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It seems to me that each of 1 - 3 is a premise that should not be accepted, but I'll direct my comments at 1.

1 is unacceptable because 'the motion of Mars' isn't the sort of thing which can be, or fail to be, morally permissible. Another way of putting this is to say that 1 doesn't make sense.

Later, you write that, "if any sentence of the form "______ is not morally permissible" is not a moral judgment, then none of them are."

This is true. The question is, when you fill in the blank with 'the motion of mars' is the output of the function a sentence? My claim is that it is not.

Let me stress, by the way, that I am asserting without argument a conception of the proper domain of moral discourse. That conception underlies my practice of denying that sentences like "The motion of Mars is morally permissible" make sense. This may look question begging, but I don't think that it is.

In order for such sentences to mean anything, we must have practices in place for using them. When I say that 1 fails to make sense, what I'm noticing is that 1 is so radically disconnected from our practice that it can't be interpreted in a meaningful way.


Well, 1 is a pretty straightforward application of the principle of excluded middle, so if you deny 1, you have to get rid of that principle. That seems to me a pretty high cost -- we seem to have very good reasons to want to affirm excluded middle. I don't think it's worth paying that cost just to save the idea of a proper domain of moral discourse.

I don't know whether you're saying we should deny 1. You say that 1 doesn't "make sense." Does that mean that 1 isn't true? If so, then I take it your view is inconsistent with excluded middle, because according to excluded middle anything of the form "P or not-P" is true.


Just a quick note -- denying 1 would only be a rejection of the law of the excluded middle if it were granted that the clauses in 1 made sense.

Consider a similar case: "'_________' is larger than three."

Now, there are some words that can be plugged in here to make a sentence, but you can't plug in just any word. 'Seven', 'One', '2+2', all of those, to use Frege's phrase, saturate the formula. But what if you plugged in 'Fish' or 'Mars'? It just wouldn't make sense. That's what I'm saying is going on with 1.


Hmm, that's a fair point. I'll have to think about that.


Choice happens within a moral context, just as truth happens within a logical context. Fish is only larger than three when fish and three are defined within the same context.

1. Either (a) the motion of Mars is morally permissible, or (b) the motion of Mars is not morally permissible.
2. (a) is a moral judgment.
3. (b) is a moral judgment.
4. Thus, there is at least one true moral judgment about the motion of Mars.

Watch your conclusion! 4 is properly: Thus, there is at least one moral judgement about the motion of Mars.

Premises 2 and 3 are true: (a) and (b) are both moral judgements. However, neither of these true premises says that (a) or (b) are true. For all this argument says, they might both be false.

Let us seek at least one more conclusion: (c) The moral permissibility of the motion of Mars cannot be determined.

Within the general Western intuitive moral context/framework, morality is based on choices and consequences. Within this moral context of "things that can choose and things that can't", Mars is one of those "things that can't."

1. No things that can be judged morally are things that cannot choose.
2. Mars is a thing that cannot choose.
3. Therefore, Mars is not a thing that can be judged morally.

EIO-2, conditionally valid.


You are right that premises 2 and 3 do not imply that "that (a) or (b) are true". But you're ignoring premise 1. Premise 1 just is the claim that either (a) is true or (b) is true.

I'm mostly in agreement with your idea that moral ideas have to do with "things that can choose" (although I'm not sure how exactly consequences are supposed to fit into the picture). The problem is that you have to deny one of the premises of the argument in order to consistently hold that.


(i) I'm not sure I buy the argument that "fish is larger than three" doesn't make sense. I don't see why it's not just false: fish is not larger than three, because being larger than three is not a property fish can have.

(ii) I think the real problem with the argument is that (3) is false. It seems to me to conflate two separate forms of (b).

(b) X is not morally permissible; and
(b') X is morally not permissible.

(b') entails (b). But (b) does not entail (b'). (b) could also be true because:

(b'') X is not morally anything

i.e. it's outside the domain of moral judgment.

Noting this conflation avoids the problem with (c). We think (c) is a moral judgment because we think that:

(c'') killing innocent children is not morally anything

is obviously false, and therefore read (c) implicitly as:

(c') killing innocent children is morally not permissible.

Now, you might either want to say that (c) is a moral judgment, on the basis that it's based on (c'), which is a moral judgment; or that (c) is not, in and of itself a moral judgment, and that only (c') is. But I don't think that particularly matters for the point.


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Mike Artherton

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