Impartiality and Realism: Reply to Mancuso


In Chapter 2 of Taking Morality Seriously, I put forward an argument for morality's objectivity that is based on the (purported) first-order implications of denying such objectivity. In her contribution to this volume, Mancuso criticizes that argument. This paper is a response to some of her main points.

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  1. 1.

    This point is relevant also to the way Mancuso puts the assumption she attributes to me and calls MORAL NEED. She phrases it in terms of the requirement that our metaethical theory vindicate our moral practices and beliefs. But this is not how I think of it. Rather, I think of things here too in this more holistic way. Other things being equal, a theory that vindicates our first-order convictions (or any other convictions of ours, for that matter) is more plausible.

  2. 2.

    Over the years I have come to realize that talk of gaining and losing plausibility points—meant as a harmless metaphor for the considerations in virtue of which a theory is rendered more or less plausible—encourages a kind of a pragmatic reading. We’re bargaining, it seems, and there’s nothing more pragmatic than bargaining. So I want to emphasize that the project here is entirely theoretical: the virtues that are relevant in assigning and tallying plausibility points are all theoretical virtues, they are the qualities that make a theory better as a theory. Sometimes Mancuso seems to think that more is at stake—as if it counts against the truth of a theory if it has harmful effects in the world (like undermining our confidence in things it’s important to be confident in). But I don’t think that such instrumental considerations give us epistemic reasons to accept or reject a theory. (They may give us practical reasons not to publish a paper putting forward the theory, for instance; but this is different).

  3. 3.

    The now-already-quite-large literature on peer disagreement deals with such worries. It shouldn’t be surprising that that literature too does not seem to be nearing a consensus.

  4. 4.

    It is perhaps worth noting that there’s really nothing special going on here. If there is a problem with this attempt to “clean-up” cases, the problem applies much, much more widely than just to my argument. Perhaps—I am not sure—Mancuso is happy to accept this result.

  5. 5.

    And also—if it is not as good, how less good is it; or in other words, even if Mancuso concedes that the non-objectivist loses plausibility points here, she can still insist that he doesn’t lose all that many.

  6. 6.

    The point in the text is, I think, a particular instance of the familiar phenomenon that while it’s very easy to be an objectivist “all the way up” (that is, to be an objectivist about a discourse or a domain, and also an objectivist about one’s objectivism about it, and also an objectivist about this second-order objectivity, …), it’s exceedingly hard to formulate even merely a coherent non-objectivist theory that’s non-objectivist “all the way up” (rejecting the objective correctness of one’s rejection of objectivity seems to undermine it, at least to an extent).

  7. 7.

    I comment on the ways in which moral facts are grounded in natural ones in a manuscript provisionally entitled “How Principles Ground”. There I do not, however, comment on the point in the text about the relative depth of metaphysical and normative explanations.


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  3. Mancuso G (2017) Enoch’s “taking-morality-seriously thought” unpacked and at work in the argument from impartiality. Topoi. doi:10.1007/s11245-016-9449-1

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Correspondence to David Enoch.

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Enoch, D. Impartiality and Realism: Reply to Mancuso. Topoi 37, 603–606 (2018).

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  • Objectivity
  • Moral realism
  • Impartiality
  • Moral explanations