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Arpaly, Nomy, , . Unprincipled Virtue: An Inquiry Into Moral Agency
2002, Oxford University Press.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Nomy Arpaly

Publisher’s Note: Nomy Arpaly rejects the model of rationality used by most ethicists and action theorists. Both observation and psychology indicate that people act rationally without deliberation, and act irrationally with deliberation. By questioning the notion that our own minds are comprehensible to us–and therefore questioning much of the current work of action theorists and ethicists–Arpaly attempts to develop a more realistic conception of moral agency.

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Bar-On, Dorit, , James Sias. Varieties of Expressivism
2013, Philosophy Compass 8(8): 699-713.
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Abstract: After offering a characterization of what unites versions of ‘expressivism’, we highlight a number of dimensions along which expressivist views should be distinguished. We then separate four theses often associated with expressivism – a positive expressivist thesis, a positive constitutivist thesis, a negative ontological thesis, and a negative semantic thesis – and describe how traditional expressivists have attempted to incorporate them. We argue that expressivism in its traditional form may be fatally flawed, but that expressivists nonetheless have the resources for preserving what is essential to their view. These resources comprise a re-configuring of expressivism, the result of which is the view we call ‘neo-expressivism’. After illustrating how the neo-expressivist model works in the case of avowals and ethical claims, we explain how it avoids the problems of traditional expressivism.

Comment: This paper provides a clear discussion of the core principles of expressivism. Moreover, it engages with classic objections (e.g. the Frege-Geach problem) and develops the neo-expressivist proposal as a response. It is an accessible starting point for neo-expressivism and as such both suitable for meta-ethics and epistemology courses discussing expressivist positions.

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Bar-On, Dorit and Matthew Chrisman, , . Ethical Neo-Expressivism
2009, In Shafter-Landau, R. (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. 4: 132-64. New York: Oxford University Press.
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Abstract: A standard way to explain the connection between ethical claims and motivation is to say that these claims express motivational attitudes. Unless this connection is taken to be merely a matter of contingent psychological regularity, it may seem that there are only two options for understanding it. We can either treat ethical claims as expressing propositions that one cannot believe without being at least somewhat motivated (subjectivism), or we can treat ethical claims as nonpropositional and as having their semantic content constituted by the motivational attitudes they express (noncognitivism). In this paper, we argue that there is another option, which can be recognized once we see that there is no need to build the expression relation between ethical claims and motivational states of mind into the semantic content of ethical claims.

Comment: This is a different way of incorporating what seems attractive about expressivism without losing the semantic advantages of cognitivism. It draws upon resources from the philosophy of language.

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Bromwich, Danielle, , . Motivational Internalism and the Challenge of Amoralism
2016, European Journal of Philosophy 24 (2):452-471.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Danielle Bromwich

Article: Motivational internalism is the thesis that captures the commonplace thought that moral judgements are necessarily motivationally efficacious. But this thesis appears to be in tension with another aspect of our ordinary moral experience. Proponents of the contrast thesis, motivational externalism, cite everyday examples of amoralism to demonstrate that it is conceptually possible to be completely unmoved by what seem to be sincere first-person moral judgements. This paper argues that the challenge of amoralism gives us no reason to reject or modify motivational internalism. Instead of attempting to diagnose the motivational failure of the amoral agent or restrict the internalist thesis in the face of these examples, I argue that we should critically examine the assumptions that underlie the challenge. Such an examination reveals that the examples smuggle in substantive assumptions that the internalist has no reason to accept. This argument has two important implications for the debate in moral motivation: first, it reveals that the motivational externalist needs a new argumentative strategy; and second, it shows that there is nothing especially problematic about a formulation of the thesis that captures the core internalist intuition that first-person moral judgements are necessarily accompanied by motivation.

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Foot, Philippa, , . Natural Goodness
2001, Oxford University Press.
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Added by: Anne-Marie McCallion, Contributed by:

Publisher’s Note: Philippa Foot has for many years been one of the most distinctive and influential thinkers in moral philosophy. Long dissatisfied with the moral theories of her contemporaries, she has gradually evolved a theory of her own that is radically opposed not only to emotivism and prescriptivism but also to the whole subjectivist, anti-naturalist movement deriving from David Hume. Dissatisfied with both Kantian and utilitarian ethics, she claims to have isolated a special form of evaluation that predicates goodness and defect only to living things considered as such; she finds this form of evaluation in moral judgements. Her vivid discussion covers topics such as practical rationality, erring conscience, and the relation between virtue and happiness, ending with a critique of Nietzsche’s immoralism. This long-awaited book exposes a highly original approach to moral philosophy and represents a fundamental break from the assumptions of recent debates. Foot challenges many prominent philosophical arguments and attitudes; but hers is a work full of life and feeling, written for anyone intrigued by the deepest questions about goodness and human.

Comment: This is an intermediate text which outlines and argues for the primary methodological differences between Foot’s account of the relationship between reason and morality, and the standard (broadly Humean) approach against which she is arguing. Some understanding of this standard approach is required to get the most out of this text. The text is clear throughout and would make a good compliment to courses which deal with the Humean account of Action or 20th century discussions concerning meta-ethics.

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Foot, Philippa, , . The Philosopher’s Defence of Morality
1952, Philosophy 27(103): 311-328
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Introduction: Philosophers are often asked whether they can provide a defence against hostile theories which are said to be “undermining the foundations of morality,” and they often try to do so. But before anything of this kind is attempted we should surely ask whether morality could be threatened in this way. If what people have in mind is simply that the spread of certain doctrines leads to the growth of indifference about right and wrong there is no philosophical problem involved. So long as we treat the matter as a case of cause and effect it will belong rather to the psychologist than the philosopher, and we have no reason for questioning that correlations of this kind may exist. But this is not the assumption, or not the only one, for people undoubtedly do think that if certain doctrines could be proved then moral judgment would have been shown to be “nonsensical,” “meaningless,” or “invalid,” so that thereafter it would be not merely difficult but positively irrational to formulate and attempt to follow moral principles. It would be simple enough if the attack was supposed to be against some particular moral code, for there are recognized ways of arguing that a thing is not right but wrong. But when it is morality in general which is to be disproved or discredited it is difficult to see what this means or how it could be done. What would have to be shown is not that this or that is not right, but that nothing is—or not in the old sense so that attacking moral judgment is not like attacking a theory but more like attacking theorizing itself, which shows where the difficulty lies. If something is stated it can be denied or disproved, but a moral judgment does not contain statements except about what in particular is right or wrong. Yet many people, though they would probably reject a request for a justification of morality in the form of some argument as to why we should do our duty, feel that morality would be in a positive sense unjustifiable if certain supporting truths were knocked away from the structure. This may indeed be so, but we are unable to show that it is, or to explain the matter by appealing to “presuppositions” of morality, which besides being far too vague would too easily include much that was linked merely psychologically to the recognition of obligation. I propose, therefore, to look at some specific arguments which are supposed by those who resist them to constitute a threat to morality, and to ask whether this supposition is justified.

Comment: This text offers a persuasive and creative attack on the dominant meta-ethical views of the 20th century. Foot offers insightful reasons to reject the subjectivist, relativist and amoralist positions on ethics. As such this text would be suitable for intermediate level courses on moral philosophy, history of philosophy classes as well as – potentially – critical thinking courses, as Foot’s argumentational style in this paper would likely be illuminating to students when analysed.

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Herman, Barbara, , . On the Value of Acting From the Motive of Duty
1981, Philosophical Review 90(3): 359-382.
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Abstract: Richard Henson attempts to take the sting out of this view of Kant on moral worth by arguing (i) that attending to the phenomenon of the overdetermination of actions leads one to see that Kant might have had two distinct views of moral worth, only one of which requires the absence of cooperating inclinations, and (ii) that when Kant insists that there is moral worth only when an action is done from the motive of duty alone, he need not also hold that such a state of affairs is morally better, all things considered, than one where supporting inclination is present. Henson’s proposals seem to me both serious and plausible. I do not think that either of his models, in the end, can take on the role Kant assigns to moral worth in the argument of the Groundwork. But seeing the ways Henson’s account diverges from Kant’s makes clearer what Kant intended in his discussion of those actions he credits with moral worth. […] An action has moral worth if it is required by duty and has as its primary motive the motive of duty. The motive of duty need not reflect the only interest the agent has in the action (or its effect); it must, however, be the interest that determines the agent’s acting as he did.

Comment: This article is a good discussion of the issue of acting out of inclination as opposed to duty in Kant’s philosophy. It would provide a useful perspective on that issue in a course on Kant’s philosophy. As it engages with R.G. Henson’s argument on the subject, it would be usefully taught wherever his work is, but it could also be taught in isolation from it as familiarity with Henson’s work is not required to understand the article.

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Hieronymi, Pamela, , . Controlling Attitudes
2006, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 87 (1):45-74
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by: Lizzy Ventham

Abstract: I hope to show that, although belief is subject to two quite robust forms of agency, “believing at will” is impossible; one cannot believe in the way one ordinarily acts. Further, the same is true of intention: although intention is subject to two quite robust forms of agency, the features of belief that render believing less than voluntary are present for intention, as well. It turns out, perhaps surprisingly, that you can no more intend at will than believe at will.

Comment: I find this paper to be a valuable addition to classes on implicit biases, reasons, and moral psychology. It provides a good basis for discussion on how these topics relate to free will, and what sorts of control (and responsibilities) we have over our mental lives – including our desires, our beliefs, and other thoughts.

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Hieronymi, Pamela, , . Responsibility for Believing
2008, Synthese 161(3): 357-373.
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Added by: Jie Gao, Contributed by:

Abstract: Many assume that we can be responsible only what is voluntary. This leads to puzzlement about our responsibility for our beliefs, since beliefs seem not to be voluntary. I argue against the initial assumption, presenting an account of responsibility and of voluntariness according to which, not only is voluntariness not required for responsibility, but the feature which renders an attitude a fundamental object of responsibility (that the attitude embodies one’s take on the world and one’s place in it) also guarantees that it could not be voluntary. It turns out, then, that, for failing to be voluntary, beliefs are a central example of the sort of thing for which we are most fundamentally responsible.

Comment: This is a great paper on epistemic responsibility about belief. It elucidates how we can be held responsible for our doxastic attitudes even if we don’t have voluntary control over them. It is suitable for teachings on epistemic responsibility and belief in an upper-level undergraduate course on epistemology.

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Hills, Alison, , . Is ethics rationally required?
2004, Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 47(1): 1-19.
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Added by: Graham Bex-Priestley, Contributed by:

Abstract: Sidgwick argued that utilitarianism was not rationally required because it could not be shown that a utilitarian theory of practical reason was better justified than a rival egoist theory of practical reason: there is a ‘dualism of practical reason’ between utilitarianism and egoism. In this paper, it is demonstrated that the dualism argument also applies to Kant’s moral theory, the moral law. A prudential theory that is parallel to the moral law is devised, and it is argued that the moral law is no better justified than this prudential theory. So the moral law is not rationally required. It is suggested that the dualism argument is a completely general argument that ethics cannot be rationally required.

Comment: This is a good and fairly accessible argument that casts doubt on the project of deriving morality from reason. It can be used alongside Kantian approaches to metaethics or reasons constituvism.

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Holroyd, Jules, , . Feminist Metaethics
2013, International Encyclopedia of Ethics (ed. H. LaFollette).
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Added by: Emily Paul, Contributed by:

Abstract: Metaethical questions concern the nature of morality: are there moral properties, and, if so, what kind of thing are they? How do they motivate us? How should we understand moral discourse, and how can we gain moral knowledge?

Comment: Great paper to use for either a metaethics or a feminist philosophy course. Would work well as a core reading, as it maps the terrain very well. It could be good to set students seminar prep work of picking one feminist meta-ethicist that Holroyd mentions, and to research some more into their view – to explain to the class briefly (a minute or so per person).

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Hursthourse, Rosalind, , . On Virtue Ethics
2000, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Back Matter: Virtue ethics is perhaps the most important development within late twentieth-century moral philosophy. Rosalind Hursthouse, who has made notable contributions to this development, now presents a full exposition and defence of her neo-Aristotelian version of virtue ethics. She shows how virtue ethics can provide guidance for action, illuminate moral dilemmas, and bring out the moral significance of the emotions. Deliberately avoiding a combative stance, she finds less disagreement between Kantian and neo-Aristotelian approaches than is usual, and she offers the first account from a virtue ethics perspective of acting ‘from a sense of duty’. She considers the question which character traits are virtues, and explores how answers to this question can be justified by appeal to facts about human nature. Written in a clear, engaging style which makes it accessible to non-specialists, On Virtue Ethics will appeal to anyone with an interest in moral philosophy.

Comment: The Introduction provides an excellent overview of virtue ethics and its relations with other moral theories. It makes for a perfect main reading for units on virtue ethics in general ethics modules. Chapter 4 offers a valuable discussion of deontology, and other chapters are best used as further reading, or as main readings in modules devoted fully to virtue ethics.

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Lovibond, Sabina, , . Ethical Formation
2002, Harvard University Press.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by:

Publisher’s Note: Sabina Lovibond invites her readers to see how the ‘practical reason view of ethics’ can survive challenges from within philosophy and from the antirationalist postmodern critique of reason.
She elaborates and defends a modern practical-reason view of ethics by focusing on virtue or ideal states of character that involve sensitivity to the objective reasons circumstances bring into play. At the heart of her argument is the Aristotelian idea of the formation of character through upbringing; these ancient ideas can be made contemporary if one understands them in a naturalized way. She then explores the implications that arise from the naturalization of the classical view, weaving into her theory ideas of Jacques Derrida and J. L. Austin. The book also discusses two modes of resistance to an existing ethical culture – one committed to the critical employment of shared norms of rationality, the other aspiring to a more radical attitude, grounded in hostility to the ‘universal.’ Lovibond tries to determine what may be correct in this second, admittedly paradoxical, tendency.

This is a timely and valuable effort to connect the most advanced forms of thinking in the analytic tradition and in the Continental tradition, and to extend our understanding of the intimacies and resistances between these two prominent strands of contemporary philosophy.

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Lovibond, Sabina, , . Realism and Imagination in Ethics
1983, Blackwell.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by:

Publisher’s Note: In Realism and Imagination in Ethics, author Sabina Lovibond explores the non-cognitive theory of ethics along with its objections and the alternative of moral realism. Delving into expressivism, perception, moral sense theory, objectivity, and more, this book pulls from Wittgenstein, Hegel, Bradley, Nietzsche and others to explore the many facets of ethics and perception. The discussion analyzes the language, theories, and criteria surrounding ethical action, and describes the faults and fallacies of traditional schools of thought.

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Mills, Charles, , . ’But What Are You Really?’ The Metaphysics of Race
2000, In: Light A., Mechthild N. (eds). Race, Class, and Community Identity: Radical Philosophy Today. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books. p. 23-51.
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Summary (Diversifying Syllabi): There are a variety of possible views about the metaphysical status of racial assignments, which roughly parallel the variety of meta-ethical views in the literature. Most people are realists about race. Those who see that the realist position is wrongheaded often conclude that race is unreal, subjective, or relative. Both of these views are mistaken.

There are seven candidate conditions for racial identification: appearance, ancestry, public awareness of ancestry, self-awareness of ancestry, culture, experience, and self-identification. Consideration of ten cases of “racial transgressives”—in which a person has some of these conditions but not others — push on our intuitions and ultimately show that we ought to conclude that race is a social construction. This view is to be distinguished from relativism, insofar as you can be wrong about what race you are: Thinking does not make it so.

Comment: This article draws parallels between various positions on the nature of race and various positions on the metaphysical status of ethical values (realism, constructivism, nihilism, etc.). The article explains the latter meta-ethical positions quickly and cursorily, so your students might need a primer (Diversifying Syllabi).

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