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Title: The Dilemma of Moral Naturalism in Nagel's Mind and Cosmos
Author(s): SCHMIDT, Elke Elisabeth
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 25    Issue: 2   Date: 2018   
Pages: 203-231
DOI: 10.2143/EP.25.2.3284945

Abstract :
The present contribution deals with both moral naturalism in general and Nagel’s version thereof in particular. In Mind and Cosmos, Nagel offers a neo-naturalistic theory of moral values that claims the existence of irreducibly objective moral values and that excludes at the same time so-called ‘metaphysical baggage’, i.e. the postulation of supposedly ‘queer’ non-natural entities. It is this meta-ethical standpoint that I critically examine here. I begin by providing a rough outline of Nagel’s meta-ethical thought. The strategy in the next part of the article is the following: I explore moral naturalism (and its variants) as an attempt to somehow integrate morality into the scientific worldview. This moral naturalism, I argue, faces a dilemma: either it overstretches the term ‘natural’, or it fails to account for a substantial element of morality, namely prescriptivity. Since Nagel does not maintain a traditional form of naturalism, but rather a non-scientific or liberal one that allows for entities and truths that cannot be explained by traditional sciences, one might hope that he is in a position to avoid this dilemma of (scientific) moral naturalism. However, I argue that this hope is illusive; Nagel’s liberal naturalism does not save him from the dilemma of moral naturalism. Therefore, Nagel’s moral naturalism is inconsistent.

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