CFP: Special Issue of Res Philosophica on Moral Nonnaturalism

Submission deadline: April 2, 2014

Topic areas


Res Philosophica invites papers on the topic of moral nonnaturalism for the 2014 Res Philosophica Essay Prize. The author of the winning paper will receive a prize of $3,000 and publication in the special issue of the journal on the same topic. Submissions for the prize will be automatically considered for publication in the journal's special issue unless otherwise requested.


The recent history of moral nonnaturalism has been both tumultuous and unpredictable. In the early 20th century, thanks to the work of philosophers such as G. E. Moore and W. D. Ross, nonnaturalism was arguably the dominant metaethical position in Anglo-American philosophy. By mid-century, however, the view had fallen into disfavor, eclipsed by various versions of expressivism and moral naturalism. Indeed, by century's end, most philosophers had given up nonnaturalism for dead. The view seemed to be of historical interest only. 

Few, then, could have predicted that nonnaturalism would receive fresh and vigorous defenses in the early 21st century. Philosophers such as Russ Shafer-Landau, Ralph Wedgwood, David Enoch, and David Parfit each offered book-length defenses of the view, developing the case that moral nonnaturalism is a far more resilient, resourceful, and plausible position than most had assumed. 

While nonnaturalism is now, once again, a view that philosophers take very seriously, challenges remain. Some of these challenges concern the view's ontological commitments: How ought we to understand what a nonnatural property (or fact) is? What are the best reasons for holding that moral features (or facts) are not reducible to natural features (or facts)? Are these reasons persuasive? Moreover, what should nonnaturalists say in response to the charge that their view requires us to believe that ontologically discontinuous entities such as natural and nonnatural facts bear necessary connections to one another? 

Other challenges concern the view's epistemological commitments: Given the fact that our moral views have been heavily influenced by contingent cultural, historical, and evolutionary forces, how could nonnaturalists plausibly hold that we reliably track the moral truths? Moreover, nonnaturalists have tended to defend intuitionist views in moral epistemology, maintaining that some moral propositions are self-evident. To what extent, though, is nonnaturalism committed to a version of ethical intuitionism? And are these views defensible? 

Still other challenges are broadly semantic: If nonnatural features (or facts) do not enter into the causal flow of nature, how could we get them in mind or refer to them? Are nonnaturalists committed to broadly descriptivist accounts of reference? Or can they join forces with naturalists in championing nondescriptivist accounts of reference? 

These are just a sample of the sorts of issue that submissions might address. Papers that address other topics in the neighborhood are welcome.

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