Title page for ETD etd-04092007-142845

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Worrell, Franklin Donald
Author's Email Address fworre1@lsu.edu
URN etd-04092007-142845
Title The Genealogy of Morals: Contemporary Empirical Accounts
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department Philosophy & Religious Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Gregory J. Schufreider Committee Chair
Alison Denham Committee Member
Edward Song Committee Member
Jon Cogburn Committee Member
  • Nicholas Sturgeon
  • Alison Denham
  • Gilbert Harman
  • sentimentalism
  • realism
  • inference to the best explanation
  • Shaun Nichols
Date of Defense 2007-03-26
Availability unrestricted
In the late twentieth century, moral realists began to resurrect a type of argument that emerged during the Enlightenment. These realists appealed to moral progress as evidence for moral facts, and their arguments took the form of inferences to the best explanation. Recently, the argument style has emerged again. This time, the inference to the best explanation is being used by empirically-informed sentimentalists to argue that their theories can provide accounts of moral evolution that have greater explanatory and predictive power than the accounts offered by the moral realists. This thesis examines the arguments to the best explanation of such moral realists as Nicholas Sturgeon, Michael Slote, Michael Smith, Peter Singer, and Thomas Nagel. The views of these moral realists are confronted with the substantial empirical evidence provided by Shaun Nichols to bolster his Sentimental Rules account, which is a variety of sentimentalism. Nichols attempts to expand epidemiological approaches to cognitive anthropology to accommodate his research on affect-backed norms. I elucidate Nicholsí research and his own inference to the best explanation of the data he examines as well as his attack on the accounts provided by the moral realists.

After examining this substantive piece of the debate over what actually counts as the best explanation of moral evolution, I argue that the inference to the best explanation is actually being employed in two distinct uses by these theorists. The first use presupposes a metaethical thesis regarding the nature of moral facts and renders the inference circular. The majority of the moral realists examined employ the inference in this fashion. The second use is not circular, but leaves the theorist with a very restricted ability to fill out the content of moral beliefs and moral facts.

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