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Michael Andrew Smith (born in Melbourne, Australia on 23 July 1954) is an

Australian philosopher who teaches at Princeton University (since September


2004).[1] He taught previously at the University of Oxford, Monash University,
and was a member of the Philosophy Program at the Research School of Social
Sciences, Australian National University. He is the author of a number of
important books and articles in moral philosophy. In 2013, he was elected a
Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[2]
Life[edit]
Smith earned his B.A. and M.A. in philosophy at Monash University, while his
BPhil and DPhil were acquired at Oxford University under the direction of Simon
Blackburn.[3] He has held teaching appointments at various universities,
including Wadham College, Oxford (1984), Monash (1984-5; 198994), Princeton
(1985-9), and the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National
University (1995-2004).[1]

In 2000, Smith's book The Moral Problem (1994) received The American
Philosophical Association's first APA Book Prize for excellence in scholarship.[4]
Smith is considered to be one of the most important philosophers working in
meta-ethics, and is one of the main proponents of a Neo-Humean approach to
practical reason.

Work[edit]
The moral problem[edit]
In The Moral Problem Smith diagnoses a longstanding tension between the
apparent objectivity and practicality of moral judgments. The idea of moral
objectivity is that "it is a distinctive feature of engaging in moral practice that the
participants are concerned to get the answers to moral questions right." (1994 p.
5) Moral judgments are thought to be practical because they are thought to
motivate those who accept them. But according to the Humean theory of
motivation, a theory that Smith defends in chapter 4, it is not possible for a belief
(a judgement about a matter of fact) to motivate someone without the presence
of some antecedently held desire. Thus, if moral judgments are beliefs that
motivate, they can only be beliefs about how to get something that we already
want. But moral judgments, such as the judgment that murder is wrong, are not
judgments about how to get something that we already want. Therefore, either
they are not beliefs at all (and therefore not objective) or they cannot motivate
us (and therefore not practical).

Neo-Humeanism[edit]
Hume famously claimed that reason is, and ought to be, only the slave of the
passions. Humeans or Neo-Humeans do not typically hold strictly to Hume's
views because, for one thing, they do not think of the passions in the same way
that Hume did. Nonetheless, Humeans take their inspiration from Hume in
claiming that reason alone is insufficient to motivate us to act. Often this claim is
expressed in terms of beliefs and desires, and it is claimed that beliefs are
mental states that are insufficient for motivation. Smith gives an analysis of
action whereby in order for anything to count as an action at all, it must be
explicable in terms of a belief-desire pair. He defends this account against
objections by appeal to a dispositional conception of desire.

Moral realism[edit]
Smith later goes on to give an anti-Humean account of normative reasons. He
thus claims to solve the moral problem by giving an account of moral judgments
in terms of what one would desire if one were fully rational. As such, he attempts
to maintain a form of moral realism while still accounting for the motivational
force of moral judgments.