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Phil-100A-Hndt-3-F-10 - Phil 100A: Ethics F 10 ...

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Unformatted text preview: Phil 100A: Ethics F 10 Professor Aaron Zimmerman 1. Disgust Revisited An Initial Question: What, if anything, makes female circumcision, polygamy and incest immoral? Suppose two mature siblings, who are incapable of reproducing, knowingly engage in consensual intercourse. Is this an immoral act? Studies show that most people living today in the developed world will describe the act as immoral despite their having no good argument they can offer in support (Haidt, Bjorklund and Murphy, 2000). A Revised Argument from Disagreement (1) Americans find cousin incest disgusting and justly conclude that it is immoral. (2) Trobriand islanders do not find cousin incest disgusting (or problematic in any way) and justly conclude that it is not immoral. (3) The best explanation of the difference between Americans and Trobriand islanders regarding cousin incest is that there is no fact of the matter as to whether it is immoral or (at least) no one knows (or can know) whether it is immoral. Therefore, (4) There is no fact of the matter as to whether cousin incest is immoral or (at least) no one knows (or can know) whether it is immoral. Moral contextualists deny premise (3) and argue instead that the Americans and Trobriand islanders don’t really disagree. The American correctly believes that cousin incest is immoral given her cultural biases and the Trobriand islanders correctly believe that cousin incest is perfectly fine given their cultural biases. According to this line of thinking, the moral truths are all relational in form. 2. Moral Contextualism Defined Moral contextualism: One or more moral expression is properly used to denote or express different things in different contexts of utterance. As a result, sentences containing that expression will be properly used to assert different things in different contexts. A non ­moral example of contextual variation: Suppose it’s sunny in SB but cloudy in London. Chad and Thomas are talking on the phone: Chad in SB: It sure is sunny. Thomas in London: No it isn’t. Handout #3: Moral Contextualism Question: Have Chad and Thomas disagreed? Three possibilities: (1) Thomas doesn’t understand English; (2) Thomas thinks Chad is in London with him. (3) Thomas thinks, contrary to fact, that it is raining in Santa Barbara. Claim: Only (3) involves a substantive or cognitive disagreement. Cognitive Disagreement: After S has knowingly asserted P because she believes P, S*≠S asserts not ­P because she believes not ­P and intends to deny the very proposition she knows that S has asserted. The moral case: Lucy is an American who finds sex between cousins disgusting and consequently judges this activity immoral. Nalubutau is a Trobriand Islander who has followed custom in marrying his first cousin on his father’s side. Lucy and Nalubutau are talking on the phone: Lucy in the US: Having sex with you cousin is immoral. Nalubutau in the Trobriands: No it isn’t. Four possibilities: (1) Nalubutau doesn’t understand English; (2) Nalubutau thinks Lucy has the cultural biases of the Trobriands in mind and is incorrectly asserting that these biases speak against cousin incest. (3) Nalubutau thinks, contrary to fact, that the cultural biases of Americans do not speak against cousin incest. (4) Lucy and Nalubutau both know that Americans think cousin incest is disgusting and they both know that Trobriand islanders reject this claim, but they think they can consistently argue about the practice’s immorality nonetheless. Questions: Which possibility is most likely? How does this distinguish the case from that of Chad and Thomas described above? 3. The Epistemological Consequences of Contextualism The contextualist can say that Lucy expresses knowledge when she says, “Incest is immoral,” because if the contextualist is right, what Lucy knows here is that incest is immoral according to standards operative in her society. And this does not rule out Nalubutau’s also expressing knowledge when he says, “Cousin incest is morally fine.” Compare: Thomas expresses knowledge when he says, “It’s not sunny,” and so does Chad when he says, “It is sunny.” Chad knows that it is sunny in Santa Barbara; Thomas knows that it is not sunny in London. 4. Contextualism and Disagreement Let moral invariantism be the denial of moral contextualism. Let moral dogmatism be the view that disgust at a practice justifies belief in the immorality of that practice even after one knows that other people, groups or cultures are not disgusted by it and do not find it immoral. Three relevant positions: (A) Contextualism, (B) Invariatism without Dogmatism, (C) Invariantism with Dogmatism. Claim: Only position (C) would allow Lucy to continue to insist against Nalubutau that cousin incest is immoral. But position (C) is implausible. 5. Preliminary Conclusion Moral contextualism is implausible when it is applied to our central moral beliefs in the injustice, selfishness and cruelty of certain practices. For instance, we argue against the morality of polygamy from beliefs regarding the rights and capacities of women, arguments that our polygamous interlocutors cannot rationally dismiss as irrelevant to the truth of what they believe. But when contextualism is relegated to moral judgments sustained by nothing more than disgust, its truth would be of little epistemological importance. We are either unjustified in arguing for such beliefs in the face of contrary views, or we cannot cogently contradict the views of foreign cultures on such matters. In either event we can be criticized for insisting on the immorality of an action others find acceptable when nothing beyond disgust lies behind our assertions. ...
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