 2011. Justice for hedgehogs. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Elga, Adam. 2007. Reflection and disagreement. Noûs 41: 478–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Enoch, David. 2010. Not just a truthometer: Taking oneself seriously (but not too seriously) in cases of peer disagreement. Mind 119: 953–997.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Enoch, David. 2011. Taking morality seriously: A defense of robust realism. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fantl, Jeremy. 2006. Is metaethics morally neutral? Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 87: 24–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Field, Hartry. 2000. A priority as an evaluative notion. In New essays on the a priori, ed. Paul Boghossian, and Christopher Peacocke, 117–149. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  18. Frances, Brain. 2010. The reflective epistemic renegade. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 81: 419–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Harman, Gilbert. 1977. The nature of morality: An introduction to ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Horgan, Terence, and Mark Timmons. 1991. New wave moral realism meets moral twin earth. Journal of Philosophical Research 16: 447–465.Google Scholar
  21. Jackson, Frank. 1998. From metaphysics to ethics: A defence of conceptual analysis. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  22. Kelly, Thomas. 2005. Moorean facts and belief revision, or can the skeptic win? Philosophical Perspectives 19: 179–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kelly, Thomas. forthcoming. Disagreement and the burdens of judgment. In The epistemology of disagreement: New essays, eds. David Christensen and Jennifer Lackey. Oxford: Oxford University Press (forthcoming) (
  24. Killoren, David. 2010. Moral intuitions, reliability, and disagreement. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 4: 1–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kramer, Matthew. 2009. Moral realism as a moral doctrine. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lackey, Jennifer. 2010. A justificationist view of disagreement’s epistemic significance. In Social epistemology, eds. Adrian Haddock, Alan Millar, and Duncan Pritchard, 298–325. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Mackie, J.L. 1977. Ethics: Inventing right and wrong. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  28. McPherson, Tristram. 2009. Moorean arguments and moral revisionism. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 3: 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Shafer-Landau, Russ. 2009. A defence of categorical reasons. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 109(pt. 2): 189–206.Google Scholar
  30. Sosa, Ernest. 2010. The epistemology of disagreement. In Social epistemology, eds. Adrian Haddock, Alan Millar, and Duncan Pritchard, 278–297. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Timmons, Mark. 1999. Morality without foundations: A defense of ethical contextualism. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Wedgwood, Ralph. 2010. The moral evil demons. In Disagreement, eds. Richard Feldman and Ted A. Warfield, 216–246. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Churchill CollegeCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations