Metaethics

photo of Russ Shafer-LandauThe Sanders Prize in Metaethics is administered by Russ Shafer-Landau, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and editor of Oxford Studies in Metaethics.

Note: Submissions due March 1st, 2018.

Current Competition Details

The Marc Sanders Prize in Metaethics is an annual essay competition open to scholars who are within fifteen (15) years of receiving a Ph.D. or students who are currently enrolled in a graduate program. Independent scholars may also be eligible and should direct inquiries to the Editor of Oxford Studies in Metaethics Russ Shafer-Landau at RussShaferLandau@nullgmail.com.

The award for the prize-winning essay is $10,000, and winning essays will be published in Oxford Studies in Metaethics. The recipient of the award will be expected to present his or her paper at the 13th Annual Wisconsin Metaethics Workshop (MadMeta), September 28-30, 2018, at UW-Madison. More information about the Workshop can be found at https://sites.google.com/site/wiscmew/home.

Submitted essays must present original research in metaethics. Essays should be between 7,500 and 10,000 words, inclusive of notes and references. Since winning essays will appear in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, submissions must not be under review elsewhere. To be eligible for next year’s prize, submissions must be received, electronically, by March 1st, 2018. Refereeing will be blind; authors should omit all remarks and references that might disclose their identities. When submitting the paper to the Editor, please include the paper title in the subject line. Receipt of submissions will be acknowledged by e-mail. The winner will be determined by a committee of members of the Editorial Board of Oxford Studies in Metaethics and will be announced in early June of 2018.

Participants in the Sanders prize competition are encouraged to also submit a 3-page anonymized abstract of their paper for consideration at MadMeta, whose review panel assesses only abstracts, not whole papers. Details about such submissions can be found here.

Inquiries should be directed to the Editor, Russ Shafer-Landau, at RussShaferLandau@nullgmail.com.

Prize Winners

2017 Winner

Chris Howard, UNC Chapel Hill
Title: “The Fundamentality of Fit ” (PDF)

The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Metaethics join in congratulating Chris Howard (UNC) as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Metaethics for his entry “The Fundamentality of Fit.” Chris’s paper will appear in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 14, with a publication date of summer 2019. Chris will deliver a presentation based on his paper at MadMeta in September.

The review panel–chaired by Jamie Dreier (Brown), with Sarah McGrath (Princeton) and Jussi Suikkanen (Birmingham) also on the team–unanimously selected Chris’s paper from 46 submissions. Chris will receive his Ph.D. from the University of Arizona this summer, and is taking up a Philosophy, Politics and Economics post-doc at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill this fall.

Congratulations are also in order to our two runners-up in this year’s competition: Berislav Marusic (Brandeis), for his paper “Accommodation to Injustice,” and Matthew Lutz (Wuhan), for his entry “The Reliability Challenge in Moral Epistemology.”

Abstract: Many authors, including Derek Parfit, T.M. Scanlon, and Mark Schroeder, favor a “reasons-first” ontology of normativity, which treats reasons as normatively fundamental. Others, most famously G.E. Moore, favor a “value-first” ontology, which treats value or goodness as normatively fundamental. I argue that both the reasons-first and value-first ontologies should be rejected because neither can account for all the normative reasons that, intuitively, there are. I advance an ontology of normativity, originally suggested by Franz Brentano and A.C. Ewing, according to which fittingness is normatively fundamental. The normative relation of fittingness is the relation in which a response stands to an object when the object merits—or is worthy of—that response. I argue that my “fittingness-first” ontology is no less parsimonious than either the reasons- or the value-first ontology, but it can plausibly accommodate the existence of all the normative reasons there are. It therefore provides a superior ontology of normativity.

2016 Winner

photo of Neil SinclairNeil Sinclair, University of Nottingham
Title: Belief Pills and the Possibility of Moral Epistemology (PDF)

The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Metaethics join in congratulating Neil Sinclair (Nottingham) as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Metaethics. Neil’s paper will appear in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 13, with a publication date of summer 2018. Neil will deliver a presentation based on his paper at the Chapel Hill Metaethics Workshop in early September.

Abstract: I argue that evolutionary debunking arguments are dialectically ineffective against a range of plausible positions regarding moral truth. I first (§1) distinguish debunking arguments which target the truth of moral judgements from those which target their justification. I take the latter to rest on the premise that such judgements can be given evolutionary explanations which do not invoke their truth (§§2-3). The challenge for the debunker is to bridge the gap between this premise and the conclusion that moral judgements are unjustified. After briefly discussing older attempts to bridge this gap (§§4-5), I focus on Joyce’s recent attempt, which rests on the claim that ‘we do not have a believable account of how moral facts could explain the mechanisms and forces which give rise to moral judgements’ (§6). I argue that whether or not there is such an account depends on what it is permissible to assume about moral truth in this context. Further, I suggest that it is reasonable to make assumptions about moral truth which allow for the possibility of at least partial moral epistemologies (§6.2). The residual challenge for the debunker is to show that these assumptions are unreasonable in a way which doesn’t render their debunking argument superfluous.

2015 Winner

photo of Alex SilkAlex Silk, University of Birmingham
Title: Normative language in context (PDF)

The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Metaethics join in congratulating Alex Silk  (Birmingham) as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Metaethics for his entry “Normative Language in Context.” Alex’s paper will appear in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 12, with a publication date of summer 2017. Alex will deliver a presentation based on his paper at the Chapel Hill Metaethics Workshop in late October.

The review panel–chaired by Connie Rosati (Arizona), with Matt Bedke (British Columbia) and Ralph Wedgwood (USC) also on the team–unanimously selected Alex’s paper from a large number of exceptionally good submissions. Alex received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 2013 and joined the Birmingham department shortly thereafter.

We’d also like to congratulate Ralf Bader (Oxford), whose paper “The Grounding Argument against Non-Reductive Moral Realism” was judged as the runner-up in this year’s competition. Ralf is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University and a fellow of Merton College. He received his Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews and was a Bersoff fellow at NYU before joining the faculty at Oxford.

2014 Winner

photo of Janice DowellJanice Dowell, Syracuse University
Title: The Metaethical Insignificance of Moral Twin Earth (PDF)

The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Metaethics join in congratulating Janice Dowell (Syracuse University) as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Metaethics for her entry “The Metaethical Insignificance of Moral Twin Earth.” Jan’s paper will appear in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 11.

We received 41 submissions for this year’s prize competition in metaethics. The review panel, comprising Connie Rosati (Arizona), Terence Cuneo (Vermont) and Mike Ridge (Edinburgh), unanimously selected Janice Dowell’s paper, “Millikan, Metasemantics and Moral Twin Earth,” from a large number of exceptionally good papers. Jan received her Ph.D. from Pittsburgh and has taught at Bowling Green State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is currently Associate Professor of Philosophy at Syracuse University.

Abstract:  One prominent type of objection to a Descriptivist semantics for moral terms relies on the assumption that our intuitions about the possibility of disagreement with rival and hypothetical speech communities, or about the intertranslatability of our terms with theirs, are probative for semantic theorizing about such terms.  The objections based upon consideration of Smith’s “rival speech community”, Horgan’s and Timmons’ Moral Twin Earth, and Hare’s missionary are all of this type. The diverse, existing responses to these thought experiments share this assumption.  Here, in contrast, I provide principled grounds for its rejection.  As a consequence, our intuitions in these cases should be accorded no probative value either against pure Descriptivist semantic theories of moral terms or in favor of any semantic theory designed to accommodate them.

2013 Winner

photo of Errol LordErrol Lord Errol Lord, Franklin & Marshall College
Title: “Acting for the Right Reasons, Abilities and Obligation” (PDF)

The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Metaethics join in congratulating Errol Lord (Franklin & Marshall College) as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Metaethics for his entry “Acting for the Right Reasons, Abilities and Obligation.”

Errol’s paper will appear in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 10.

We received 52 submissions for this year’s inaugural prize competition in metaethics. The review panel, comprising Mark van Roojen (Nebraska), Sigrún Svavarsdottir (Ohio State), and Pekka Väyrynen (Leeds), unanimously selected Errol Lord’s paper “Acting for the Right Reasons, Abilities and Obligation” from the very keen competition. Errol graduated last year from Princeton and is currently a post-doc at Franklin and Marshall College.