Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Conference Information

We're going to try and use the department blog to share upcoming calls for papers and conferences that would be of interest to our grad students at WMU. Here's the first shot.

Metaethics Workshop at University of Wisconsin--Madison
We'd like to see how many WMU grad students would be interested in attending a philosophy workshop on metaethics. Don't brush this off if you're not into ethics. Metaethics delves into issues that coincide with metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and several other philosophical interests. Since this conference is within driving distance, this conference is accessible for our department. Plus, this conference features some of the best philosophers in metaethics explaining the cutting edge material. The dates for the conference cover Sept 16-18, 2005. It would be great to get a group of grad students to attend this event. [FOR MORE DETAILS CLICK HERE.]

I'm interested in attending. If others (from WMU) are interested, send me an e-mail or post a comment to this blog-post.

UPDATE: I've been told that there is no conference fee, and that we are in the works of putting together a way to house grad students for free. Also, some of our professors are planning to attend (e.g., Fritz Allhoff), which means they can help introduce us to other people in the field. Now, you have no excuse for not attending.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Thomas Reid's Argument against Moral Non-Cognitivism

In Thomas Reid's Essays on the Active Powers of Man, he presents a compelling argument against Hume's moral theory. As I understand Reid's criticism of Hume, this argument may have some relevance on contemporary ethics regarding whether moral claims are cognitive or non-cognitive (if unfamiliar with this issue read this). Reid argues that moral claims must have a cognitive basis. Reid's argument is essential linguistic. He compares the following two claims:
(1) “That man did well and worthily, his conduct is highly approvable”

(2) “The man’s conduct gave me a very agreeable feeling.”
If moral non-cognitivism is true, then these two statements should mean the same thing. But Reid points out that these two statements do not mean the same thing. Reid explains, “The first expresses plainly an opinion or judgment of the conduct of the man, but says nothing of the speaker. The second only testifies a fact concerning the speaker—to wit, that he had such a feeling.”

Reid extends his argument by showing that the contradictories of (1) and (2) also have different meanings, which reinforces his point that (1) and (2) have different meanings. When people hold contradictories over (1), they have a disagreement over a judgment. Whereas when people disagree concerning (2), this results in a personal affront. “[F]or, as every man must know his own feelings,” writes Reid, “to deny that a man had a feeling which affirms he had, is to charge him with falsehood.”

I believe Reid's strategy is instructive. The burden rests on non-cognitivists to find a plausible harmonization of (1) and (2), or to show that (1) is meaningless. Since I find neither of these solutions plausible, I believe Reid's criticism demonstrates a key problem with moral non-cognitivism.