, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 751–755 | Cite as

Brown on Mackie: Echoes of the Lottery Paradox

  • David Faraci


In “The possibility of morality,” Phil Brown considers whether moral error theory is best understood as a necessary or contingent thesis. Among other things, Brown contends that the argument from relativity, offered by John Mackie—error theory’s progenitor—supports a stronger modal reading of error theory. His argument is as follows: Mackie’s is an abductive argument that error theory is the best explanation for divergence in moral practices. Since error theory will likewise be the best explanation for similar divergences in possible worlds similar to our own, we may conclude that error theory is true at all such worlds, just as it is in the actual world. I contend that Brown’s argument must fail, as abductive arguments cannot support the modal conclusions he suggests. I then consider why this is the case, concluding that Brown has stumbled upon new and interesting evidence that agglomerating one’s beliefs can be epistemically problematic—an issue associated most famously with Henry Kyburg’s lottery paradox.


Abduction Error theory Lottery paradox John Mackie 


  1. Biggs, S. (2011). Abduction and modality. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 83(2), 283–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brown, P. (2011). The possibility of morality. Philosophical Studies, Online First, (accessed November 19, 2011).
  3. Coons, C. (2011). How to prove that some acts are wrong (without using substantive moral premises). Philosophical Studies, 155(1), 83–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Douven, I. (2011). Abduction. In Edward N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, Spring 2011 edition, (accessed December 5, 2011).
  5. Kyburg, H. (1961). Probability and the logic of rational belief. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Mackie, J. L. (1977). Ethics: Inventing right and wrong. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  7. Makinson, D. C. (1965). The paradox of the preface. Analysis, 25, 205–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA

Personalised recommendations