PHIL 3100 -- Ethical Theory
Fall 2016
Prof. Chris Heathwood
TA: Jules Guidry
University of Colorado Boulder

First Paper:

The Argument from Occam's Razor against Metaethical Non-Reductionism

due Tuesday, October 4th in class

Philosophy Paper FAQ.  Read this first!  Though it is more applicable to our class second paper, which will be a more open-ended one.  For this first paper, you will be writing on a pre-assigned topic.  We will be providing you with both the topic and the structure for the paper.

There are no specific word-limits for this paper.  Just do what we ask you to do below and don't feel the need to add in anything extra.

The topic is the argument against non-reductionism in metaethics described in just two paragraphs of this reading, in the section titled, "Explanatory power" (p. 5).  We'll call this "the argument from Occam's razor."  The argument can be given against both non-reductive naturalism and non-naturalism. The thesis of your paper will take the following form:

The argument from Occam's razor {is / is not} a good argument against {non-reductive naturalism / non-naturalism}.

Thus there are four possible combinations to choose from for your thesis.  Pick one that you think is true and that you can defend in the strongest or most interesting way.

Your paper should do these things:

  1. Have an introductory paragraph in which you tell the reader what your topic is and what your thesis is.
  2. Provide the necessary background.  To do this:
    1. Explain the distinction between reductionism and non-reductionism in metaethics and illustrate with examples.
    2. Explain the version of non-reductionism that features in your thesis (i.e., either non-reductive naturalism or non-naturalism).
    3. Explain the argument from Occam's razor.  This will require you to do these things:
      1. State Occam's razor (this is the principle called the "Occam's-razor-like explanatory requirement" in the relevant reading).
      2. Illustrate its plausibility by explaining why it "might explain why we should believe in electrons, but not rain gods."  Note that there are two things you have to explain: why electrons would pass Occam's test and why rain gods would fail it.
      3. State and explain the argument from Occam's razor against the relevant form of non-reductionism.  This will require explaining why an advocate of this argument would think that the putative entity "moral facts" or "moral states of affairs" do not pass Occam's test if non-reductionism is true.  In other words, you would be explaining why irreducible moral facts are like rain gods, and thus have no place in a respectable ontology.
  3. Defend your thesis. 

Be sure to follow the guidelines on the Philosophy Paper FAQ