An Ethical Case for Ethics-First Social Metaphysics

Sun 15, 8:40-9:10 am PDT

I am concerned with the methodology of metaphysics that is “social” in the sense of “socially significant”: metaphysics done for the society. This is not exactly the same as metaphysics about social entities or kinds. For example, whether robots can be conscious is a question of “social metaphysics” in the relevant sense, although a robot is no more a “social” entity than a human individual (and perhaps is even less so). The question is: when we do social(ly significant) metaphysics, should our inquiry be untainted by the consideration of the potential upshots for social practices? Should we be ready to go wherever inquiry leads us and re-organize social practices on the basis of metaphysical results, if need be?

I call the approach that answers this question affirmatively the “metaphysics-first” approach to social metaphysics. The contrasting, “ethics-first” approach considers the practical consequences of the metaphysical verdict (for example, of recognizing robot consciousness or group agency or a certain account of gender) in the course of reaching the metaphysical verdict. I also distinguish between second-order metaphysics-first and ethics-first approaches to defending one of the first-order approaches. On the second-order metaphysics-first approach, the relevant grounds concern metaphysics: we should do either ethics-first or metaphysics-first social metaphysics because this is required for doing metaphysics well, for getting the metaphysics right. On the contrasting second-order ethics-first approach, a first-order (ethics-first or metaphysics-first) approach is motivated by ethical considerations. The aim of the talk is to further flesh out these distinctions and to defend a first-order ethics-first approach to social metaphysics by also taking a second-order ethics-first approach to the defence.


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