The Sanders Prize in Metaethics is administered by Russ Shafer-Landau, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and editor of Oxford Studies in Metaethics.
Note: Submissions closed for 2019. Please check back in 2020 for the next prize cycle.
Current Competition Details
The Marc Sanders Prize in Metaethics is an biennial essay competition open to scholars who are within fifteen (15) years of receiving a Ph.D. or students who are currently enrolled in a graduate program. Independent scholars may also be eligible and should direct inquiries to the Editor of Oxford Studies in Metaethics Russ Shafer-Landau at RussShaferLandau@nullgmail.com.
The award for the prize-winning essay is $5,000, and winning essays will be published in Oxford Studies in Metaethics. The recipient of the award will be expected to present his or her paper at the 14th Annual Wisconsin Metaethics Workshop (MadMeta), September 13-15, 2019, at UW-Madison. More information about the Workshop can be found at https://sites.google.com/site/wiscmew/home.
Submitted essays must present original research in metaethics. Essays should be between 7,500 and 10,000 words, inclusive of notes and references. Since winning essays will appear in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, submissions must not be under review elsewhere. The next prize cycle will occur in 2021, please check back here in 2020 for more information. Refereeing will be blind; authors should omit all remarks and references that might disclose their identities. When submitting the paper to the Editor, please include the paper title in the subject line. Receipt of submissions will be acknowledged by e-mail. The winner will be determined by a committee of members of the Editorial Board of Oxford Studies in Metaethics.
Participants in the Sanders prize competition are encouraged to also submit a 3-page anonymized abstract of their paper for consideration at MadMeta, whose review panel assesses only abstracts, not whole papers. Details about such submissions can be found here.
Inquiries should be directed to the Editor, Russ Shafer-Landau, at RussShaferLandau@nullgmail.com.
The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Metaethics received 33 submissions and the selection committee, made up of the prize director, David Plunkett (Dartmouth), Sarah Buss (Michigan), and Nadeem Hussein (Stanford) have selected two winning papers.
Daniel Wodak, University of Pennsylvania
Title: “Approving on the Basis of Moral and Aesthetic Testimony” (PDF)
Abstract: If a reliable testifier tells you that a painting is beautiful or that an agent’s act is right, do you thereby have a reason to approve of the painting or the action? Many insist that you don’t: there’s no reason to approve on the basis of normative testimony. I argue that once we correct for a common methodological mistake in how people reach this conclusion, normative testimony must give us some reason for attitudes like approval. I then argue that we can build up from this result to challenge a variety of common solutions to the puzzle posed by normative testimony.
Luca Incurvati (left), Julian J. Schlöder (right), University of Amsterdam
Title: “Inferential Expressivism and the Negation Problem” (PDF)
Abstract: We develop a novel solution to the negation version of the Frege-Geach problem by taking up recent insights from the bilateral programme in logic. Bilateralists derive the meaning of negation from a primitive *B-type* inconsistency involving the attitudes of assent and dissent. Some may demand an explanation of this inconsistency in simpler terms, but we argue that bilateralism’s assumptions are no less explanatory than those of *A-type* semantics that only require a single primitive attitude, but must stipulate inconsistency elsewhere. Based on these insights, we develop a version of B-type expressivism called *inferential expressivism*. This is a novel semantic framework that characterises meanings by inferential roles that define which *attitudes* one can *infer* from the use of terms. We apply this framework to normative vocabulary, thereby solving the Frege-Geach problem generally and comprehensively. Our account moreover includes a semantics for epistemic modals, thereby also explaining normative terms under epistemic modals.
Honorable mention goes to Tristram McPherson (Ohio State) for his paper “Deliberate Authority and Representational Determinacy.”
Daniel Z. Korman, UC Santa Barbara (left)
Dustin Locke, Claremont McKenna College (right)
Title: “Against Minimalist Responses to Moral Debunking Arguments” (PDF)
The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Metaethics join in congratulating Daniel Z. Korman (UCSB) and Dustin Locke (Clarement McKenna College) as the winners of the Sanders Prize in Metaethics for their jointly authored paper “Against Minimalist Responses to Moral Debunking Arguments.” The paper will appear in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 15, with a publication date of summer 2020, and both will deliver a presentation based on the paper at MadMeta in September.
Abstract: Moral debunking arguments are meant to show that, by realist lights, moral beliefs are not explained by moral facts, which in turn is meant to show that they lack some significant counterfactual connection to the moral facts (e.g., safety, sensitivity, reliability). The dominant, “minimalist” response to the arguments—sometimes defended under the heading of “third-factors” or “pre-established harmonies”—involves affirming that moral beliefs enjoy the relevant counterfactual connection while granting that these beliefs are not explained by the moral facts. We show that the minimalist gambit rests on a controversial thesis about epistemic priority: that explanatory concessions derive their epistemic import from what they reveal about counterfactual connections. We then challenge this epistemic priority thesis, which undermines the minimalist response to debunking arguments (in ethics and elsewhere).
The runner-up in the 2018 competition is Nils Franzén (Uppsala University, Sweden), for his paper “Evaluative Discourse and Emotive States of Mind.”
Chris Howard, UNC Chapel Hill
Title: “The Fundamentality of Fit ” (PDF)
The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Metaethics join in congratulating Chris Howard (UNC) as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Metaethics for his entry “The Fundamentality of Fit.” Chris’s paper will appear in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 14, with a publication date of summer 2019. Chris will deliver a presentation based on his paper at MadMeta in September.
The review panel–chaired by Jamie Dreier (Brown), with Sarah McGrath (Princeton) and Jussi Suikkanen (Birmingham) also on the team–unanimously selected Chris’s paper from 46 submissions. Chris will receive his Ph.D. from the University of Arizona this summer, and is taking up a Philosophy, Politics and Economics post-doc at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill this fall.
Congratulations are also in order to our two runners-up in this year’s competition: Berislav Marusic (Brandeis), for his paper “Accommodation to Injustice,” and Matthew Lutz (Wuhan), for his entry “The Reliability Challenge in Moral Epistemology.”
Abstract: Many authors, including Derek Parfit, T.M. Scanlon, and Mark Schroeder, favor a “reasons-first” ontology of normativity, which treats reasons as normatively fundamental. Others, most famously G.E. Moore, favor a “value-first” ontology, which treats value or goodness as normatively fundamental. I argue that both the reasons-first and value-first ontologies should be rejected because neither can account for all the normative reasons that, intuitively, there are. I advance an ontology of normativity, originally suggested by Franz Brentano and A.C. Ewing, according to which fittingness is normatively fundamental. The normative relation of fittingness is the relation in which a response stands to an object when the object merits—or is worthy of—that response. I argue that my “fittingness-first” ontology is no less parsimonious than either the reasons- or the value-first ontology, but it can plausibly accommodate the existence of all the normative reasons there are. It therefore provides a superior ontology of normativity.
Neil Sinclair, University of Nottingham
Title: Belief Pills and the Possibility of Moral Epistemology (PDF)
The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Metaethics join in congratulating Neil Sinclair (Nottingham) as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Metaethics. Neil’s paper will appear in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 13, with a publication date of summer 2018. Neil will deliver a presentation based on his paper at the Chapel Hill Metaethics Workshop in early September.
Abstract: I argue that evolutionary debunking arguments are dialectically ineffective against a range of plausible positions regarding moral truth. I first (§1) distinguish debunking arguments which target the truth of moral judgements from those which target their justification. I take the latter to rest on the premise that such judgements can be given evolutionary explanations which do not invoke their truth (§§2-3). The challenge for the debunker is to bridge the gap between this premise and the conclusion that moral judgements are unjustified. After briefly discussing older attempts to bridge this gap (§§4-5), I focus on Joyce’s recent attempt, which rests on the claim that ‘we do not have a believable account of how moral facts could explain the mechanisms and forces which give rise to moral judgements’ (§6). I argue that whether or not there is such an account depends on what it is permissible to assume about moral truth in this context. Further, I suggest that it is reasonable to make assumptions about moral truth which allow for the possibility of at least partial moral epistemologies (§6.2). The residual challenge for the debunker is to show that these assumptions are unreasonable in a way which doesn’t render their debunking argument superfluous.
Alex Silk, University of Birmingham
Title: Normative language in context (PDF)
The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Metaethics join in congratulating Alex Silk (Birmingham) as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Metaethics for his entry “Normative Language in Context.” Alex’s paper will appear in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 12, with a publication date of summer 2017. Alex will deliver a presentation based on his paper at the Chapel Hill Metaethics Workshop in late October.
The review panel–chaired by Connie Rosati (Arizona), with Matt Bedke (British Columbia) and Ralph Wedgwood (USC) also on the team–unanimously selected Alex’s paper from a large number of exceptionally good submissions. Alex received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 2013 and joined the Birmingham department shortly thereafter.
We’d also like to congratulate Ralf Bader (Oxford), whose paper “The Grounding Argument against Non-Reductive Moral Realism” was judged as the runner-up in this year’s competition. Ralf is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University and a fellow of Merton College. He received his Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews and was a Bersoff fellow at NYU before joining the faculty at Oxford.
Janice Dowell, Syracuse University
Title: The Metaethical Insignificance of Moral Twin Earth (PDF)
The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Metaethics join in congratulating Janice Dowell (Syracuse University) as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Metaethics for her entry “The Metaethical Insignificance of Moral Twin Earth.” Jan’s paper will appear in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 11.
We received 41 submissions for this year’s prize competition in metaethics. The review panel, comprising Connie Rosati (Arizona), Terence Cuneo (Vermont) and Mike Ridge (Edinburgh), unanimously selected Janice Dowell’s paper, “Millikan, Metasemantics and Moral Twin Earth,” from a large number of exceptionally good papers. Jan received her Ph.D. from Pittsburgh and has taught at Bowling Green State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is currently Associate Professor of Philosophy at Syracuse University.
Abstract: One prominent type of objection to a Descriptivist semantics for moral terms relies on the assumption that our intuitions about the possibility of disagreement with rival and hypothetical speech communities, or about the intertranslatability of our terms with theirs, are probative for semantic theorizing about such terms. The objections based upon consideration of Smith’s “rival speech community”, Horgan’s and Timmons’ Moral Twin Earth, and Hare’s missionary are all of this type. The diverse, existing responses to these thought experiments share this assumption. Here, in contrast, I provide principled grounds for its rejection. As a consequence, our intuitions in these cases should be accorded no probative value either against pure Descriptivist semantic theories of moral terms or in favor of any semantic theory designed to accommodate them.
Errol Lord, Franklin & Marshall College
Title: “Acting for the Right Reasons, Abilities and Obligation” (PDF)
The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Metaethics join in congratulating Errol Lord (Franklin & Marshall College) as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Metaethics for his entry “Acting for the Right Reasons, Abilities and Obligation.”
Errol’s paper will appear in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 10.
We received 52 submissions for this year’s inaugural prize competition in metaethics. The review panel, comprising Mark van Roojen (Nebraska), Sigrún Svavarsdottir (Ohio State), and Pekka Väyrynen (Leeds), unanimously selected Errol Lord’s paper “Acting for the Right Reasons, Abilities and Obligation” from the very keen competition. Errol graduated last year from Princeton and is currently a post-doc at Franklin and Marshall College.