Ludwig Wittgenstein has often been called a quietist. His work has inspired a rich and varied array of theories in moral philosophy. Some other prominent moral philosophers have also been called quietists, or ‘relaxed’ as opposed to ‘robust’ realists, sometimes with explicit reference to Wittgenstein in attempts to clarify their views. In this paper, I compare and contrast these groups of theories and draw out their importance for contemporary meta-ethical debate. All of these theorists represent countercultures to contemporary meta-ethics. That is, they reject in different ways one or more of the common assumptions that, whilst not universally shared, shape how to understand and engage in contemporary meta-ethical debate. I argue that the ‘quietist’ label has obscured the views it is used to describe, the crucial differences between them, and the challenge that they offer to the predominant culture of meta-ethical enquiry. That challenge is this: there are plausible different ways of understanding and doing meta-ethics to those of the meta-ethical orthodoxy. We ignore such heterodoxy at our own peril.
Sometimes it is not us but those to whom we stand in special relations that face transformative choices: our friends, family, or beloved. A focus upon first-personal rational choice and agency has left crucial ethical questions regarding what we owe to those who face transformative choices largely unexplored. In this paper, I ask: under what conditions, if any, is it morally permissible to interfere with to try to prevent another from making a transformative choice? Some seemingly plausible answers to this question fail precisely because they concern transformative experiences. I argue that we have a distinctive moral right to revelatory autonomy grounded in the value of autonomous self-making. If this right is outweighed then, I argue, interfering to prevent another making a transformative choice is permissible. This conditional answer lays the groundwork for a promising ethics of transformative experience.
– In the 2022/2023 academic year, the paper was the most full-text viewed of any Analysis article (first published online in 2022). – Currently the Analysis paper with the highest all-time Altmetric score (ahead of Gettier's famous paper), and the paper is in the top 5% of all research outputs ever scored by Altmetric. – Subject of a press release by the University of Cambridge. – Covered in 75 articles nationally and internationally, including in the Daily Mail, The Guardian, and The Times (some coverage unfortunately mischaracterises this paper; I explain how here). – I wrote an Op-ed for the Guardian on the media coverage of the paper, clarifying what I argue and what the paper entails for advice-giving in transformative contexts. – I've appeared on Sunday Morning with Tony Kearney on BBC Radio Scotland to discuss this work and its relation to advice-giving (timestamp: 26:19), and the paper has also been covered on Belgium Radio 1 (in Dutch).
The problem of creeping minimalism threatens the distinction between moral realism and meta-ethical expressivism, and between cognitivism and non-cognitivism more generally. The problem is commonly taken to be serious and in need of response. I argue that there are two problems of creeping minimalism, that one of these problems is more serious than the other, and that this more serious problem cannot be solved in a way that all parties can accept. I close by highlighting some important questions this raises for how to distinguish between theories, and noting some of the troubling consequences it may entail for realism and its rivals, in meta-ethics and beyond.
Derek Parfit defended Non-Realist Cognitivism. It is an open secret that this meta-ethical theory is often thought at best puzzling and at worst objectionably unclear. Employing truthmaker theory, I provide an account of Non-Realist Cognitivism that dispels charges of objectionable unclarity, clarifies how to assess it, and explains why, if plausible, it would be an attractive theory. I develop concerns that the theory involves cheating into an objection that ultimately reveals Non-Realist Cognitivism faces a dilemma. Whether it can escape demands further attention. In bridging meta-ethics and the truthmaking literature, I illustrate the importance of greater meta-metaphysical reflection in meta-ethics.
Is the notion of grounding arguably prevalent throughout moral philosophy the same as that found in metaphysics? Selim Berker has argued it is. This, he claims, has a ‘surprising’ consequence: many central claims in normative ethics become claims within both normative ethics and meta-ethics. I argue that whatever important consequences the unity of grounding may have for moral philosophy, it does not, pace Berker, entail anything significant regarding the relationship between normative ethics and meta-ethics.
The moral error theory, it seems, could be true. The mere possibility of its truth might also seem inconsequential. But it is not. For, I argue, there is a sense in which the moral error theory is possible that generates an argument against both non-cognitivism and moral naturalism. I argue that it is an epistemic possibility that morality is subject to some form of wholesale error of the kind that would make the moral error theory true. Denying this possibility has three unwelcome consequences such that allowing for and explaining it is an adequacy condition on meta-ethical theories. Non-cognitivism and moral naturalism, I argue, cannot capture the epistemic possibility of wholesale moral error and so are false. My argument additionally provides independent reason to accept Derek Parfit’s claim that if moral non-naturalism is false then nothing matters. I conclude that whether wholesale moral error is epistemically possible may be, in Richard Rorty’s words, ‘one of those issues which puts everything up for grabs at once’ and that even if so, and even if non-cognitivists and moral naturalists remain unmoved by an argument based upon it, this only helps to highlight the significance of my argument.
Many actions we perform affect the chances of fulfilling our moral obligations. The moral status of such actions is important and deeply neglected. In this paper, I begin rectifying this neglect by asking: under what conditions, if any, is it morally wrong to perform an action that will lower the chance of one fulfilling a moral obligation? In §1, I introduce this question and motivate concern with its answer. I argue, in §2, that certain actions an agent has good reason to believe will drastically lower their chances of fulfilling a moral obligation in the future, relative to at least one alternative action available, are pro tanto morally wrong. This answer, I argue, captures our intuitions in a range of cases, avoids the problems that other views considered here face, and can be plausibly defended against some independent objections. I conclude in §3 by noting some consequences for normative and practical ethics of the moral wrongness of at least some actions that lower the chances of fulfilling our moral obligations, and by raising a series of important questions regarding these actions for future consideration.
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Jody Azzouni argues that whilst it is indeterminate what the criteria for existence are, there is a criterion that has been collectively adopted to use ‘exist’ that we can employ to argue for positions in ontology. I raise and defend a novel objection to Azzouni: his view has the counterintuitive consequence that the facts regarding what exists can and will change when users of the word ‘exist’ change what criteria they associate with its usage. Considering three responses, I argue Azzouni has best reason to take one that ultimately renders unsuccessful his arguments against mathematical abstracta.
– Included as a Notable Writing in the 2019 edition of The Best Writing on Mathematics, edited by Mircea Pitici, from Princeton University Press.
(1) Pragmatist Quietism: a Meta-Ethical System by Andrew Sepielli | The Philosophical Quarterly
My primary research interests are in (meta-)metaphysics, moral philosophy, and their intersections. My DPhil thesis concerned a range of issues at their intersections. In particular, it addressed questions about how to understand and engage in metaphysical disputes about morality, questions I take to be forcefully raised by a recent form of moral non-naturalism some call relaxed/quietist moral realism.
I have other research interests in, and in the relations between some of, transformative experience, political philosophy, epistemology, meta-philosophy, the philosophy of the classical Islamic period, the philosophies of culture, race, and education, the philosophy of journalism, and the history of philosophy.