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Entries in Michael Huemer (2)


Rejecting Morality

Continuing my efforts to look at the notion of moral valuing and the different explanations of how it works that it inspires, I recently had occasion to read Beyond Morality by Richard Garner. Actually I read his updated on-line version, Beyond Beyond Morality, which seems to be his effort to improve his earlier published book. Presumably his basic thesis hasn't changed although he has attempted to amplify and strengthen it for his readers. In a nutshell, the book rejects morality as such based on his embrace of the Humean picture of moral judgment being grounded solely in sentiment. But unlike others influenced by the Humean account, such as the non-cognitivists (emotivism, prescriptivism) or the subjectivists (those who ground moral discourse in individual preferences and those who ground it in consensus preference within particular groups), and, of course, unlike intuitionists like Michael Huemer (who argue that moral claims are cognitively respectable because they address rationally knowable facts derived from our concepts, themselves), Garner (like J. L. Mackie before him) rejects the idea that moral claims state any facts at all. There is no moral knowledge, he argues, and that's a good thing . . .

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Ethical Intuitionism and the Idea of Intrinsic Goodness

Been reading a book I picked up the other day, Ethical Intuitionism by Michael Huemer who teaches philosophy at the University of Colorado (Boulder). As the title suggests, he makes an argument for intuitionism in ethics, a la Moore, despite the fact that this tradition has fallen on hard times since Moore and Sidgwick first began pushing it. After taking apart the current meta-ethical theories that grew up in the shadow of Moore's Principia Ethica, including non-cognitivism (he includes here the expressivism/emotivism of people like Ayer and Stevenson as well as the prescriptivism of Hare), subjectivism (in which he includes, somewhat counter-intuitively, all moral accounts that stand on the idea of some opinion or authority including the idea that our moral views just state our personal preferences, the preferences of our community, the preferences of an "ideal observer" or the preferences of a deity), and nihilism (the position that there are no moral truths at all, just the illusion that there are) he proceeds to make his case for the intuitionist account.

His position rests on a Kantian a priorism that holds that knowledge, even that which we think of as empirical, is grounded in intellectual intuitions such as the idea that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, that time is ordered (one moment follows another and precedes the next) and that things cannot be both red and blue all over and at the same time. He argues that these are indubitable propositions, requiring neither proof nor grounding but, which, themselves, form the ground of other things we know in an empirical sense. Similarly he argues that there are moral intuitions we have such that some things just are "intrinsically" good. The intrinsicness, he finds, in the concepts our words for these "things" represent. He makes the important point that even in logic, no syllogism is valid unless it is understood as such (the implications of the structure of premises is recognized) and that this, too, is a priori though there is no guarantee that we come to see it. To get the validity of any syllogism we have to recognize it and sometimes we do so only by having the connections made explicit though we do implicitly recognize validity when it is there, even if we may not always understand what's going on or the why's of logic.

After establishing the relevance and reality of what he takes to be the a priori he goes on to equate moral intuitions with such a priori knowledge. Relying on a principle he calls "phenomenal conservatism" (the idea that we should take things to be as they appear, absent some additional reason to think they aren't) he argues that the ethical intuitions we have represent a kind of truth unless and until other intuitions conflict with them. He doesn't argue that an ethical intuition is certain, that it can never be wrong, but only that it is prima facie the case absent information to the contrary and should be treated as such. . . .

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