This widely anticipated volume offers a systematic introduction to and striking analysis of the central issues animating current debate in moral philosophy.
“The Moral Problem's ability to combine originality and subject overview are two factors that render this book an essential text for anyone enrolled on an intermediate level moral philosophy course and above. With a certain level of guidance, the book's powerful clarity and explanatory style could also be harnessed at the introductory level. Overall, I strong recommend this text and believe the non-philosopher would also learn a great deal about how moral philosophy works.” (Philosophy & Economics Books Reviews, 1 April 2013)"Vigorous, engaging, and marvelously sophisticated, Michael Smith's The Moral Problem faces head-on the challenge of reconciling morality's motivational relevance with its claims to objectivity and categorical force - without abandoning a Humean account of human action and without metaphysical extravagance." Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, University of North Carolina
"Extraordinarily clear and well organised. Reading this book takes you right into the centre of the intense contemporary debate on moral theory. Smith knows exactly what he is doing, and slowly puts together a redoubtable argument for the broadly realist position he favours." Jonathan Dancy, University of Reading
"An intelligent, clear, and engaging book" Times Literary Supplement
"An outstanding and ambitious work, it serves at once as a lucid introduction to metaethics and a wide-ranging inquiry into some of its hardest problems." Brad Hooker, University of Reading
"A marvelous volume: it is not only an important contribution to philosophical ethics, but also an exciting introduction to the subject. The book is an excellent model of how to do philosophy, a model I hope students (and their teachers) will adopt for themselves." Gilbert Harman, Princeton University
Topics discussed include: realist vs anti-realist accounts of moral truth, cognitivist vs expressivist accounts of moral judgement; internalist vs externalist accounts of the relation between moral judgement and the will; Humean vs anti-Humean theories of motivation; and the debate between those who think that morality is a system of hypothetical imperatives and those who think that moral requirements are categorical.
In 2000, The Moral Problem received The American Philosophical Association's first APA Book Prize for excellence in scholarship.
Plattitude 1: moral judgements have a truth value (objectivity of moral judgements). Plattitude 2: moral judgements consitute reasons for action (practicality of moral judgements). Plattitude 3: desires are constitutive of reasons for action (folk psychology).
1 and 2 entail that beliefs - states that have a truth value - constitute reasons for action, contrary to 3. 2 and 3 imply that moral judgements are (or express) desires - states that do not have a truth value - contrary to 1. 1 and 3 result in the conclusion that desires have truth values, contrary to 2 - as reasons for action are constituted by non-cognitive states, i.e. states without a truth value.
As will be clear to those familiar with contemporary meta-ethics, proposing a solution to this problem requires an analysis of rival solutions as given by for example expressivism, cognitivism, and error theory. Smith gives such an analysis and forcefully argues that these solutions are flawed. His own solution starts by pointing out that - although plattitude 3 is indeed a plattitude and should be retained - it is not the whole story about human motivation. If you want to find out more about these issues, this is the book to read.