Thesis

Fiduciary Non-cognitivism

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Abstract

I present and defend a novel non-cognitivist theory of our moral thought and practices. It holds that moral judgements depend on the existence of broadly ‘social’ relationships among those who make them (among ‘moralists’, as I shall say). I am led to this position by observations about non-cognitive disagreement. Theorists can satisfactorily explain the phenomenon of moral disagreement as a kind of non-cognitive disagreement only if they predict that it will have a property which I call ‘robustness’. Roughly, a candidate disagreement is robust if its status as a disagreement is difficult to dispute. I argue that parties to a robust non-cognitive disagreement necessarily share a type of trust relationship. One party entrusts to the other a concern to accommodate a certain subset of her desires in his decisions. The ‘entrusted party’ can resist the relevant desires of the ‘entrusting party’ without violating her trust only if satisfying them would frustrate a certain subset of his desires. I call this an entrusted concern relationship. Robust non-cognitive disagreement exists when the parties to such a relationship have opposing preferences, based on their relevant desires, concerning how the entrusted party is to act. I call such preferences ‘voiceable preferences’. To explain moral disagreement and predict its robustness, non-cognitivists must posit the existence of entrusted concern relationships linking all moralists. I call the species of non-cognitivism which holds that the non-cognitive components of moral judgements are the voiceable preferences of parties to a network of entrusted concern relationships linking all moralists (a ‘moral trust network’) fiduciary non-cognitivism. This dissertation develops a non-cognitivist theory of this sort. I describe a form the moral trust network might take that would explain various elementary features of moral thought and talk, and defend the postulation of the described network. I argue that this postulation is not too extravagant by explaining how and why such a network might exist, and by giving plausible examples of smaller trust networks with similar properties. I also contend, following Philippa Foot, that approval and disapproval presuppose the existence of a social context entitling approving parties to voices in approved parties’ decisions, and argue that, in light of this, we need to posit something like a moral trust network to provide a wholly satisfactory explanation of moral approval and disapproval. Beyond moral disagreement and approval, my non-cognitivist theory offers at least partial explanations for the following phenomena: the use of moral judgements to justify and criticize actions; the rule-like character of moral requirements and the desirability of simplicity in moral theorizing; the changes of moral motivation that sometimes result from moral reasoning; moral uncertainty and its typical practical consequences; and the intuition that it can seem very odd to report that one has forgotten a moral truth. The theory’s explanations of features of moral thought and talk are fairly unified: they mostly derive from postulations about the shared ends of moralists, and the idea that the ‘terms’ of the relationships in the moral trust network would be shaped to serve these ends.

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