Sharon Street
Sharon Street, a metaethics specialist and proponent a moral philosophy of irrational attitudes. Street borrowed Derek Parfit's 'Future Tuesday Indifference' for a 2009 paper in which she defends Humean constructivism, a brand of antirealism named after David Hume wherein moral facts start within us.


Indy is arranging his next dentist appointment with a booking clerk. Indy asks for Tuesday: the day on which he prefers his agony. He doesn’t want to experience pain; he reasons this much. However, he is indifferent to pain which occurs on this day. What does this say about us?

Indy is aware that anaesthetic will only be available from Wednesday, for which there is an available slot. But he isn’t keen: his attitude is such that he wants Tuesday. Thus he can be considered irrational because there is no strong reason to prefer more pain on Tuesday. He doesn’t try to rationalise it, though, only call it an ‘odd’ preference which relieves him of anaesthetic-free horror.

But Sharon Street (pictured) says we shouldn’t be dismissive. While Derek Parfit saw a ‘bright line’ between rational hedonic reasons (to do with pain) and irrational meta-hedonic reasons (not to do with pain), Street argues that, generally, they are of the same species in our complex motivational structures, born in our rich evolutionary history.

Kantianism is an alternative philosophy, according to which reasoning does all the work of justification in our beliefs outside of our attitudes and other irrational mental states. But this falls apart, Street argues, because practical reasoning fails to deliver moral obligations to humans (as well as non-human animals).

Street is a Humean constructivist whose antirealism stipulates that there are no moral facts which are independent of evaluative starting points. Rational reasons for doing things may be moral but morality does not require them like it does require, for example, evaluative attitudes.

Hence Street asks us to consider attitude-dependent conceptions of value in morality. Attitudes do matter, she says, even though they give rise to absurdities. We could, for example, live under a moral obligation to cabbages (I do, especially when braised) but there would be nothing alarming about this kind of relativism. Reasons and attitudes align; and in the rare case they don’t:

'[T]he substantive content of a given agent's reasons is a function of his or her particular, contingently given, evaluative starting points . . . [Consequently] truth and falsity in the normative domain must always be relativized to a particular practical point of view.'



Moral realism, in contrast, stipulates there exist moral truths ‘out there’ independent of evaluative judgements ‘in us’. Street denies this since moral truths, she claims, cannot be independent from whole sets of evaluative judgements ‘in reflective equilibrium’.

To the antirealist, then, ‘Hitler was morally depraved’ is a true claim because ‘valuing genocide’ was amongst Hitler’s evaluative attitudes. Conversely, the moral realist claims that Hitler was morally depraved regardless of his and our stances towards genocide.

So our attitudes really matter to Street. What does your attitude towards today say about you?

Some references

Sharon Street, 2008, ‘Constructivism about Reasons’.
—, 2009, ‘In Defense of Future Tuesday Indifference Ideally Coherent Eccentrics and the Contingency of What Matters’.
—, 2010, ‘What is Constructivism in Ethics and Metaethics’.

Derek Parfit, 1984, Reasons and Persons.