Deus Ex Machina: A Cautionary Tale for Naturalists

Cailin O’Connor 1 , Nathan Fulton, Elliott Wagner and P. Kyle Stanford
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Abstract

In this paper we critically examine and seek to extend Philip Kitcher’s Ethical Project to weave together a distinctive naturalistic conception of how ethics came to occupy the place it does in our lives and how the existing ethical project should be revised and extended into the future. Although we endorse his insight that ethical progress is better conceived of as the improvement of an existing state than an incremental approach towards a fixed endpoint, we nonetheless go on to argue that the metaethical apparatus Kitcher constructs around this creative metaethical proposal simply cannot do the work that he demands of it. The prospect of fundamental conflict between different functions of the ethical project requires Kitcher to appeal to a particular normative stance in order to judge specific changes in the ethical project to be genuinely progressive, and we argue that the virtues of continuity and coherence to which he appeals can only specify rather than justify the normative stance he favors. We conclude by suggesting an alternative approach for ethical naturalists that seems to us ultimately more promising than Kitcher’s own.

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The Journal is devoted to the fundamental issues of empirical and normative social theory, and is directed at social scientists and social philosophers who combine commitment to political and moral enlightenment with argumentative rigour and conceptual clarity. Published articles develop social theorizing in connection with analytical philosophy and philosophy of science.

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