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A sensible ethics: The analogy between color and value

Rodney W Cupp, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation explores an analogy between moral properties and color. Some philosophers claim that moral properties and secondary qualities are similar: both kinds of property are essentially tied to human sensibility, and we seem confronted in our experiences of both kinds of property with something the existence of which is independent of those experiences. Such similarities suggest that the correct analysis of color concepts is a proper model for the correct analysis of moral properties. A particular understanding of this analogy supports moral realism. ^ First, we are justified in accepting Qualified Dispositionalism, or (QD). According to (QD), ascription of a color to an object is true in virtue of a disposition of that object to appear in an area of the visual field having a certain property. (QD) is a better match with the folk theory of color than is any other prominent philosophical theory of color. (QD) also accounts for certain scientific facts about color. Therefore, (QD) is true. ^ Second, an analogous conception of moral properties is correct. According to the Dispositional Theory of Value or (DTV), an object possesses a certain moral property just in case it merits a certain motivational response in appropriately receptive beings. (DTV) accounts for three essential features of ethical discourse and practice: values provide reasons for action, reasons for action motivate, and values motivate; the moral cannot be reduced to the non-moral; moral judgments have truth values. No other prominent metaethical theory accounts for all three features. Therefore, (DTV) is true. ^ Colors conceived as dispositions are objective since an object's possession of such a property is independent both of the existence of beings like us and of our knowledge of such properties. Realism regarding color is therefore correct. Because moral properties are also dispositional properties, moral properties are also objective. An object's possession of a moral property is independent both of our existence of beings like us and of our knowledge of such properties. Hence, realism regarding moral properties is also correct. ^

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Recommended Citation

Cupp, Rodney W, "A sensible ethics: The analogy between color and value" (2004). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3126946.