10Ethics as PhilosophyA Defense of Ethical NonnaturalismRuss Shafer-LandauIt is early days in the Principia Ethicawhen Moore presents us with his famousargument from elimination on behalf of ethical nonnaturalism. Moorethought that there were three options when it came to a diagnosis of ethicalconcepts. Ethical notions are either meaningless, susceptible of a naturalisticanalysis, or nonnatural. Neither of the first two options appealed. Ethicalnonnaturalism won by default.It took only a long generation before nonnaturalism’s star began to fade. Theascendancy of noncognitivist views, and the resurgence of naturalistic ones,were prompted by the perception that nonnaturalism suffered from fatal flaws.By century’s end, this perception had become so widespread as to be rightlyconsidered a bit of conventional philosophical wisdom. I think that thiscritical, and often dismissive, attitude is mistaken—as mistaken as Moore’scontention that he had identified a line of argument that proved, once and forall, the falsity of ethical naturalism.It is a commonplace that philosophical preferences are cyclical, and that therunt of the litter in one era may elbow out its competition in later times. Ethicalnonnaturalism, for decades consigned to second-class status, is due a reappraisal.The nonnaturalism I favor is a brand of moral realism. As I understand it,moral realism is the view that says that most moral judgments are beliefs,some of which are true, and, when true, are so by virtue of correctly repres-enting the existence of truth-makers for their respective contents. Further,and crucially, true moral judgments are made true in some way other than byvirtue of the attitudes taken towards their content by any actual or idealizedhuman agent.My thanks to Paul Bloomfield, whose sense and gentle suasion I too frequently ignored in preparing the finalversion of this paper. Thanks also to Terence Cuneo, who gave me a number of incisive criticisms and sug-gestions for improvement.
Not all nonnaturalisms are realistic—Kantian views, for instance, reject theassimilation of moral to natural properties, and yet also reject realism. I willproceed on the assumption (unargued here) that realism is the best path fornonnaturalists.¹After describing nonnaturalism, and identifying the mostserious worries that face it, I will undertake a partial defense against a numberof those problems. My preferred strategy for doing so invokes a parallelbetween philosophy in general, and ethics in particular. My contention is thatonce we pay special attention to this relationship, a number of the traditionalconcerns about nonnaturalism begin to seem less pressing than they have for along while.1.The nature of nonnaturalismEthical nonnaturalism is, first and foremost, a metaphysical doctrine. It claimsthat there are instantiated moral properties that are not natural properties.