How to Be a Moral Fetishist

This paper continues my defense of the value of trying to act morally rightly. I begin with the popular refrain that there are two kinds of moral motivation: an explicit concern with acting rightly, which we call “motivation by rightness de dicto”, and a concern with features of acts that are in fact among those that make them right, which we call “motivation by rightness de re” I argue that this way of talking misuses the de re/de dicto distinction, thereby obscuring the possibility of an overlooked third kind of moral motivation: a motivation whose object is that the agent acts morally rightly, but that represents acting morally rightly under another description. This is what the phrase “motivation by rightness de re” would refer to if the “de re” qualifier were used in the standard way familiar in philosophy of language. I then argue that the motivations underlying much ordinary moral deliberation are of this overlooked third kind; ordinary deliberators are often motivated to strike the right balance between everything that maters at stake in their circumstances, and this is a species of motivation by rightness de re correctly construed. Along the way, I show that we cannot explain many of the phenomena involved in ordinary deliberation if we assume that deliberators are solely concerned with the particular morally significant things at stake in their circumstances, and I relate the question of which motivations are of the overlooked third kind to current work in moral metasemantics. I close by classifying “anti-fetishist” arguments into three camps and using the foregoing considerations to raise novel challenges for each of them. The arguments all fare poorly given that some ways of being motivated to act rightly are ubiquitous, bear no resemblance to the caricatures of “moral fetishism” found in the literature, and indeed seem praiseworthy.

This paper isn’t out yet. Here’s the most recent draft.