Limited Revisionism and Error Theory
Key, Andrew Braxton
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In Joyce's Myth of Morality, Joyce proposes an error theory about morality. He then argues that, once we accept an error theory, we have three options: we can be abolitionists and jettison moral discourse, be conservationists and maintain our false moral beliefs, or be revolutionary fictionalists and assent to and act in accordance with moral discourse while believing it's false. In this paper, I argue that Joyce has ignored a fourth option—limited revisionism, or slightly changing our moral terms to avoid problematic commitments—and that this option is superior to the three aforementioned possibilities. Along the way, I show that Joyce has unfairly ignored limited revisionism because of faulty views about what makes a concept or term normative, and that limited revisionism ignores some expected pitfalls, such as overgeneralizing to legitimately error-theoretic discourses.
General Audience Abstract
In this paper, I argue against Joyce’s assertion that if our moral terms centrally implicate falsehoods, we should act as though morality is true (because it’s useful) while also believing that it’s false (because doing otherwise would be epistemically irresponsible). I show Joyce’s position rests on a specific misunderstanding of how language operates, and argue instead that, if we accept that our current moral talk centrally implicates falsehoods, we should be open to slightly revising our moral terms to avoid implicating such falsehoods instead. I also show that my position, limited revisionism, avoids a few expected pitfalls—most importantly, it doesn’t overgeneralize and apply to terms like “witch” and “phlogiston,” which also centrally implicate falsehoods but seem like terms that shouldn’t be open to conceptual change.
- Masters Theses