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Entries in Empiricism (2)


Moral Realism as a Naturalistic Intuitionism

Have been reading an essay by Richard Boyd in the collection Essays on Moral Realism, edited by Geoffrey Sayre-McCord. I think Boyd makes an interesting case. In a nutshell (and it's hard to get his argument into one nutshell), Boyd claims that, contra the non-cognitivist tradition, there is actually moral knowledge and that we come to know it empirically and in a way that is not radically different from how we come to know any scientific or other empirically discovered facts. The argument he makes commences with an analysis of what it means to know anything in a scientific way and he concludes that knowing is not a passive phenomenon, that we don't just soak up information around us. His view is that all empirical knowledge is achieved via the practices we develop, learn and employ against a developing theoretical background which enables new knowledge (new theoretical alterations), mitigated by the extent past theoretical underpinnings approach what is true. That is science grows in fits and starts but does so by building on itself and changing and improving the practices it enables which, as these improve, enable new knowledge and so better theories which thus adjust the background against which our current practices are employed and new practices developed.

He calls this "regulatory equilibrium" and argues that this sort of phenomenon, which is dynamic and interactive with others in our group(s), shapes the newer knowledge we obtain and is shown to be successful (and so to warrant acceptance) to the extent the adjusted theoretical background proves to predict better than what it replaced. In this fashion, he points out, modern chemistry and physics arose from the work of earlier centuries which were often based on what we recognize today as seriously flawed theories. Yet, he argues, we could not have gotten to our current state of knowledgeable science if we hadn't had the testing and measuring tools those earlier theories made possible. Similarly, he argues, there is a kind of intuitiveness at work in science for all scientific knowledge is not explicit. A great deal of it is implicit and representative of the unexpressed background theories the contemporary practitioner inherits and the training the practitioner obtains in the context of that unexpressed theoretical background. Thus, says Boyd, many scientific discoveries occur as realizations, as guesses that are prompted from the undergirding presumptions in which the scientist operates. Similarly, Boyd argues, knowledge of what's morally good can be understood to happen in the same way . . .

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A Matter of Ethics

Updated on November 7, 2013 by Registered CommenterStuart W. Mirsky

Considers some possibilities in finding justifications for the validity of our moral claims. If the basis of such claims cannot be justified in some bottom line way, can the claims we base on them be argued for at all?

I once tried unsuccessfully to argue that moral claims are based on the general principle of self-improvement and that self-improvement takes many forms and that how we understand it will determine the nature of the moral judgments we make . . . in the final analysis there is only one really reliable form of self-improvement [I argued] because all other options are too limited in scope to truly represent real improvement of the self . . . because, I thought, the self was rather like Kant's transcendental subject, clothed in our experiences, memories, beliefs, etc., and the point was to act in ways that most aligned with this purest core of our being. Alas, for me, the argument could not even withstand my own scrutiny of it.

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