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Keywords:

  • existence imperatives;
  • evolutionary ethics;
  • inescapable moral authority;
  • Richard Joyce;
  • moral agnosticism;
  • moral heuristics;
  • naturalized ethics

Abstract

This essay argues against Richard Joyce, using him as an exemplar of a number of writers who purport to show that the best a naturalized ethics can provide are demands that we can hold only as moral agnostics; that is, that no moral claims can be shown to be epistemically warranted, hence no moral claims have the property of “inescapable authority” necessary for real moral discourse or deliberation. The prudent (and “dignified”) course of action is therefore to act as if moral claims had categorical standing, knowing full well that we cannot, in principle, know this. The essay proposes instead that a fully naturalized account of moral reasoning and sentiments, compatible with the commitment to understanding human beings as products of evolutionary processes, can provide “existence imperatives” necessarily implicated in our being social animals. It argues that, on the one hand, we're mistaken in believing that real moral discourse must include imperatives that hold with inescapable authority as a foundation and, on the other, that a naturalistic perspective can offer demands that are authoritative enough to make moral judgment sound.