1.  How does Ruse avoid the "Naturalistic Fallacy"?


2.  Ruse's Evolutionary Account of Morality ("Altruism"):


(a)         kin selection for innate "altruism";

(b)        "reciprocal altruism"

(c)         "objective morality"


3.  What is the "gap" Ruse identifies in Rawls's social contract theory? How does Ruse close it?






1.  How does Ruse understand "metaethics"?


2.  Ruse's Claim:  Normative Ethics has no foundation.  How does Ruse support this claim?


3. What is the point of the example of Ouija board?


4.  What does Ruse mean by saying that normative ethics is "redundant"?


5.  What is Ruse’s view of the scope of ethics?

What does he mean by “intergalactic relativism”?


6.  How does Ruse disagree with Kant and Rawls?  Which philosopher is he most akin to?


7.  How does Ruse’s view resemble Mackie’s?

What does this mean:  “Your genes are a lot stronger than my words”(655)?







Ruse’s Tracking Test for Ethics (from Nozick)


Consider the belief that p. 

Tracking Test:  If p were not true, we would not believe it.


“There are very good reasons why we would believe in normative ethics whether it had independent existence or not”(653).

If our ethical beliefs were not true, would we still believe them?


Tracking is a form of sensitivity.


How might someone employ the “partners in guilt” strategy against Ruse’s conclusion?















SOBER'S SLOGAN: An explanation for why someone believes something may fail to show whether the proposition is justified, and a justification of a proposition may fail to explain why someone believes the proposition.



Two questions:


(1)        Why do people have the views they do concerning when it is morally permissible to kill?

(2)        When is killing morally permissible?




Are ethical statements ever true?





Yes                                                 No

(Ethical Objectivism)                            (Ethical                                                                      Subjectivism)



If an ethical statement is true,

is it true independently of

whether various people believe

or say it is true?




Yes                                 No

(Ethical Realism)           (Ethical Conventionalism)

                                         (Normative Relativism)













Hume's Thesis:  Purely descriptive premises cannot, by themselves, provide deductive support for an ought-conclusion.  ("A deductively valid argument for an ought-conclusion must have at least one ought-premise.")


Sober's Two-Way Extension of Hume's Thesis: 

(1) Not only can purely descriptive premises not provide deductive support for an ought-conclusion, but also purely descriptive premises cannot, by themselves, provide nondeductive support for an ought-conclusion;

(2) Not only are positive moral claims ought-conclusions, but also moral anti-realism is itself an ought-conclusion.




I.  First Formulation—Genetic Fallacy


Genetic Premise (G):  Explanation of our coming to have beliefs of kind K.

No belief of kind K is true.


Examples of Ben and Cathy.










Ben Example


(G) Ben decided that there were seventy-eight people in the room by drawing the number seventy-eight at random from an urn




It isn't true that there were seventy-eight people in the room.



G supports an Independence Claim:  The processes that determine Ben's coming to believe there were 78 people in the room are entirely independent of whether that belief is true.












Cathy Example


(G) Cathy carefully counted the people in her class and consequently believed that thirty-four people were present.




Thirty-four people were present in Cathy's class.


In this case G does not support an Independence Claim:  The processes that determine Cathy's coming to believe there were 34 people in the room are reliably related to the number of people in the room.  In this case, G supports a Dependence (or what I will refer to as a Sensitivity) Claim.











II.  Second Formulation of Ruse's Argument.


The argument has an epistemological, not a metaphysical conclusion:



Genetic Premise (G)


Independence Claim (Sober's "A"):  The processes that determine our coming to have beliefs of kind K are entirely independent of which kind K statements (if any) are true.




Epistemological Conclusion:  The beliefs of kind K that we currently have are probably false.


Harman's Argument for Moral Nihilism (Moral Anti-Realism)



The Analogy to Scientific Theories.   We believe them because they explain empirical observations.


What about Moral Theories?  Do we believe them because they explain observations?

Are there moral observations that are explained by moral theories?

Yes and no.  It depends on the sense in which we use the term "observation".















Observation1 = "an immediate judgment made in response to the situation without any conscious reasoning having taken place"(570).  Harman agrees that there are moral observations1 that are explained by moral theories.  For example, on seeing the children set the cat on fire, you immediately judge that it is wrong.  Your observation1:  The children's setting the cat on fire is wrong.


Observation2 = the psychological fact of making an observational1 judgment.  For example, the fact that, on seeing the children set the cat on fire, you immediately judged that it was wrong.  Your observation2 is:  You judged that the children's setting the cat on fire was wrong.













Harman's Thesis:  Both moral theories and scientific theories explain observations1; but only scientific theories, not moral theories, explain observations2.


The example of the proton causing a vapor trail in a cloud chamber.  In this case, the observation1 is part of the explanation of the observation2. 


This is not true of moral observations. 


"A moral [observation1] does not seem to be observational evidence for or against any moral theory, since the truth or falsity of the moral [observation1] seems to be completely irrelevant to any reasonable explanation of [the moral observation2]"(571).


"Observational evidence plays a part in science it does not appear to play in ethics, because scientific principles can be justified ultimately by their role in explaining [observations2] . . . . Apparently, moral principles cannot be justified in the same way"(521). 

What is the implicit principle in Harman's argument?





Harman's Explanationist Principle of Epistemic Rationality (EPER):  "We can have evidence for hypotheses of a certain sort only if such hypotheses sometimes help explain [observations2]"(573).  This is a principle of rational belief, related to Occam's Razor ('Don't multiply entities beyond necessity.')  It is a normative principle of to-be-believedness.


Harman agrees that this principle is too strong.  But none of the exceptions helps to make it rational to believe moral theories.  Why not?  Because all of Harman's exceptions are examples of purely descriptive theories that are reducible to other purely descriptive theories that do explain observations2. 


So Harman's Challenge is this:  How can we be justified in accepting moral theories?  He thinks there are only two alternatives, neither very promising:  That ethical theories explain observations2 or that they are reducible to theories that explain observations2. 












Harman’s test for explanatory irrelevance:

The truth of an observation1 is explanatorily independent of the truth of the corresponding observation2.


       Harman seems to be assuming that this argument supports both kinds of independence claims:















       Test for Tracking Sensitivity:  If the observation1 (O1) had been different, would the observation2 (O2) have been different?  Harman’s answer:  In the case of the proton, yes; in the case of wrongness, no.


       (1) proton example. Harman claims that if there had not been a proton in the bubble chamber (If O1 had been false) the scientist would not have believed there was one (O2 would have been false).  (Tracking Sensitivity)


       (2) cat burning example.  Harman claims that even if cat burning had not been wrong (if the observation1 had been false), the observer would still have believed that it was wrong (the observation2 would still have been true).  (No Tracking Sensitivity).  Is this true?











Test for Probabilistic Sensitivity:  What is Prob(O1/O2)—that is, the probability of O1 given O?  In the case of the proton, this probability is very high; in the case of wrongness, this probability is low (or undefined).


       (1) proton example. Harman would surely claim that the probability of there being a proton in the bubble chamber given that the scientist believes that there is one is very high.  (Probabilistic Sensitivity—analogous to the Cathy example)


       (2) cat burning example.  Harman would expect us to agree that the probability that cat-burning is objectively wrong given that the observer believes that it is wrong is low.  (Independence/No-Probabilistic Sensitivity—analogous to the Ben example).  Is this true?


       The challenge to the moral realist is to explain how our moral beliefs could be probabilistically sensitive to objective moral truths.







III. Sober’s Final Formulation of the Anti-Realist Argument (incorporating Harman):





Genetic Premise (G):  We believe the ethical statements we do because of our evolution and because of facts about our socialization.


(Independence Claim) (A):  The processes that determine what moral beliefs people have are entirely independent of which moral statements (if any) are true.




The moral beliefs we currently have are probably not true.





(Ockham's Razor)  We should deny the existence of entities and processes that are not needed to explain anything.


We do not need to postulate the existence of ethical facts to explain why people have the ethical beliefs that they do.


It is reasonable to postulate the existence of ethical facts only if that postulate is needed to explain why people have the ethical beliefs they do.




There are no ethical facts.








Sober responds to this argument with the example of the statistics professor.  What is the point of that example?



There is a problem with Sober’s response.  To see what it is, we need to modify the second part of his reconstruction of the argument (to moral anti-realism).



1.  When we know the Probabilistic Independence Claim is true for a class of beliefs K, then those beliefs cannot be used to justify anything. (Beliefs that are probably not true cannot be used to justify or explain anything.)


2. (Knowledge of the Probabilistic Independence Claim)  The Probabilistic Independence Claim is true for our ethical beliefs and we know it. 




3.  Therefore, our ethical beliefs cannot be used to justify or explain anything.


4.  (Modified Ockham's Razor)  We should deny the existence of entities or truths that cannot be used to justify or explain anything.




There are no ethical facts/truths.


Consider the example of the statistics professor again.


A moral realist response to this argument would seem to require some way of defending the probabilistic sensitivity of our moral beliefs without supposing that we can causally interact with objective moral truths.  This is a deep problem for moral realism.


What is the most promising strategy for the moral realist?  The “companions in guilt strategy”.  Ruse’s and Harman’s arguments apply to all objective normative truth.  If there are no objective normative truths about rational belief (e.g., some version of Occam’s Razor), how can they hold that rationality requires accepting the conclusion of their argument?













Sharon Street’s Argument Against Moral Realism


Structure of the Argument:


If there are evaluative (moral) truths, what is the relation between our evaluative (moral) judgments and those truths?


(1) No relation =

Sober’s (probabilistic) independence =

Talbott’s probabilistic insensitivity


(2) Tracking relation =

Sober’s (probabilistic) dependence =

Talbott’s probabilistic sensitivity


       If Talbott’s version of Sober’s argument is correct, then the moral realist must defend the tracking account (probabilistic sensitivity).  Street argues that it could not be rational to hold the tracking account, because there is an alternative, the adaptive link account, that, on explanatory grounds, is rationally superior to the tracking account.






Street’s “Happy Coincidence” Argument


If the adaptive link account is true:

       Of course it’s possible that as a matter of sheer chance, some large portion of our evaluative judgements ended up true, due to a happy coincidence between the realist’s independent evaluative truths and the evaluative directions in which natural selection tended to push us, but this would require a fluke of luck that’s not only extremely unlikely, in view of the huge universe of logically possible evaluative judgements and truths, but also astoundingly convenient to the realist. Barring such a coincidence, the only conclusion

remaining is that many or most of our evaluative judgements are off track. This is the far-fetched skeptical result that awaits any realist who takes the route of claiming that there is no relation between evolutionary influences on our evaluative judgements and independent evaluative truths(122).







The Explanatory Superiority of the Adaptive Link Account to the Tracking Account


The Three respects in which the adaptive link account

is superior to the tracking account:


(1) Parsimony

(2) Clarity

(3) Enlightenment
















A Problem for the Street’s Argument and for all Evolutionary Arguments for Normative Anti-Realism.


Evolutionary arguments are typically aimed at moral or evaluative realism.  Nothing about the arguments limits them to moral or evaluative truth.  They can easily be generalized to an argument for anti-realism about all normative truth, including norms of theoretical reason.  You should be able to go back and modify the argument so that the conclusion is:

       There are no normative truths/facts.


But there seems to be a deep incoherence in the generalized argument.  What is it?













The generalized argument explicitly employs norms of theoretical reason (e.g., the Modified Ockham’s Razor or Street’s parsimony standard) and seems to be implicitly committed to many others, because each step of the argument implicitly claims that if it is rational to accept what comes before, it is rational to accept the next step.  For example, the argument implicitly assumes that when we conclude that our normative beliefs are not probable, rationality requires us to stop believing them.  This assumes that it is not rational to believe propositions that are not probable, which is itself a normative proposition.


       Thus, each step of the argument is implicitly committed to some normative truths.  But the conclusion of the argument is that there are no normative truths.  Thus the argument is self-defeating.  This is deeply incoherent.


Both normative realism and normative anti-realism seem to face deep problems of coherence.  What does it make sense to believe?  We will return to this question at the end of the course, when we will be in a better position to answer it.