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'MORAL TRUTH', GILA SHER: A SPECIAL ISSUE WITH INVITED AND SOLICITED COMMENTARIES
Australasian Philosophical Review 7.4 (coming end of 2023)
Curator: Joseph Ulatowski Curatorial team: Aaron Griffith, David Kashtan, & Cory Wright
The topic of moral truth poses challenges both to philosophers of truth and to moral philosophers. The easy response to these challenges is to take the deflationist route. By deflating truth, deflationists deflate the challenges posed by moral truth. But in deflating these challenges deflationists give up the opportunity to investigate important questions concerning truth and morality, including such topical questions as the impact of post-truth mindset on the moral fabric of society. It is left, then, for substantivist theorists of truth to take on these challenges.
In this paper I propose a new, substantivist correspondence theory of moral truth that differs from traditional correspondence theories in two ways. First, it focuses not on the language of morality but on the objectivity of moral values. Second: it rejects the common conception of correspondence as overly rigid, naïve, simplistic, and monolithic. Instead, it appeals to a fine-grained and context-sensitive conception. To figure out what pattern correspondence takes in the moral domain we probe this domain itself to see what elements in it correlate with truth and how they are correlated. Truth in the moral domain, I will argue, is correlation (correspondence, connection) between moral claims and moral values. These values are introduced into the world by human civilization, but like many things introduced into the world by our civilization, are real and objective, in a nonrelativist and nonmysterious manner, worked out in the paper. The account avoids many of the objections to moral correspondence (including Mackie’s) and has considerable explanatory power. For example, it explains the breakdown of morality in post-truth societies as due to a disconnect between moral claims and moral values, i.e., as due to a
breakdown of moral-correspondence.
WHY FACTS MATTER (coming end of 2019)
The aim of this project is to explore how the abundance of information in different domains of linguistic discourse forces us to reconceive what a fact is. Cropping up from an appreciation of facts at the level of discourse—one that relies upon them being multiply realisable—is a pluralistic theory of facts. One that may be compared with a form of pluralism about truth (cf. Lynch 1998, 2009; Pedersen and C.D. Wright 2016; Ulatowski 2017). Whilst arguments for theoretical accounts have been suitable for logical and philosophical purposes, there is little understanding of how these bear on the non-philosopher’s conception of facts. For pluralists, truth consists in one property in certain domains (e.g., correspondence to fact in ornithography and acoustics), but other properties in other domains (e.g., constructive proof in mathematics, coherence in jurisprudence or politics). Such a view might therefore seem to offer a natural way to understand alternative facts. In the proposed book, I consider whether a commitment to alternative facts licences the concept of pluralism about truth. After discussing the nature of alternative facts, I argue that there is no entailment in either direction: advocates of the broadly coherentist picture of alternative facts will find no academic quarter among pluralists. Facts matter not so much as being vehicles of accurate information than as being evident to a general audience, and the wider that audience the greater the impact facts have upon enriching our daily lives.
INTRODUCTORY LOGIC (.pdf), WITH STEPHANIE GIBBONS (coming middle of 2020)
This is an introductory workbook for symbolic logic, from propositional logic to predicate logic.
VERISIMILITUDE IN THE LVOV-WARSAW SCHOOL (.docx | .pdf)
The Lvov-Warsaw School’s logistic anti-irrationalism, especially as it has been examined in the works of Kazimierz Ajdukiewicz, Izydora Dąmbska, and Jan Woleński, offered an intellectually distinct alternative to the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle. However, the Lvov-Warsaw School’s attempt to critique the Franco-German currents of mysticism and romanticism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially in the works of Henri Bergson, open it up to the question of whether its members fully appreciated the consequences of accepting that rational cognition is abstract and schematic. We argue that the abstract nature of rational cognition provides reasons to countenance approximate truth; but doing so seems to put the goal of knowledge out of reach. The consequences of these arguments seem not to have been anticipated in the works of Ajdukiewicz, Dąmbska, or Woleński, and point to a new direction for research about the achievability of certain ambitious goals of the Lvov- Warsaw School’s logistic anti-irrationalism.
TWO OUGHTS OF FORRESTER'S PARADOX (.docx | .pdf)
If Smith commits murder, he should do so gently. Suppose then that Smith commits murder. He should do so gently. From "Smith should do A" it logically follows that he should do anything logically implied by A. Smith's murdering gently entails his committing murder. Thus, Smith should commit murder. Since a rule stipulates that Smith should not murder Jones, Smith both should and should not murder Jones. This paper will attempt to present a viable solution to Forrester's paradox. I will argue that the different functions of two deontic operators show that the contradiction cannot possibly follow.
THE PRAGMATIC CONCEPTION OF TRUTH AND PRACTICAL RESULTS, WITH ROBERT BARNARD (.docx | .pdf)
Pragmatism about truth, like other truth-theories, has claimed to represent a commonsense or ordinary person’s approach to truth. If truth-theorists are correct, then the pragmatic view is both a necessary and sufficient condition for that claim to be true. In this paper, we employ empirical methods to assess whether the truth-theorist’s rendering of pragmatism about truth is operative at the commonsense or ordinary non-philosopher's level. Our findings suggest that ordinary people generally agree with the claim that beliefs are useful in virtue of being true, but broadly reject the claim that beliefs are true in virtue of being useful. We conclude that if pragmatism about truth is supposed to reflect a pre-theoretic folk concept, then it seems in light of the essential asymmetry derived from our experimental data that pragmatists have failed to fully appreciate the complex nature of the ordinary person’s notion of truth.
JUST THE FACTS: EVIDENCE AND THE ORDINARY NOTION OF TRUTH, WITH ROBERT BARNARD (.docx | .pdf)
Evidentialist or antirealist theories of truth maintain that there is an epistemic constraint on truth. We empirically assess commitment to the claim that evidence is necessary for truth. Our results suggest that: women, more so than men, require that evidence play a role in judgments about truth. This result has important implications for debates about the nature of truth, the relation between philosophical theories of truth and the ordinary person’s conception of truth, and indirectly for the analysis of knowledge.
LINGUISTIC DIFFUSION AND THE QUINE-SAINSBURY PROBLEM (.docx | .pdf)
The scope problem motivating pluralism about truth has been subject to tremendous scrutiny recently. If the criticism is correct, then there is no incentive to pursue truth pluralism. In this paper, I will argue that closely related to the scope problem is the scalar problem. If the property of truth is sensitive to how an agent expresses the truth predicate within a discourse and different agents or groups of agents express truth differently, then this represents different ways of being true.
IS HORWICH'S ALETHIC MINIMALISM INTUITIVE? (.docx | .pdf)
Deflationary accounts have argued that truth is entirely captured by its triviality. By calling upon experimental work, I show that an empirically adequate view is compatible with minimalism about truth. Contrary to popular belief, the empirical data reveal that the ‘correspondence intuition’ is not the most widely accepted. There are various ways in which non-philosophers and philosophers talk about truth. These appear in the empirical data, with some data compatible with alethic minimalism. In response, I argue that there is scant empirical evidence suggesting that an intuitive notion of truth among non-philosophers is singular and monolithic but rather is variable and fragmented that proponents of alethic minimalism had anticipated.
THE EMPIRICAL ADEQUACY OF THE PROSENTENTIAL THEORY OF TRUTH (.docx | .pdf)
According to the prosentential theory of truth, we substitute a prosentence, e.g., ‘that’s true’, for the truth predicate, ‘… is true’, a pro-form forming operator, such that the putative inter-linguistic word-world relation may be replaced with a purely expressive intra-linguistic word-word relation. Since the semantic content of anaphoric antecedents and prosentences presume a relation between a proposition and the world, these truth conditions turn out to be genuine language-independent properties. In this paper, I argue that there is a reasonable amount of data collected that suggests a practical version of the prosentential theory of truth is empirically adequate. The data show not only that the prosentential theory of truth is present among non-philosophers but also that other deflationary and inflationary theories are present, too. This implies that if we seek a commonsense theory of truth, then we have good reason to accept the more inclusive view of endoxic alethic pluralism.
PHILOSOPHY OF ACTION
THE MYSTERY MACHINE: HOW VIRTUES AND NARRATIVES CAUSE ACTION, WITH DAVID LUMSDEN (.docx | .pdf)
Just as virtues can be considered to play a causal role in the production of behaviour, so too can our self-narratives. We wish to raise an issue about this causal role that applies in both cases. A causal theory of action explains action in folk theoretic terms, as a consequence of the appropriate pair of beliefs and desires (reasons), but when it comes to the explanatory power of reasons as causes of action we are led to consider their underlying physiological basis. Alas, we have come to expect there to be no smooth shift from the folk-theoretic level of description to the scientific enterprise. For a reason to cause an action, it needs to exemplify a law of nature, which are available only at the level of physical description. Here we are confronted by a junction between the scientific and manifest images of human activity. On Chomsky’s view, the causation of human behaviour is likely to remain beyond human science forming capacities such that the causal process remains a mystery. Even assuming that the causation of actions by virtues is never going to be fully explained in a scientifically rigorous way, there is still room to develop our understanding of the structure of causally efficacious virtues. Similarly, while the underlying causal power of narratives may remain steeped in mystery their nature and structure can still be usefully explored and, in particular, their effect on action becomes more plausible if we consider a segmented narrative structure.
COMMITMENT IN PRACTICAL EMPIRICISM (.docx | .pdf)
Elijah Millgram has argued that experience, or backward-directed commitments, matters most for figuring out what to do and is a useful guide for action. His argument has assumed that experiential beliefs are rock-bottom, where we need go no further than rock-bottom beliefs to start along the practical inferential chain. In this paper, I want to challenge Millgram’s adoption of experiential beliefs as rock-bottom. What I will argue here is that experiential beliefs depend upon our commitment to them, and our commitment to them is not experiential. If our commitment is not something that bottoms out in experience, then it is an antecedent condition, and not the experiential belief itself, that is rock-bottom. So, experiential beliefs are not rock-bottom; something antecedent to experiential beliefs are.
THE TEDIUM OF IMMORTALITY AND THE EXHAUSTION OF SCIENCE - WITH DAVID BEISECKER (.docx | .pdf)
Responding to Bernard Williams’ (1973) argument that the Makropulos case shows a body-bound immortal life would be chronically boring, Donald Bruckner (2012) has argued that human ingenuity would continually open up new paths of inquiry and expression, and thus relieve Makropulos-like immortals from insufferable tedium. In this paper, we argue that body-bound immortality still could be chronically boring because we might reach a point at which efforts to engage in future inquiry is pointless. If those suspicions prove correct, then Bruckner’s argument from human ingenuity might be overly optimistic.
MISSING IN ACTION: EXPOSING THE MORAL FAILURE OF UNIVERSITIES THAT DESERT RESEARCHERS FACING COURT-ORDERED DISCLOSURE OF CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION, WITH RUTH WALKER. (.docx | .pdf)
A cardinal rule of academic research with human participants is to protect their confidentiality. While there are limits to confidentiality, universities and researchers will make strenuous efforts to protect the identity of participants. This is especially important where they are at risk of serious harm if confidentiality is breached. Yet, some researchers doing highly sensitive research have found themselves impaled on the horns of a dilemma because of attempts by government authorities to force them to disclose participants’ information. Promises of confidentiality by the researcher are made either “to the extent the law allows” (a “law of the land” approach) or are unconditional (an “ethics first” approach). While the former approach is honest, it may jeopardize participants’ confidentiality because it concedes the possibility of forced disclosure of information. The latter approach, while dishonest because it is not within researcher’s power to offer that safeguard, may actually protect participants from such disclosures. Whatever the researcher chooses, the outcome will be unpredictable since there is no class privilege protecting the relationship between researcher and participant. University regulations require scholars to conduct research ethically in accordance with specific conditions set by bodies such as Institutional Review Boards or Human Ethics Committees following an extensive application process. If academic staff have fulfilled these conditions, what obligations do universities have toward them? We argue that in the absence of a class privilege universities have a stringent ethical obligation to proscribe forced disclosures by their academic staff.
ON RESPECTING VALUABLE INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE, WITH PEPE LEE CHANG, ET AL. (.docx | .pdf)
Multinational corporations (MNCs) have a financial incentive to patent and capitalize on culturally specific knowledge developed by indigenous populations when doing so leads to a competitive advantage. However, it is often the case MNCs that pursue this end risk violating the intrinsic moral worth of the indigenous population. We offer a solution to this problem by applying Thomas Donaldson and Thomas Dunfee’s “core human values” as a way that MNCs can ensure they treat the indigenous population as intrinsically valuable persons. Our aim is to provide an ethical framework for profit driven MNCs and to help them minimise the occurrence of morally problematic situations that violate the moral worth and affect the well-being of the indigenous population that actually discovered and developed the valuable indigenous knowledge.