The Epistemology of Evolutionary Debunking Arguments
April ///, 00:00
What can Debunking do for Us (Nihilists and Sceptics)
In this paper, I examine the metaethical relevance of genealogical debunking arguments about moral judgement, in particular their role in a case for moral nihilism or scepticism. Richard Joyce (2016) argues that a successful genealogical debunking argument puts the burden of proof on the moral realist, to explain how moral beliefs can be justified. I argue that the realist can shoulder this burden. Still, a successful genealogical debunking argument has dialectical force in that it provides a plausible response to an important argument against moral nihilism and scepticism. This response can be said to lead to a familiar impasse between moral nihilists and sceptics on the one hand and moral realists on the other. I conclude with some reflections on the epistemological implications of this apparent impasse.
Values and practices have evolved dramatically over human history. In earlier work, I argued that this evolution is best explained by cognitive progress: societies tend over the long term to move from badly wrong ideas to less wrong ideas. This explanation suggests, given the general contours of historical moral progress, that a particular moral outlook, broadly dubbed “liberalism,” is objectively correct. Here, I consider the extension of this line of thinking to the political realm, where it may appear that parallel reasoning points to an objectively correct political ideology. I find, however, that the political case is more complex: recent trends in political values and practices – in particular, trends toward increasing regulation and increasing wealth redistribution – cannot be straightforwardly read as revealing the correct political views, for in this case, unlike the broader moral case, the discovery of objective truths does not provide the best explanation for the historical changes.