Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Smith post the first
The Moral Problem seems to be the locus classicus for a particular way of understanding the nature of the philosophical problem about moral reasons. In particular, Smith conceives of the moral problem as a philosophical difficulty about the metaphysical properties of reasons in general, and moral reasons in particular. The difficulty arises because our pretheoretical commitments about moral reasons are in tension and it is hard to see what sort of things such reasons could be if they are to satisfy those commitments. Since Smith rejects the prospect of abandoning our pretheoretical commitments, he takes the view that finding a solution to the problem requires that one provide an account of the metaphysical properties of moral reasons which explains how such reasons could fulfill the various offices required of them.
This project is quite different from that pursued by authors like Scanlon, Korsgaard, and Nagel. For those philosophers, the fundamental problem in metaethics has to do with showing how it is that an (in some sense) objective morality can be motivating. Their focus, then, is not on the metaphysical status of particular entities, reasons, which figure in such an account, but rather on the operation of human moral psychology.
1 Our pretheoretical commitments include, in particular, the thoughts that morality is objective and that it is motivating. So Smith's worry is that it is difficult to see what sorts of entities reasons could be such that they are both objective and motivating.
2 Oddly, both of these approaches lay claim to Darwall (1984). My inclination is to say that his thought is more congenial to the second group, but there's no denying that the journal fodder produced by those working from Smith's paradigm relies heavily on Darwall's specification of the internalist view.