Lormand - Ethics Without Intuitions

Lormand - Ethics Without Intuitions - Ethics without...

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Ethics without Intuitions (This is more a class handout than a paper draft.) Eric Lormand November, 2010 Epistemological “assumptions” To save time and to focus the discussion on ethics, I have to act as if I’m merely assuming some things about epistemology, things that I really think I could argue for from scratch instead. First, I suppose that if one aims for true theories, one should favor the “simpler” of two theories that “capture” the same “data”. I suppose one’s “data” include certain introspective beliefs about one’s own mental states, and maybe certain perceptual beliefs about one’s environment. I suppose a theory “captures” data beliefs if it explains or necessitates or renders probable the truth (or at least the existence) of these data beliefs. And I suppose one theory is simpler than another primarily if it contains fewer basic beliefs and concepts (simplicity of structure, or “plainness”), and secondarily if it posits fewer things (simplicity of reference, or “frugality”). I’ll call this the core of the “scientific method”: if two theories capture the same data, the simpler is the better. If we hear a thud in the hall, it’s a better-because-simpler first guess that a person dropped a book than that 17 people dropped 17 booklets simultaneously. These epistemic “assumptions” are evaluations, beliefs about which candidate beliefs one should accept. But these are all hypothetical evaluations, evaluations made true in part by our basic aim for truth and rationality. (If you don’t care about truth and rationality, feel free to use some other method.) My question here is about whether and how one can reach justified categorical evaluations, evaluative beliefs that are true no matter what aims are in place. That’s the stuff of ethics. How to do without ethical “intuitions” Famously, ethicists try to mimic the scientific method, by using “ethical intuitions” (instead of perceptions and introspections) as data, and then trying to capture the data with the simplest ethical theory. Equally famously, these ethical intuitions seem to vary from theorist to theorist and theory to theory, in a way that makes them seem prejudiced by the very theories they are used to evaluate. This naturally suggests that the whole ethical “reflective equilibrium” process is a big circular cheat, and no ethical beliefs deserve the status of data, so we can’t apply the scientific method to ethics. I want to think a little harder about what happens if there are no data relevant to justifying categorical evaluative beliefs, no special role for ethical “intuitions”. Even if so, surprisingly, we aren’t just stuck as far as the scientific method is concerned. If no candidate ethical theories capture any data, they are all in effect tied at capturing zero data, and the scientific method tells us to break such ties by favoring the simpler of two theories. I think we can get interestingly far by thinking about simplicity in the ethical realm, without giving any role to ethical intuitions. Immediately (but as always, provisionally), simplicity favors “universalist” evaluative beliefs over “particularist”
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This note was uploaded on 12/28/2010 for the course PHILOSOPHY 383 taught by Professor Lormand during the Fall '10 term at University of Michigan.

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Lormand - Ethics Without Intuitions - Ethics without...

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