About

Lance Independent is a blog dedicated to criticizing moral realism. It is written by me, Dr. Lance S. Bush. I'm a philosopher and psychologist. My research focuses on moral psychology, metaethics, and methodological issues in experimental philosophy.

Although the primary goal of this blog is to critique moral realism and defend moral antirealism, I cover a variety of other topics, including consciousness, free will, metaphilosophy, and methodological issues in psychological research.

Me and my dog, Pitanga

What’s your background? How did you end up with a blog dedicated to criticizing moral realism?

I am Lance S. Bush. I grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I didn’t have a very happy childhood.

I used to believe in the paranormal until a chance encounter with James Randi. I became an atheist and began studying psychology and philosophy more intently shortly thereafter.

A few random personal facts:

(1) I’m really into food. More than most people are. I probably should have been a food critic or done something else related to the culinary world, especially since gastronomic realism is true.

(2) I enjoy video games, but tend to focus on a small handful of them. I’m especially into tactical RPGs and cRPGs. My favorite games are:

#1: Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together
#2: Baldur’s Gate
#3: Baldur’s Gate 2
#4: Fallout
#5: Fallout 2

(3) I have an awesome wife. Here we are:

(4) This is my dog, Pitanga. She’s the cutest:

What’s your academic background?

I have a PhD in social psychology from Cornell and an MA in philosophy from Tufts. I also have bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and psychology from Florida Atlantic University. You can find my CV here.

I primarily study the psychology of metaethics, and in particular, what ordinary people think about moral realism and antirealism. However, I also do work in metaethics, experimental philosophy, metaphilosophy, and moral psychology.

Most of my focus centers on methodological shortcomings in experimental philosophy. In particular, I focus on the methodological difficulties researchers face when they attempt to study how nonphilosophers think about traditionally philosophical topics.

How did you develop your academic interests?

At some point I became interested in metaethics and interdisciplinary approaches that combined philosophy and psychology and, by the time I arrived at Tufts in 2012, I was firmly entrenched in an empirical and interdisciplinary approach to studying philosophy that drew heavily on psychology and the empirical study of human language, cognition, and culture. I brought this approach to Cornell, where I continued to pursue interdisciplinary research in metaethics. My interest in methodological issues gradually coalesced as I became increasingly aware that psychology had just as many serious methodological challenges as philosophy, and I now focus on criticizing the methods in both fields.

Why "Lance Independent"?

Lance Independent is a play on words. The term “stance-independent” is commonly used in metaethics to refer to the kinds of moral facts moral realists believe in: stance-independent moral facts, or facts that are true independent of the goals, standards, or values of people or groups. At the same time, the term "independent" often appears in the titles of newspapers. Finally, the literal meaning of "independent" suggests that this blog represents my personal views.

What is moral realism?

Moral realism  is a position primarily discussed within metaethics, a branch of ethics that addresses abstract and fundamental questions about the nature of morality.

According to moral realists, there are stance-independent facts about what is morally right or wrong. "Stance-independent" is a technical term that roughly refers to the notion that the facts in question are not made true by our goals, standards, or values.

For example, we may believe that facts about the age of the earth or the amount of jelly beans in a jar are "stance-independent." This means that such facts aren't made true by our preferences, attitudes, values, and so on. However, we might also think that facts about what food or music we like do depend on our attitudes or preferences.

There are a variety of distinct forms moral realism can take. For instance, some moral realists believe moral facts are natural facts, while others believe they are non-natural. There are also differences in how people characterize realism. More minimal definitions may simply hold that moral realism is the claim that there are moral facts. This would result in classifying some forms of relativism as forms of realism. Others add additional constraints on realism. For instance, they may require not only that there are moral facts, but that we know at least some of them, or are capable of knowing about them (what we might call an "epistemic thesis").

Likewise, those who reject moral realism endorse a variety of antirealist positions. The most common antirealist positions are relativism, noncognitivism, and error theory.

What is your metaethical position?

I am a moral antirealist. This means that I deny there are stance-independent moral facts.

However, I do not endorse any of the traditional antirealist positions (relativism, noncognitivism, and error theory). This is because I think all of these positions rely on mistaken presuppositions about ordinary moral language and discourse.

Instead, I endorse metaethical quietism. I believe that the dispute between realists and antirealists is the product of a variety of conceptual and linguistic confusions and errors that have caused contemporary analytic philosophers to mistakenly believe they are engaged in substantive disputes.

Why do you care so much about moral realism?

Moral realism is a popular position among academic philosophers (~62% of philosophers endorsed moral realism in the 2020 PhilPapers survey).

Moral realism's popularity among philosophers is a symptom of a broader malaise in contemporary analytic philosophy. I want philosophy to be a productive and practically relevant discipline. My problem is thus not, ultimately, with the conclusion that moral realism is true, but with the poor methods that have led so many philosophers to be so confident that its true.

What is Lance's Realist Trilemma?

I maintain that all versions of moral realism are trivial, false, or unintelligible.

Unintelligible? What do you mean?

One way I differ from many other antirealists is that I think many of the terms and concepts moral realists employ are literally meaningless. Moral realists often speak of "reasons" e.g., "decisive," "external," or "normative" reasons, as well as "categorical" norms, "irreducible normativity," and a variety of other terms. When pressed on what these terms mean, realists are reliably unable to provide a substantive response. Typically, I've been told that such concepts are "primitive" or "unanalyzable." Make of that what you will.

What else do I discuss?

I also discuss metaethics in general, metaphilosophy, and moral psychology. With respect to metaphilosophy, I am highly critical of the methods and focus of contemporary analytic philosophy. With respect to moral psychology, much of my focus centers on methodological problems in the study of folk philosophy, such as metaethics and free will.

I will be updating this section as I find more things to include. If you have questions or comments, email me. If there's anything that should go in my About section, I'll consider adding it.

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A blog about metaethics, metaphilosophy, and moral psychology.

People

I'm a philosopher and psychologist. My research focuses on moral psychology, metaethics, and methodological issues in experimental philosophy.