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Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Volume 10$
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Russ Shafer-Landau

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198738695

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198738695.001.0001

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Justification and Explanation in Mathematics and Morality

Justification and Explanation in Mathematics and Morality

(p.80) 4 Justification and Explanation in Mathematics and Morality
Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Volume 10

Justin Clarke-Doane

Oxford University Press

In his influential book, The Nature of Morality, Gilbert Harman writes: “In explaining the observations that support a physical theory, scientists typically appeal to mathematical principles. On the other hand, one never seems to need to appeal in this way to moral principles.” What is the epistemological relevance of this contrast, if genuine? This chapter argues that ethicists and philosophers of mathematics have misunderstood it. They have confused what the chapter calls the justificatory challenge for realism about an area, D—the challenge to justify our D-beliefs—with the reliability challenge for D-realism—the challenge to explain the reliability of our D-beliefs. Harman’s contrast is relevant to the first, but not, evidently, to the second. One upshot of the discussion is that genealogical debunking arguments are fallacious. Another is that indispensability considerations cannot answer the Benacerraf–Field challenge for mathematical realism.

Keywords:   moral principles, ethics, philosophy of mathematics, mathematical realism, debunking arguments, Gilbert Harman, morality

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