•  3113
    Conspiracy Theories and the Conventional Wisdom
    Episteme 4 (2): 219-232. 2007.
    Abstract Conspiracy theories should be neither believed nor investigated - that is the conventional wisdom. I argue that it is sometimes permissible both to investigate and to believe. Hence this is a dispute in the ethics of belief. I defend epistemic “oughts” that apply in the first instance to belief-forming strategies that are partly under our control. But the beliefforming strategy of not believing conspiracy theories would be a political disaster and the epistemic equivalent of selfmutilat…Read more
  •  2928
    Milgram, Method and Morality
    with Grant R. Gillet
    Journal of Applied Philosophy 13 (3): 233-250. 1996.
    Milgram’s experiments, subjects were induced to inflict what they believed to be electric shocks in obedience to a man in a white coat. This suggests that many of us can be persuaded to torture, and perhaps kill, another person simply on the say-so of an authority figure. But the experiments have been attacked on methodological, moral and methodologico-moral grounds. Patten argues that the subjects probably were not taken in by the charade; Bok argues that lies should not be used in research…Read more
  •  2555
    Popper revisited, or what is wrong with conspiracy theories?
    Philosophy of the Social Sciences 25 (1): 3-34. 1995.
    Conpiracy theories are widely deemed to be superstitious. Yet history appears to be littered with conspiracies successful and otherwise. (For this reason, "cock-up" theories cannot in general replace conspiracy theories, since in many cases the cock-ups are simply failed conspiracies.) Why then is it silly to suppose that historical events are sometimes due to conspiracy? The only argument available to this author is drawn from the work of the late Sir Karl Popper, who criticizes what he calls "…Read more
  •  2169
    Nihilism, Nietzsche and the Doppelganger Problem
    Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 10 (5): 441-456. 2007.
    Nihilism, Nietzsche and the Doppelganger Problem Was Nietzsche a nihilist? Yes, because, like J. L. Mackie, he was an error-theorist about morality, including the elitist morality to which he himself subscribed. But he was variously a diagnostician, an opponent and a survivor of certain other kinds of nihilism. Schacht argues that Nietzsche cannot have been an error theorist, since meta-ethical nihilism is inconsistent with the moral commitment that Nietzsche displayed. Schacht’s exegetical argu…Read more
  •  1777
    Conspiracy theories should be neither believed nor investigated - that is the conventional wisdom. I argue that it is sometimes permissible both to investigate and to believe. Hence this is a dispute in the ethics of belief. I defend epistemic ‘oughts’ that apply in the first instance to belief-forming strategies that are partly under our control. I argue that the policy of systematically doubting or disbelieving conspiracy theories would be both a political disaster and the epistemic equivalen…Read more
  •  1051
    In Peter Singer (ed.), A Companion to Ethics, Blackwell. pp. 421-431. 1991.
    Survey article on Naturalism dealing with Hume's NOFI (including Prior's objections), Moore's Naturalistic Fallacy and the Barren Tautology Argument. Naturalism, as I understand it, is a form of moral realism which rejects fundamental moral facts or properties. Thus it is opposed to both non-cognitivism, and and the error theory but also to non-naturalism. General conclusion: as of 1991: naturalism as a program has not been refuted though none of the extant versions look particularly promis…Read more
  •  971
    Bertrand Russell: Moral Philosopher or UnPhilosophical Moralist?
    In Nicholas Griffin (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell, Cambridge University Press. pp. 475-506. 2003.
    Until very recently the received wisdom on Russell’s moral philosophy was that it is uninspired and derivative, from Moore in its first phase and from Hume and the emotivists in its second. In my view this is a consensus of error. In the latter part of this essay I contend: 1) that Russell’s ‘work in moral philosophy’ had at least three, and (depending how you look at it) up to six ‘main phases’; 2) that in some of those phases, it was not derivative, but on the contrary, highly original; 3…Read more
  •  883
    Complots of Mischief
    In David Coady (ed.), Conspiracy Theories: The Philosophical Debate, Ashgate. pp. 139-166. 2006.
    In Part 1, I contend (using Coriolanus as my mouthpiece) that Keeley and Clarke have failed to show that there is anything intellectually suspect about conspiracy theories per se. Conspiracy theorists need not commit the ‘fundamental attribution error’ there is no reason to suppose that all or most conspiracy theories constitute the cores of degenerating research programs, nor does situationism - a dubious doctrine in itself - lend any support to a systematic skepticism about conspiracy theo…Read more
  •  794
    Negative truths from positive facts
    with Colin Cheyne
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy 84 (2). 2006.
    According to the truthmaker theory that we favour, all contingent truths are made true by existing facts or states of affairs. But if that is so, then it appears that we must accept the existence of the negative facts that are required to make negative truths (such as 'There is no hippopotamus in the room.') true. We deny the existence of negative facts, show how negative truths are made true by positive facts, point out where the (reluctant) advocates of negative facts (Russell, Armstrong, et a…Read more
  •  757
    Ought-implies-can: Erasmus Luther and R.m. Hare
    Sophia 29 (1): 2-30. 1990.
    l. There is an antinomy in Hare's thought between Ought-Implies-Can and No-Indicatives-from-Imperatives. It cannot be resolved by drawing a distinction between implication and entailment. 2. Luther resolved this antinomy in the l6th century, but to understand his solution, we need to understand his problem. He thought the necessity of Divine foreknowledge removed contingency from human acts, thus making it impossible for sinners to do otherwise than sin. 3. Erasmus objected (on behalf of Fre…Read more
  •  741
    Logic and the autonomy of ethics
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy 67 (2). 1989.
    My first paper on the Is/Ought issue. The young Arthur Prior endorsed the Autonomy of Ethics, in the form of Hume’s No-Ought-From-Is (NOFI) but the later Prior developed a seemingly devastating counter-argument. I defend Prior's earlier logical thesis (albeit in a modified form) against his later self. However it is important to distinguish between three versions of the Autonomy of Ethics: Ontological, Semantic and Ontological. Ontological Autonomy is the thesis that moral judgments, to be true…Read more
  •  703
    Desiring to Desire: Russell, Lewis and G.E.Moore
    In Susana Nuccetelli & Gary Seay (eds.), Themes from G.E.Moore, Oxford University Press. pp. 244-260. 2007.
    I have two aims in this paper. In §§2-4 I contend that Moore has two arguments (not one) for the view that that ‘good’ denotes a non-natural property not to be identified with the naturalistic properties of science and common sense (or, for that matter, the more exotic properties posited by metaphysicians and theologians). The first argument, the Barren Tautology Argument (or the BTA), is derived, via Sidgwick, from a long tradition of anti-naturalist polemic. But the second argument, the Ope…Read more
  •  652
    Analytic Philosophy (Alternative title 'Analytic Atheism?')
    In Stephen Bullivant & Michael Ruse (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, Oxford University Press. pp. 307-319. 2013.
    Most analytic philosophers are atheists, but is there a deep connection between analytic philosophy and atheism? The paper argues a) that the founding fathers of analytic philosophy were mostly teenage atheists before they became philosophers; b) that analytic philosophy was invented partly because it was realized that the God-substitute provided by the previously fashionable philosophy - Absolute Idealism – could not cut the spiritual mustard; c) that analytic philosophy developed an unhea…Read more
  •  626
    Anscombe on `ought'
    Philosophical Quarterly 38 (150): 20-41. 1988.
    n ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’ Anscombe argues that the moral ‘ought’ should be abandoned as the senseless survivor from a defunct conceptual scheme. I argue 1) That even if the moral ‘ought’ derives its meaning from a Divine Law conception of ethics it does not follow that it cannot sensibly survive the Death of God. 2) That anyway Anscombe is mistaken since ancestors of the emphatic moral ‘ought’ predate the system of Christian Divine Law from which the moral ‘ought’ supposedly derives its …Read more
  •  577
    Geach on `good'
    Philosophical Quarterly 40 (159): 129-154. 1990.
    In his celebrated 'Good and Evil' (l956) Professor Geach argues as against the non-naturalists that ‘good’ is attributive and that the predicative 'good', as used by Moore, is senseless.. 'Good' when properly used is attributive. 'There is no such thing as being just good or bad, [that is, no predicative 'good'] there is only being a good or bad so and so'. On the other hand, Geach insists, as against non-cognitivists, that good-judgments are entirely 'descriptive'. By a consideration of what …Read more
  •  531
    Identifying Goodness
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (1). 2012.
    The paper reconstructs Moore's Open Question Argument (OQA) and discusses its rise and fall. There are three basic objections to the OQA: Geach's point, that Moore presupposes that ?good? is a predicative adjective (whereas it is in fact attributive); Lewy's point, that it leads straight to the Paradox of Analysis; and Durrant's point that even if 'good' is not synonymous with any naturalistic predicate, goodness might be synthetically identical with a naturalistic property. As against Geach, I …Read more
  •  528
    Bertrand Russell: Meta-ethical pioneer
    Philosophy of the Social Sciences 26 (2): 181-204. 1996.
    Bertrand Russell was a meta-ethical pioneer, the original inventor of both emotivism and the error theory. Why, having abandoned emotivism for the error theory, did he switch back to emotivism in the 1920s? Perhaps he did not relish the thought that as a moralist he was a professional hypocrite. In addition, Russell's version of the error theory suffers from severe defects. He commits the naturalistic fallacy and runs afoul of his own and Moore's arguments against subjectivism. These defects cou…Read more
  •  490
    Gerhard Schurz, The Is-Ought Problem: An Investigation in Philosophical Logic
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy 79 (4): 578-579. 2001.
    Book Information The Is-Ought Problem: An Investigation in Philosophical Logic. By Gerhard Schurz. Kluwer. Dordrecht. 1997. Pp. x + 332. £92.25.
  •  484
    Spread Worlds, Plenitude and Modal Realism: A Problem for David Lewis
    with Rebecca E. B. Entwisle
    In James Maclaurin (ed.), Rationis Defensor, . 2012.
    In his metaphysical summa of 1986, The Plurality of Worlds, David Lewis famously defends a doctrine he calls ‘modal realism’, the idea that to account for the fact that some things are possible and some things are necessary we must postulate an infinity possible worlds, concrete entities like our own universe, but cut off from us in space and time. Possible worlds are required to account for the facts of modality without assuming that modality is primitive – that there are irreducibly modal fact…Read more
  •  471
    Comments on 'Hume's Master Argument'
    In Hume on Is and Ought, Palgrave-macmillan. pp. 128-142. 2010.
    This is a commentary on Adrian Heathcote’s interesting paper ‘Hume’s Master Argument’. Heathcote contends that No-Ought-From-Is is primarily a logical thesis, a ban on Is/Ought inferences which Hume derives from the logic of Ockham. NOFI is thus a variation on what Heathcote calls ‘Hume’s Master Argument’, which he also deploys to prove that conclusions about the future (and therefore a-temporal generalizations) cannot be derived by reason from premises about the past, and that conclusions abou…Read more
  •  467
    I argue that No-Ought-From-Is (in the sense that I believe it) is a relatively trivial affair. Of course, when people try to derive substantive or non-vacuous moral conclusions from non-moral premises, they are making a mistake. But No-Non-Vacuous-Ought-From-Is is meta-ethically inert. It tells us nothing about the nature of the moral concepts. It neither refutes naturalism nor supports non-cognitivism. And this is not very surprising since it is merely an instance of an updated version of the c…Read more
  •  455
    A 'Sensible Knave'? Hume, Jane Austen and Mr Elliot
    Intellectual History Review 22 (3): 465-480. 2012.
    This paper deals with what I take to be one woman’s literary response to a philosophical problem. The woman is Jane Austen, the problem is the rationality of Hume’s ‘sensible knave’, and Austen’s response is to deepen the problem. Despite his enthusiasm for virtue, Hume reluctantly concedes in the EPM that injustice can be a rational strategy for ‘sensible knaves’, intelligent but selfish agents who feel no aversion towards thoughts of villainy or baseness. Austen agrees, but adds that ABSENT CO…Read more
  •  451
    Hume, motivation and “the moral problem”
    Rivista di Storia Della Filosofia 62 (3): 199-221. 2007.
    Hume is widely regarded as the grandfather of emotivism and indeed of non-cognitivism in general. For the chief argument for emotivism - the Argument from Motivation - is derived from him. In my opinion Hume was not an emotivist or proto-emotivist but a moral realist in the modern ‘response-dependent’ style. But my interest in this paper is not the historical Hume but the Hume of legend since the legendary Hume is one of the most influential philosophers of the present age. According to Micha…Read more
  •  391
    Taking my cue from Michael Smith, I try to extract a decent argument for non-cognitivism from the text of the Treatise. I argue that the premises are false and that the whole thing rests on a petitio principi. I then re-jig the argument so as to support that conclusion that Hume actually believed (namely that an action is virtuous if it would excite the approbation of a suitably qualified spectator). This argument too rests on false premises and a begged question. Thus the Motivation Argument fa…Read more
  •  355
    Hume seems to contend that you can’t get an ought from an is. Searle professed to prove otherwise, deriving a conclusion about obligations from a premise about promises. Since (as Schurz and I have shown) you can’t derive a substantive ought from an is by logic alone, Searle is best construed as claiming that there are analytic bridge principles linking premises about promises to conclusions about obligations. But we can no more derive a moral obligation to pay up from the fact that a promise …Read more
  •  341
    Frank Snare had a puzzle. Noncognitivism implies No-Ought-From-Is but No- Ought-From-Is does not imply non-cognitivism. How then can we derive non-cognitivism from No-Ought-From-Is? Via an abductive argument. If we combine non-cognitivism with the conservativeness of logic (the idea that in a valid argument the conclusion is contained in the premises), this implies No-Ought-From-Is. Hence if No-Ought-From-Is is true, we can arrive at non-cognitivism via an inference to the best explanation. Wit…Read more
  •  319
    This paper is a critique of coercive theories of meaning, that is, theories (or criteria) of meaning designed to do down ones opponents by representing their views as meaningless or unintelligible. Many philosophers from Hobbes through Berkeley and Hume to the pragmatists, the logical positivists and (above all) Wittgenstein have devised such theories and criteria in order to discredit their opponents. I argue 1) that such theories and criteria are morally obnoxious, a) because they smack of…Read more
  •  310
    This is a response to Stephen Maitzen’s paper. ‘Moral Conclusions from Nonmoral Premises’. Maitzen thinks that No-Ought-From-Is is false. He does not dispute the formal proofs of Schurz and myself, but he thinks they are beside the point. For what the proponents of No-Ought-From-Is need to show is not that you cannot get SUBSTANTIVELY moral conclusions from FORMALLY non-moral premises but that you cannot get SUBSTANTIVELY moral conclusions from SUBSTANTIVELY non-moral premises. And he believe…Read more
  •  303
    This includes a methodological meditation (in blank verse) on the history of philosophy as a contribution to philosophy (rather than as a contribution to history) plus a conspectus of the issues surrounding Hume, the Motivation Argument and the Slavery of Reason Thesis. However I am posting it here mainly because it contains a novel restatement of the Argument from Queerness. Big Thesis: the Slavery of Reason Thesis (via the Motivation Argument) provides no support for non-cognitivism or emoti…Read more
  •  291
    Review of Why be Moral? : The Egoistic Challenge by John van Ingen (review)
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74 (4). 1996.
    Van Ingen's aim aim is to vindicate the moral life by mounting and then meeting a powerful challenge. But he makes it so easy to be moral - it is enough to care about one other person - and so tough to be amoral - it involves being absolutely selfish - that his challenge is no challenge at all. It's not much of a vindication of morality if the morality you vindicate makes Tony Soprano a moral person