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Forskningsprojekt Om inget spelar roll: Nihilismen och dess implikationer

Enligt moralisk nihilism finns det inga objektivt sanna svar på moraliska frågor. Projektets syfte är att utforska normativ nihilism och dess implikationer utifrån ett metaetiskt perspektiv.

Inom den del av moralfilosofin som kallas ”metaetik” studeras frågor kring moralens natur. Man är här inte primärt intresserad av ”första ordningens” etiska frågor gällande vad som är rätt och fel, gott och ont etc., utan snarare av vad det innebär att ta ställning i sådana frågor, huruvida våra ställningstaganden kan vara sanna, och huruvida, och i så fall hur, de kan underbyggas av förnuftiga resonemang.

En klassisk metaetisk teori, som går tillbaka åtminstone till Platon, är moralisk realism. Enligt moralisk realism finns det objektivt sanna svar på moraliska frågor, det vill säga svar vars sanning är oberoende av oss och våra föreställningar, attityder, känslor och konventioner. Moralisk reflektion är en kognitiv process som syftar till att upptäcka dessa svar. Att anse exempelvis att tortyr är fel består i att ha en föreställning om att tortyr har den objektiva egenskapen att vara fel.

En annan klassisk metaetisk teori, med rötter hos David Hume och Nietzsche men utarbetad först under 1900- talet, är moralisk nihilism. Enligt moralisk nihilism finns det inga objektivt sanna svar på moraliska frågor. Poängen är inte att det finns något mer allmänt filosofiskt problem med idén om objektiv sanning, utan snarare att det är något speciellt med just moraliska frågor som gör att de, till skillnad från exempelvis naturvetenskapliga frågor, inte medger objektiva svar.

På senare tid har försvarare av moralisk realism uppmärksammat diverse paralleller mellan moraliska frågor och normativa frågor mer generellt. Bland annat har man argumenterat för att moralisk nihilism medför nihilism om (i) epistemiska fakta, det vill säga fakta om vad som är rimligt eller rationellt att tro, (ii) hypotetiska skäl, det vill säga handlingsvägledande skäl som är villkorade på våra önskningar eller mål, (iii) prudentiella skäl, det vill säga handlingsvägledande skäl att slå vakt om vårt egenintresse, (iv) estetiska värden och (v) livets mening. Det har dessutom hävdats att nihilismen hotar fenomen som (vi) beslutsfattande, (vii) språklig kommunikation, (viii) kärlek och (ix) politisk opposition. Delvis i ljuset av dessa paralleller har försvarare av moralisk nihilism tenderat att acceptera nihilism om samtliga normativa frågor; de har accepterat att ingenting egentligen spelar någon roll.

Projektets syfte är att utforska normativ nihilism och dess implikationer. Några viktiga frågor är (i) vad oenigheten mellan normativ realism och normativ nihilism närmare bestämt består i, (ii) hur ett viktigt argument för nihilismen – J. L. Mackies så kallade ”konstighetsargument” – närmare bestämt ska förstås och vilka antaganden det vilar på, (iii) huruvida någon form av generell normativ nihilism kan försvaras, bland annat mot bakgrund av de ovan nämnda parallellerna, och (iv) huruvida nihilismen har oroväckande existentiella eller politiska implikationer. På samtliga dessa punkter finns betydande glapp i den filosofiska litteraturen som projektet avser att fylla.

Projektbeskrivning

Purpose and aims
Consider the claims that you have a reason to get out of a burning building, that governments ought to act to reduce climate change, and that it is wrong to cheat on tax declarations. Albeit diverse, such claims about what there is reason to do, what we ought to do, what is wrong, and the like, are all normative claims. Normative realists hold that such claims are about normative facts. According to many realists in the contemporary philosophical debate, normative facts are irreducibly normative (e.g., Parfit 2011, 2017). This means, inter alia, that such facts apply to us regardless of how we feel or think about them.

If there are no such facts, then nothing truly matters, according to many realists. Things would still matter to us in the sense that we would still care about various things, but nothing would matter objectively, regardless of what we actually care about; nothing would truly matter. This seems like a dire implication. Some see in it a loss of meaning in life and a cause for despair. Even so, some philosophers—normative nihilists—deny that there are irreducibly normative facts. They accept the conclusion that nothing truly matters.

Normative nihilism has attracted a fair amount of attention in recent metaethical debate, and it has been subject to considerable criticisms. This project will investigate whether there are plausible responses to these criticisms and whether any form of nihilism about the normative is in the end defensible. The project will also examine the broader implications of normative nihilism for our normative thought and discourse and for our everyday lives: Is nihilism about what truly matters something to fear? What could, and should, moral and political discourse look like if we accept that nothing truly matters? These questions should be of interest not only to those who are attracted to nihilism. It is, after all, an epistemic possibility that nothing truly matters and even those who firmly believe otherwise should do some contingency planning for the eventuality that their belief is false.

The project is expected to result in approximately ten articles in high-profile peer-reviewed journals, a monograph with a leading publisher, and an edited volume or a journal special issue. The project will involve collaboration with three international researchers and will organize two workshops in the first two years and an international conference in the final year, at Stockholm University.

State of the Art                                                                                                                                                                                                      The project draws on several different lines of research. First, there is an extensive literature consisting of defences of normative nihilism. Some notable historical sources are Nietzsche(1887) and Hägerström (1911). Recent important contributions include Mackie (1977), Hinckfuss (1987), Garner (1990), Joyce (2001), Olson (2014), Streumer (2017), and the articles in Garner & Joyce (2019).

Another extensive body of research consists of critiques of normative nihilism. Critics typically point to supposedly problematic implications of normative nihilism with respect to different areas. Some examples of such areas are morality (Dworkin 2011), prudence (Fletcher 2018), hypothetical reasons (Bedke 2010), epistemology (Cuneo 2007), aesthetics (Hanson 2018), deliberation (Enoch 2011), speech (Cuneo 2014), love (Keller 2017), politics (Mills 2005), and the meaning of life (Parfit 2011).

These two lines of research are relevant to the project as a whole. We will also be drawing on additional literature more specific to the different parts of the project.

Significance and Scientific Novelty
The project aims to fill several gaps relating to normative nihilism in the literature. One issue concerns the characterization of irreducible normativity, the metaphysical queerness of which usually motivates normative nihilism. Two related issues are what this queerness consists in more precisely, and whether it can be spelled out in a way that renders the queerness-objection congenial with the nihilist’s underlying epistemological assumptions. More needs to be said about these issues.

Another gap concerns an important objection to the error theory, which exploits adistinction between normative concepts and our conception of their referents. Even if we conceive of normative properties as irreducibly normative, it does not automatically follow that our normative concepts refer to such properties. This objection raises underexplored issues concerning normative concept-determination.

A further aim of the project is to explore a new version of normative nihilism, inspired by some rarely noticed or discussed parts of J. L. Mackie’s metaethical writings. Mackie’s discussion suggests an interesting new approach in normative semantics and psychology, which could potentially solve several problems that beset extant versions of nihilism.

Another important aim of the project concerns various companions-in-guilt arguments against nihilism. Although a few of these arguments have already been scrutinized by nihilists, many have not. Also, the arguments that have been scrutinized have been considered piecemeal, but it would be profitable to consider them more systematically. An important distinction here is between conceptual and practical implications of nihilism. In other words, sometimes the supposedly problematic implications are taken to be propositions that follow from nihilism itself, whereas in some cases the implications are rather taken to be events that would occur should nihilism be accepted. This distinction is not always appreciated, and yet it is crucial for determining how nihilists might best respond. This distinction is reflected in the division between the project’s two main parts.

Realists often claim that there are reasons to fear nihilism. It is argued that if nihilism is correct then nothing really matters, leaving us in existential despair. One aim of the second part of the project is to develop a tu quoque argument to the effect that there are similar reasons to fear realism. After all, if realism is true we might discover that some normative truths are ones we do not welcome and there will be nothing we can do about it.

Another aim of the second part of the project is to study a relatively unexplored parallel between evolutionary debunking arguments in metaethics and “sociological” debunking arguments in political philosophy. In metaethics evolutionary explanations have traditionally been used to undermine the reliability of all moral judgement. In political philosophy sociological explanations are often used by, for example, Marxists to undermine non-Marxist political ideas. By applying insights from metaethics about debunking arguments to issues in recent political philosophy, it will be possible to identify the limits and potential of such arguments in political philosophy.

Preliminary and previous Results
The project is continuous with and builds upon our previous work. Olson is the author of Moral Error Theory: History, Critique, Defence (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2014), which gives an historical background of the error theory and scrutinizes the most influential arguments for and against the view. It also develops a conservationist account of moral thought and discourse, and defends it as an alternative superior to abolitionist and fictionalist accounts. In recent work, Olson has developed an extension of conservationism, called negotiationism (Eriksson & Olson 2019). Olson has also recently discussed so-called debunking arguments and their relevance to moral nihilism (Olson forthcoming).

Moberger’s dissertation (2018) explores J. L. Mackie’s metaethics, especially his arguments for moral nihilism. Moberger has also published a novel interpretation of Mackie’s error theory (2017), and a forthcoming paper develops a version of Mackie’s supervenience argument for moral nihilism.

Olsson-Yaouzis has written on the role ideological beliefs play in maintaining oppressive social orders (2010; 2012). Recently he has argued that sociological debunking explanations may be of epistemic relevance under certain circumstances (2018) and that radical political philosophers have little reason to fear nihilism (2019).

Project Description
The project has two main parts. The first will be devoted to exploring and defending normative nihilism. Olson will focus on a cognitivist version of nihilism – better known as error theory (Mackie 1977; Joyce 2001; Olson 2014) – according to which normative claims purport to state irreducibly normative facts, rendering all normative claims false. Moberger will instead focus on a non-cognitivist version of nihilism, according to which normative language primarily expresses attitudes of approval and disapproval (Hägerström 1911; Ayer 1936).

The second main part of the project will examine the broader implications of nihilism for normative thought and discourse and for our everyday lives. In particular it focuses on both metaethics and political philosophy, and seeks to bring the two fields into conversation.

Part 1: Exploring and Defending Normative Nihilism
1.1 Cognitivist Normative Nihilism (Olson)
Although cognitivist normative nihilism, or error theory about the normative, is a familiar position in the metaethical and metanormative debate, there are several fundamental issues that are yet to be resolved. Here is a sample of such issues that the project will engage with in its first part.

According to error theory about the normative, the concept of a normative reason is irreducibly normative; claims to the effect that there are normative reasons to perform some action, or not to perform it, attribute irreducibly normative properties. But what exactly is it for a property or concept to be irreducibly normative? In Olson (2014), irreducible normativity is explained largely in negative terms. Recently, attempts have been made to give positive accounts of what it is for a concept or property to be irreducibly normative (Eklund 2017; Rosen 2017). It is not clear, however, whether these accounts are congenial with normative nihilism. If they are not, nihilists have some basic explaining to do.

Of course, since error theory is a nihilist view, it endorses the non-existence of (instances of) irreducibly normative properties, and of irreducibly normative facts or truths. Since normative thought and talk purport to attribute such properties and state such facts or truths, normative thought and talk embody systematic error. But what exactly is the argument for the non-existence of (instantiated) irreducibly normative properties and of irreducibly normative
facts or truths? Notoriously, error theorists claim that such properties, facts, and truths are, or would be, ontologically queer, and that this is a strong presumption against their existence. Error theorists and other nihilists, as well as their critics, have made several attempts to precisify what the queerness consists in (Garner 1990; Joyce 2001; Shepski 2008; Olson 2014, 2017). This debate is yet to be resolved. It is fair to say, however, that realists also feel
the force of the queerness worry. In response, realists like Parfit have argued that irreducibly normative properties, facts, or truths lack ontological implications (Parfit 2017). This claim is deeply problematic (Olson 2018; Bykvist & Olson forthcoming). A related issue that has received less attention is how we are supposed to know that irreducible normativity is queer and that, therefore, there are, or can be, no (instantiated) irreducibly normative properties, or
irreducibly normative facts or truths. Moberger (2018) suggests that we can simply ‘see’ that this is so, and also that this is the best interpretation of previous defenders of nihilism. This is a plausible suggestion, but a worry is that it ties error theory or normative nihilism to a kind of rationalist or intuitionist epistemology that does not sit well with its historical roots in empiricist and naturalist views. The question is thus whether error theorists and other nihilists
about the normative can offer a plausible philosophical epistemology to defend their own position.

An underexplored response to error theory trades on the distinction between concept and conception (Finlay 2008). Perhaps normative reasons are irreducibly normative according to our common conception of them. This need not imply, however, that the concept of a normative reason is. Admittedly, if the concept of a normative reason is partly constituted by our common conception, it is plausible to maintain that the concept of a normative reason is
irreducibly normative if normative reasons are irreducibly normative according to our common conception. But there might be other ways to determine concepts. This issue connects to general questions about concept determination that are highly relevant to normative nihilism and that are yet to be resolved.

1.2 Non-Cognitivist Normative Nihilism (Moberger)
The aim in this part of the project is to develop and defend a new version of non-cognitivist nihilism, drawing on the metaethical writings of J. L. Mackie (1946; 1977; 1980; 1982). Although Mackie is usually described as an adherent of, indeed the inventor of, moral error theory, a careful reading reveals that his view is in fact more nuanced (Moberger 2017). While he does think that an erroneous commitment to objective authority permeates our actual moral thought and discourse, he also thinks there is a more fundamental nonobjectivist strand of morality that we can latch onto once we realize the error of our ways. His account of moral language and thought is thus pluralist in that it ascribes to moral judgements variable content.

Mackie’s account of the non-objectivist strand is sketchy but contains several interesting ideas. He suggests that non-objective moral judgements have two features: (1) they ascribe certain descriptive or natural properties to objects of evaluation (such as actions or mental states), and (2) express certain desire-like attitudes of the speaker or thinker in relation to those objects. Mackie’s account of non-objective moral judgements is thus a version of hybrid expressivism (Ridge 2007, Boisvert 2008, Schroeder 2009, Strandberg 2015). But unlike extant versions, Mackie’s version applies only to a subset of moral judgements–the non-objective ones. Also, Mackie’s hybrid expressivism differs from extant versions in the way it construes the moral judgements in question. According to Mackie, non-objective moral judgements are intimately related to what he calls “the institution of morality” (1977: ch. 3). As Mackie uses the term, an institution is a form of social practice, in which the participants conform to certain behavioural patterns, and put socially backed (and perhaps enforced) pressure on each other to thus conform. Just like the institution of chess requires that its participants do not move rooks diagonally, the morality institution requires of its participants not to steal, kill, break promises, etc. According to Mackie, when we make non-objective moral judgements we “speak within the institution” (1977: 68), thus using moral terms to describe institutional requirements while simultaneously endorsing those requirements,
where the endorsement part is a matter of having and expressing certain desire-like attitudes. Thus, if we say that it is wrong to steal, speaking within the morality institution, then we are stating that there is an institutional requirement not to steal and also expressing our
endorsement of the requirement in question (Moberger 2017: §4).

This Mackiean pluralist hybrid-expressivist nihilism is admittedly complicated in comparison with more standard views. But there is no obvious reason to think that a human phenomenon like moral thought and discourse should have a simple explanation. More importantly, the Mackiean view has several virtues and can potentially solve many problems:

Metaphysics. Like all versions of moral nihilism, the Mackiean view avoids commitment to objectively authoritative normativity. This is a good thing, since such normativity is metaphysically bizarre in several ways (Moberger 2018; forthcoming).

The Moorean objection. The view allows moral nihilists to escape a potentially devastating Moorean objection, according to which it is much more likely that it is indeed wrong to pour gasoline on a cat and set it on fire, than that there are no objective moral facts as nihilists claim. Thus, insofar as our first-order moral convictions presuppose objective moral facts, then so much the worse for moral nihilism. Unlike the error theorist version of nihilism that Mackie is usually ascribed, the pluralist hybrid-expressivist version straightforwardly escapes this objection, since it dissolves the conflict between nihilism and our first-order moral convictions (Moberger 2017: §5; 2018: 117–119).

Academic vs. everyday morality. The Mackiean view can explain the discrepancy between the way moral discourse is conducted within academic philosophy versus many everyday settings. Academic philosophers tend to pursue moral inquiry as if it were a straightforward kind of philosophical inquiry (Shafer-Landau 2006). They draw careful distinctions, formulate theories, give arguments, and appeal to intuitions via elaborate thought experiments. This is the kind of methodology you would expect only if the inquiry in question is directed toward objective truth, just as philosophy in general plausibly is. Moral reflection in ordinary life, on the other hand, is often much more emotional and practically oriented. When we argue with our partner about whose turn it is to do the dishes, or when we censor a colleague for a sloppy work ethic, we are arguably not interested in what the objective moral facts require. More plausibly we are invoking reciprocity norms provided by the morality institution for the kind of relationship that we have, while simultaneously endorsing those norms. In short, in everyday contexts we often use moral language to put pressure on each other rather than to engage in philosophical reflection. Pluralist views such as Mackie’s have the upper hand with respect to this discrepancy.

Motivational internalism/externalism. The Mackiean view can potentially accommodate both sides of the debate concerning motivational internalism, i.e. the view that there is a necessary connection between moral convictions and (at least some degree of) motivation to act accordingly. Both internalism and externalism are supported by powerful intuitions, and only pluralist views such as Mackie’s can accommodate them all. While externalism is plausible for objective moral judgements, internalism is plausible for non-objective ones (cf. Francén Olinder 2010).

Continuity. The Mackiean view secures continuity between morality and other seemingly normative practices. The kind of account that Mackie offers for non-objective moral judgements is highly plausible in the case of judgements about fashion, etiquette, chess, spelling, grammar, and so forth. When we say or think that a word is misspelled or that a chess move is illegitimate, we are plausibly invoking a conventional rule while simultaneously endorsing it. It would be surprising indeed if moral judgements were objective through and through and thus entirely discontinuous with such practices, as moral realists would have it.

Truth. Previous research has assumed that truth is applicable to moral sentences across the board. Unlike early emotivists such as Ayer (1936), non cognitivists have increasingly employed deflationist or “quasi-realist” strategies in order to accommodate objectivist features of moral language, talk of truth being the prime example (Blackburn 1984; Gibbard 2003). Moberger will argue that this is a mistake. While talk of moral truth is part and parcel of academic moral philosophy, it arguably appears infelicitous in everyday moral contexts. “You ought to do the dishes tonight” or “You owe it to your colleagues to show up on time” sound fine, whereas “It is true that you ought to do the dishes tonight” and “It is true that you owe it to your colleagues to show up on time” sound infelicitous. But there is nothing infelicitous, as opposed to merely cumbersome, in adding “It is true that” to ordinary factual claims such as “The Earth is round” or “2 + 2 = 4” (or indeed to normative claims made by a philosopher in a seminar setting). This suggests that much of the motivation behind quasirealism rests on a failure to distinguish between different kinds of moral discourse (cf. Gill 2009).

In summary, the Mackiean view presents a thought-provoking and promising picture of moral thought and discourse that is worth exploring.

1.3 Companions-in-guilt arguments against Normative Nihilism (Moberger and Olson) Another important task within the project’s first main part will be to examine and respond to the many companions-in-guilt arguments recently offered against moral nihilism. These are concerns for both cognitivist and non-cognitivist versions of nihilism.

A growing number of philosophers hold that arguments against moral facts generalize to other areas of philosophy. Such arguments about the purported generalizations of arguments for moral nihilism are often called companions-in-guilt arguments. What they have in common is that they point to unobvious implications of moral nihilism that are unappealing enough to license rejection of the view. For example, it has been argued that arguments against moral facts apply with equal force to epistemic facts—i.e., facts about what there are reasons to believe (Cuneo 2007; Rowland 2012)—and to hypothetical reasons (Bedke 2010). As a consequence, the debate concerning nihilism about morality has broadened its focus to normativity more generally. Defenders of moral nihilism have advocated normative nihilism in response to the companions-in-guilt arguments just mentioned (Olson 2014, Streumer 2017).

Very recently, critics of normative nihilism have employed various companions-in-guilt arguments to establish that the view has untenable implications. It has been argued that arguments against moral facts, and more generally against normative facts, also have force against prudential reasons (Fletcher 2018), and that they challenge the possibilities of such  diverse activities and phenomena as speech (Cuneo 2014) and love (Keller 2017). These particular companions-in-guilt arguments have not yet received adequate treatment from defenders of normative nihilism. Our working hypothesis is that there is in each case a
satisfactory response. In order to corroborate it, however, nihilists must enter thorny debates about prudence, about normative aspects of speech act theory, and about philosophical accounts of love and cognate emotions. This has not yet been done. It is not unlikely that cognitivist and non-cognitivist versions of nihilism will have to combat the various companions-in-guilt challenges in different ways. Whether and to what extent this is so will
be explored within this part of the project.

Part 2: Existential and Political Implications of Normative Nihilism                                                                                                                    The second main part of the project addresses implications of nihilism for our everyday lives and for everyday normative thought and discourse. It consists of two major sub-parts. The first concerns fear of nihilism and how it may be redeemed. The second sub-part concerns the implications of nihilism for everyday normative thought and discourse.

2.1 Fear of Nihilism, Fear of Realism (Olson, Olsson-Yaouzis)
It is a familiar thought that belief in nihilism will bring in its wake chaos, disorder, and despair, both at the individual and societal level. This worry goes back at least to Dostoevsky, and has more recently been expressed by Derek Parfit, who believed that if nihilism is true, his life (and many others’) have been wasted. The project will examine a hitherto unexplored tu quoque response to the fear of nihilism, according to which realism may also be something to fear. If normative truths are discovered rather than invented, as realists believe, there is at least an epistemic possibility that the normative truth is one that we do not welcome. We might discover, for example, that humankind ought to go out of existence, or that certain parts of humanity ought to be enslaved, or the like. If realism is correct, there is nothing we can do to change such truths. From this point of view, nihilism may appear liberating. There are precedents of this kind of optimistic attitude to nihilism (Nietzsche 1887; Hägerström 1911). If this line of thought can be substantiated, the kind of fear of nihilism that one encounters in popular culture as well as in philosophical debates seems irrational or unwarranted.

2.2 Implications of Normative Nihilism: Politics (Olsson-Yaouzis)
Morality is a subcategory of the normative, and it is a common thought that if nihilism about the normative is accepted, the only rational thing to do is to abolish morality. Indeed, abolitionists have welcomed this conclusion, since they hold that morality’s impact on our lives is all things considered destructive (Hinckfuss 1987; compare also Nietzsche 1887 on slave morality). Other nihilists have argued, however, that morality is too useful to be abandoned and that moral thought and discourse therefore should be preserved in some form (Joyce 2001; Olson 2014).

This part of the project will examine a new argument for local abolitionism. It will be suggested that since different groups have different interests, members of one group may have reason to adopt fictionalism whereas members of other groups have reason to adopt abolitionism. Furthermore, members of a group may have interests to adopt abolitionism in one domain but not in another. Below is a sketch of the line of argument that will be explored.

It is common both in metaethics and political philosophy to come across so-called debunking arguments, which purport to show that certain beliefs fail to track moral truth reliably. In metaethics, sceptics use evolutionary debunking arguments to show that all moral judgments are unreliable (Street 2006; Joyce 2001). In political philosophy, ‘radical’ philosophers use historical or sociological debunking arguments to show that some political beliefs are unreliable (Mills 2005; Geuss 2008). In both cases, the underlying idea seems to be that evolutionary or sociological aetiologies pose an epistemological challenge for a defender of a set of moral judgments.

It is doubtful whether debunking explanations can establish the kind of scepticism or nihilism their proponents hope for (White 2010; Olson forthcoming). Interestingly, however, such explanations may play an important role in examining what should be done about moral discourse and thought if nihilism is accepted. The sociological explanations are structurally similar to the evolutionary explanations used by some error theorists to motivate conservationism or fictionalism. In both cases the prevalence of particular beliefs (moral/political) are explained by the benefits conferred to certain groups (our ancestors/the elite). However, there are differences that warrant further investigation. Although everyone probably benefits from beliefs that have been selected because they benefitted our ancestors, it is less clear that all of us benefit from (political) beliefs that have been selected because they benefit privileged groups. To the extent that the political beliefs obscure inequalities, members of historically disadvantaged groups may have prudential reasons to reject these beliefs.

Of course, this does not by itself show that members of historically disadvantaged groups should embrace abolitionism rather than fictionalism or conservationism. However, when a member of a historically disadvantaged group employs moralized discourse in the political domain, she may conversationally implicate a commitment to moral realism. This is problematic insofar as she may convey that it is worthwhile to search for a theory of justice. In communicating that it is worthwhile to look for such a theory she may legitimize the ideology-producing work of mainstream political philosophers. Because this form of ideologyproduction is not in the best interests of historically disadvantaged groups, they may have prudential reasons to accept abolitionism in the political domain.

Finally, because different groups have different interests, it is possible that members of one group have reasons to become abolitionists, whereas members of another group have reasons to become fictionalists or conservationists about moral thought and discourse. Furthermore, a group may have reasons to take up one attitude in one domain and another attitude in another domain. For example, moral error theorists can have strong reasons to be conservationists about moral thought and discourse in the “personal” domain and accept utterances and thoughts of the sort “It’s morally wrong to tell a lie” and “I morally ought to keep promises.” However, the same group of moral error theorists may also realize that, in the political domain, when we discuss what policies to adopt, moral terms obscure the influence of group interests on policy suggestions; therefore, she may have reason to abolish moral discourse and thoughtfrom the political realm.
2.3 Implications of Normative Nihilism: Aesthetics (Moberger, Olson, Olsson-Yaouzis)
Aesthetics is also often taken to be a subcategory of the normative, just like morality is. There is also a strong historical tradition that links morality closely to aesthetics (Hutcheson 1725; Hume 1751, 1757). Louise Hanson has recently argued that realism about morality is strongly suggestive of realism about aesthetics (Hanson 2018). This suggests that nihilism about morality is, similarly, strongly suggestive of nihilism about aesthetics. But it is not clear that the arguments for normative nihilism that are currently at the forefront of the metanormative debate transfer easily to aesthetics: Can it be maintained that aesthetic properties, facts, or truths are irreducibly normative and that aesthetic claims purport to attribute such properties and state such facts or truths? How should we understand and assess such views about aesthetic discourse?

If indeed nihilism about the aesthetic is true; that is, if nothing has any aesthetic properties, and if there are no aesthetic facts or truths, an important question that arises concerns the implication for our everyday aesthetic thought and discourse. We have seen that there is a host of suggestions for how to think about morality if nihilism is accepted—among them are abolitionist, fictionalist, and conservationist accounts of moral thought and discourse. But we cannot be sure that these accounts are straightforwardly applicable to aesthetic thought and discourse. For one thing, the effects and functions of actual aesthetic thought and discourse may not be sufficiently similar to those of moral thought and discourse to motivate conservationism, or a transition to abolitionism or fictionalism, about aesthetics. There is also a possibility that a kind of partial abolitionism, described in the preceding subsection, is called for in the case of aesthetics.

In general, the implications for aesthetics of normative nihilism is an underexplored topic (Kivy 2015 is a notable exception). This is one area in which the project aims to break new ground, and to cross-fertilize metaethics and meta-aesthetics.

Projektmedlemmar

Projektansvariga

Nicolas Olsson Yaouzis

Forskare

Filosofiska institutionen
Nicolas O

Medlemmar

Jonas Olson

Professor

Filosofiska institutionen
Jonas Olson

Victor Moberger

Forskare

Filosofiska institutionen
Victor Moberger

Jessica Isserow

Lecturer

School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science at the University of Leeds
Jessica Isserow

Richard Rowland

Research Fellow

Philosophy Faculty at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne
Richard Rowland

Louise Hanson

PhD

Durham University
Louise Hanson