The Feeling of Value: Moral Realism Grounded in Phenomenal Consciousness

Dudley & White, June 2016

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Front Cover

Winner of New York University’s Dean’s Outstanding Dissertation Award

“[E]xceptionally bold and philosophically absorbing…a real achievement…the kind of muscular, intuitively motivated philosophical stance that brings the subject to life.”

—from the foreword by Thomas Nagel

From the back cover:

This revolutionary treatise starts from one fundamental premise: that our phenomenal consciousness includes direct experience of value. For too long, ethical theorists have looked for value in external states of affairs or reduced value to a projection of the mind onto these same external states of affairs. The result, unsurprisingly, is widespread antirealism about ethics.

In this book, Sharon Rawlette turns our metaethical gaze inward and dares us to consider that value, rather than being something “out there,” is a quality woven into the very fabric of our conscious experience, in a highly objective way. On this view, our experiences of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, ecstasy and despair are not signs of value or disvalue. They are instantiations of value and disvalue. When we feel pleasure, we are feeling intrinsic goodness itself. And it is from such feelings, argues Rawlette, that we derive the basic content of our normative concepts—that we understand what it means for something to be intrinsically good or bad.

Rawlette thus defends a version of analytic descriptivism. And argues that this view, unlike previous theories of moral realism, has the resources to explain where our concept of intrinsic value comes from and how we know when it objectively applies, as well as why we sometimes make mistakes in applying it. She defends this view against G. E. Moore’s Open Question Argument as well as shows how these basic facts about intrinsic value can ground facts about instrumental value and value “all things considered.” Ultimately, her view offers us the possibility of a robust metaphysical and epistemological justification for many of our strongest moral convictions.


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