Morality Without Foundations investigates fundamental metaethical questions about the meaning, truth, and justification of moral thought and discourse. Mark Timmons maintains that all versions of descriptivism in ethics, particularly certain accounts of moral realism, fail. He argues instead that a correct metaethical theory should embrace some version of non-descriptivism. Timmons defends what he calls "assertoric non-descriptivism" which, unlike traditional non-descriptivist views, holds that moral sentences are typically used to make genuine assertions. In defending this view, he exploits contextual semantics, providing him with the semantic flexibility to develop an irrealist account of moral discourse.
Timmons goes on to support a contextualist moral epistemology, completing his overall version of contextualism in ethics. Like his foundationalist rivals, Timmons recognizes that there are moral beliefs that are epistemically basic in providing a basis for the justification of non-basic moral beliefs. Yet, he agrees with the coherentist in maintaining that there are no intrinsically justified beliefs that can serve as a single foundation for a system of moral knowledge. Timmons ultimately finds that regresses of justification of moral belief end with contextually basic beliefs--moral beliefs which, in the relevant context, are responsibly held, but in other contexts might not be suitable as regress stoppers.
Timmons' novel defense of morality without foundations offers provocative reading for philosophers working in the areas of ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics. Yet, written with the student in mind, his lucid presentation of difficult ideas makes this book accessible to students and newcomers to the field of metaethics.
"Timmon's book is in so many ways a vital, important, must-read contribution to contemporary metaethics...anyone interested in metaethics ought to read this book. Period."--Ethics
"This book is both a first-rate work of philosophical scholarship and a plausible defense of a sophisticated and distinctive ethical theory." --Robert Audi, University of Nebraska
"Timmons' study makes easily available some of the most telling objections to moral realism and presents the most fully developed version of moral contextualism to date. This is a significant contribution to the field." --Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Dartmouth College