Volume 91, Issue 4, October 2014
William J. FitzPatrick
Skepticism about Naturalizing Normativity
In Defense of Ethical Nonnaturalism
There is perhaps no more widely shared conviction in contemporary metaethics, even among those who hold otherwise divergent views, than that practical normativity must be capable of being naturalized (i.e., captured fully within a metaphysically naturalist worldview). My aim is to illuminate the central reasons for skepticism about this. While certain naturalizing projects are plausible for very limited purposes, it is unlikely that any can provide everything we might reasonably want from an account of goodness and badness, rightness and wrongness, and unqualified reasons for acting—at least if we are unwilling to accept certain deflationary or bullet-biting moves. Some naturalizing views can be shown to fail outright to capture the relevant normative facts or properties, while others have more promise but can also be seen to have certain limitations and costs, failing to capture elements that some of us take to be important to an adequate theory of practical normativity. There are, of course, far more naturalizing moves than can be considered here, so the aim is not to establish the truth of nonnaturalism through a process of elimination. But I hope to say enough to bring out the central worries about naturalizing projects and to pose some challenges that apply more widely, with the aim of showing that ethical nonnaturalism remains an attractive and well-motivated option at least for those of us who reject both nihilism and various forms of ethical deflation.