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Metaethics: Do Moral Reasons Exist?

 

Lecturer:

Prof. James Lenman – Sheffield University

Subject:

Philosophy

  • About this Course
  • About this Lecturer

About this Course

In this course, Professor James Lenman (University of Sheffield) explores one of the key questions in metaethics: do objective moral reasons exist? After a brief discussion of what we mean when we talk about reasons, we spend the bulk of the course exploring three theories that explain where our reasons come from. In the first two modules, we think about the Simple Desire View, the idea that our reasons are simply extensions of our desires. After that, in the third module, we turn to the concept of externalism and the idea of external moral reasons, and the objections to this position made by philosophers such as J. L. Mackie. In the fourth and fifth modules, we explore the concept of Ideal Desire Theory, which states that the objectivity of moral reasons may be based not on their externality, but their universality. The course ends with a brief discussion of the extent of this universality, and the consequences (if any) of there being no objective moral reasons.

Suggested reading:
– Simon Blackburn: ‘Errors and the Phenomenology of Value’ in Ted Honderich, Morality and Objectivity (1985). Also in Simon Blackburn, Essays in Quasi-Realism (1993)
– Richard B. Brandt, A Theory of the Good and the Right (1979)
– Richard Joyce, The Myth of Morality (2001)
– Christine Korsgaard, ‘Skepticism about Practical Reason’ in Journal of Philosophy 83, 1986. Also in Christine Korsgaard, Creating the Kingdom of Ends (1996)
– J. L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (1977), especially chapter 1
– Julia Markovits, Moral Reason (2014)
– Derek Parfit, On What Matters (2011) especially Volume 1, Part 1
– Michael Smith, The Moral Problem (1994)
– Sharon Street, ‘Constructivism about Reasons’ in Russ Shafer-Landau, Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. 3 (2008)
– Bernard Williams, ‘Internal and External Reasons’ in Ross Harrison, Rational Action (1980). Also in Bernard Williams, Moral Luck (1981)

About the Lecturer

James Lenman is Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. His research focuses on ethics, metaethics and philosophy of action. His publications include (with Yonatan Shemmer) Constructivism in Practical Philosophy (OUP, 2012).