Ruling out Helium-Maximizing




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Joe Carlsmith asks: is it possible you should maximize helium? Robust realism per se places no constraints on what the normative truths might end up being. So, in particular, there’s no guarantee that what we objectively ought to do would hold any appeal whatsoever to us, even on ideal reflection — the objective requirements could be anything! (Or so you might assume.)But I think that’s not quite right. Metaphysically, of course, the fundamental normative truths are non-contingent, so they could not really be anything other than what they in fact are. Epistemically, the fundamental normative truths are a priori (if knowable at all), so it’s not clear that erroneous views are “possible” in any deep sense. A somewhat wider range of views may be “possible” in the superficial sense that we don’t currently know them to be false, but unless you’re a normative skeptic, we can currently know that pain is bad and that maximizing helium is not the ultimate good.It’s an interesting question how we can have any normative knowledge at all. (I offer my answer here.) But given that we can, it’s important not to lose sight of this fact when thinking about the implications of non-naturalism. For while the “non-natural” status of normative properties does not constrain their application, it doesn’t follow that they really could apply to just anything (either metaphysically or epistemically).Compare two very different bases for the confident rejection of helium-maximization:(1) Normative internalism rules out the possibility of a mismatch between normative truth and the attitudes we’d hold on procedurally ideal reflection. So on purely formal grounds, we can be confident that what we objectively ought to do cannot be something (like maximizing helium) that would never appeal to us.(2) Normative externalists must instead appeal to substantive normative claims, such as the datum that. . .

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