One of our members, Drew Johnson, will be defending his dissertation titled “A Hybrid Theory of Ethical Thought and Discourse” on April 8, between 11 AM – 1 PM, in the UCHI Conference Room (Babbidge 4-209), which will also be broadcasted. The abstract of his work and the event link is below. Good luck Drew!
Abstract: What is it that we are doing when we make ethical claims and judgments, such as the claim that we morally ought to do what we can to assist refugees? This dissertation introduces and defends a novel theory of ethical thought and discourse. I begin by identifying the surface features of ethical thought and discourse to be explained, including the realist and cognitivist (i.e. belief-like) appearance of ethical judgments, and the apparent close connection between making a sincere ethical judgment and being motivated to act on it. I examine prominent attempts to explain these features, with a focus on recent ‘hybrid’ theories combining elements of expressivism and cognitivism. Despite their initial promise, I argue that extant hybrid theories are nevertheless committed to problematic semantic, metasemantic, or pragmatic assumptions. I then develop what I take to be the strongest existing option, ethical neo-expressivism (Bar-On and Chrisman 2009; Bar-On, Chrisman, and Sias 2014), into an explicitly hybrid theory proposing that ethical judgments incorporate both motivationally-charged affective states and moral beliefs. I further develop this account by developing a theory of the proper function (following Millikan 1984) of ethical claims and judgments, arguing that they function simultaneously to track the morally salient features of social situations, and to coordinate our behavior around these features. Finally, I defend one of the cognitivist commitments of the theory – namely, that objective moral knowledge is possible – by applying recent work on the epistemology of fundamental or ‘core’ intellectual commitments (Lynch 2012; Pritchard 2016) to the moral realm.
Dissertation title: “A Hybrid Theory of Ethical Thought and Discourse”
Committee: Dorit Bar-On (chair), Michael Lynch, William Lycan, Paul Bloomfield.
Dissertation in philosophy.