[lit-ideas] Re: Bartley's Non-Justificationism (Was: Justifying Moral Principles?)

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  • Date: Thu, 26 Feb 2015 09:43:36 -0500

In a message dated 2/24/2015 1:30:17 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
"It's important not to fight unnecessarily  over words."
Is it? That's the main philosophical sport! On the other hand, have you  
noticed that on mainstream television, when some allegedly unnecessary fight  
over words is involved the word 'semantics' (used by philosophers like 
Morris)  is usually used (Geary thiks 'usually used' is otiose -- 'even if  
McEvoy goes on:
"The [noun] "justification" can be used harmlessly enough, even though  it 
is suggestive of a "justificationism" that is mistaken as a theory of  
knowledge and which should be replaced by a critical approach that accepts that 
all our knowledge has a conjectural character. We can say (harmlessly 
enough)  that we are justified in preferring Einstein's physics to Newton's 
alternative  (in terms of their success in passing tests); but we should 'know' 
this does not  justify Einstein's physics in a way that renders it infallible 
or definitely  true, and that it does not imply that the great knowledge 
contained in  Einstein's physics is any kind of "justified true belief". [.. 
Also W]e should  abandon the silly philosophical dogma that because Einstein's 
physics cannot be  regarded as [justified true belief] it must be denied 
that it  represents any sort of "knowledge"."
Too true. But while the
NEWTON --> Einstein
point belongs to what Kant called 'theoretical' or 'pure' reason (He was  
being a 'purist' there), we may need an analogue in terms of 'practical' 
reason.  I mean, philosophers of science -- who focus on 'pure' reason are 
always  speaking of the Copernican revolution and the Einsteinian revolution. 
 revolutions in the realm of the practical 'reason' which was I think the 
point  that W. O.'s post involved) are more difficult to find. 
My favourite is
Julius Caesar --> Augustus
The first was a dictator; the second a clement emperor.

"I don't think there is any important distinction between  theoretical, 
practical or moral fields in this regard - our knowledge in all  these fields 
(which may overlap [by the way]) should be regarded as conjectural  rather 
than "justified" in some infallible way. It is the failure of our  greatest 
'theoretical' knowledge, at its most developed and well-tested in the  
sciences, to attain anything like "justified" infallible status  - the  lesson 
be learnt from the overthrow of Newtonian physics by Einsteinian -  that 
should warn us against regarding our less elevated views of practical and  
matters as having anything like  "justified" infallible  status."
Good points. Perhaps I should correct
Julius Caesar ---> Augustus
and replace it for
Kant --> Prichard
Grice knew Prichard well, and they shared some background
---- INTERLUDE ON PRICHARD as the main moral intuitionist ever: "I KNOW it  
is wrong to lie" cfr. "I know that eating people is wrong".
Harold Arthur Prichard was born in London in 1871, the eldest child of  
Walter Stennett Prichard, a solicitor, and his wife Lucy Prichard. Like  Grice, 
Prichard went to Clifton from where he won a scholarship to New College,  
Oxford, to study mathematics. But after taking First Class honours in  
mathematical moderations (preliminary examinations), he studied Greats (ancient 
history and philosophy) taking First Class Honours. He also played tennis for 
 Oxford (against Cambridge, naturally -- what else?) On leaving Oxford he  
spent a brief period working for a firm of solicitors with his father in  
London, before returning to the dreaming spires, first as Fellow of Hertford 
and  then of Trinity. He took early retirement from Trinity on grounds of ill 
health  (in fact, he was ill), but recovered ("and since I could not 
re-retire") was  elected White's Professor of Moral Philosophy and became a 
of Corpus  Christi -- Grice's alma mater.
---- END of biographical interlude
i. I know lying is wrong
ii. I know eating people is wrong.
Prichard gave an early defense of the view in his "Does Moral Philosophy  
Rest on a Mistake?", wherein he contended that moral philosophy rested 
chiefly  on the desire to provide arguments starting from non-normative 
for the  principles of obligation that we pre-philosophically accept, such as 
the  principle that one ought to keep one's promises or that one ought not 
to steal. 
This is a mistake, Prichard argued, both because it is impossible to derive 
 any statement about what one ought to do from statements not concerning  
obligation (even statements about what is good), and because there is no need 
to  do so since common sense principles of moral obligation are 
Prichard was influenced by  Moore ("some like Witters, but Moore's MY  
man") whose Principia Ethica  argued famously that goodness was an  
non-natural property of which we had intuitive awareness. Moore  originated 
the term "the naturalistic fallacy" to refer to the (alleged) error  of 
confusing goodness with some natural property, and he deployed the Open  
Question Argument to show why this was an error. 
Unlike Prichard, Moore thought that one could derive principles of  
obligation from propositions about what is good.
Alas, ethical intuitionism suffered a dramatic fall from favour by the  
middle of the century, probably due in part to the fact that the new generation 
 of Oxonians had all the wrong intuitions (except Grice, of course), but 
also due  in part to the influence of logical positivism, in part to the 
rising  popularity of naturalism in philosophy, and in part to philosophical 
objections  based on the phenomenon of widespread moral disagreement.

Prichard starts where many moral philosophers never tread: from an account  
of what an act is. What makes an act, so conceived, either right or wrong? 
Prichard holds that the rightness of an act is ‘constituted’ by what  
Prichard calls ‘a definite relation’ in which the agent stands to himself or to 
 others, that relation forming part of the actual situation in which he has 
to  act.
One thing Prichard means to exclude was that an act can be made right  
merely by the goodness of its consequences. 
Prichard writes:

"We do not come to appreciate an obligation by an  argument, i.e. by a 
process of non-moral thinking, and in particular we do not  do so by an 
of which a premiss is the ethical but not moral activity of  appreciating 
the goodness either of the act or of a consequence of the act, i.e.  our 
sense of the rightness of an act is not a conclusion from our appreciation  of 
the goodness either of it or of anything else."
This does not mean, however, that in order to appreciate the rightness of  
the act, one must appeal to a principle. 
Hence my idea that 
Kant --> Prichard
may be a good equation, since a philosopher loves a principle (cfr. Grice's 
 cooperative principle -- and maxims).
So perhaps another development could be:
Prichard --> Grice (In "Aspects of Reason", where he justifies Kant's  
categorical imperative as a principle).
Prichard argues that if we ask why the fact that I borrowed the money  
means that I ought to pay it back, all we can really do is to offer a 
 e.g. ‘because I ought to pay anything I owe’.
If we then go on to ask for a reason for the principle, there is nothing  
left to be said. 
But this is not because there is no reason for the principle.
It is because the principle ‘includes its reason, the reason becoming  
explicit when the principle is properly expressed’.
It is characteristic of an intuitionist to deny that the right can be  
derived from the good.
For Prichard, however, who WAS an intuitionist, goodness is very  different 
from rightness. 
Goodness seems to be a simple monadic property. 
Obligatoriness is completely different. It looks initially as if  
obligatoriness – being what one ought to do – is another monadic property,  
from goodness. 
Prichard held that obligatoriness is not a property of acts at all. 
If this action would be good, I ought to do it. 

Prichard asks us what the principle of these inference could possibly  be.
Prichard works initially with Sidgwick's contrast between intuitionism as  
the view that conduct is right when conforming to certain principles known 
to be  unconditionally binding, and non-intuitionism as the view that there 
are ends at  which we should aim. 
Sidgwick as a non-intuitionist maintains that right actions are those that  
have a certain motive. 
And Prichard holds that we cannot be required to act from a certain motive, 
 since our motivation is not something over which we have the required 
But Prichard's main target is Kant. 
As he sees it, Kant maintained that an action is right if and only if it is 
 done from the motive of duty, that is, from a sense of obligation. 
Now Prichard wants to admit that it can be good to act from this motive;  
maybe this is the only morally good motive. 
Other motives, such as a general benevolence, may make the relevant action  
good, but cannot make it morally good. 
But he wants first to insist that we cannot have an obligation to act from  
a particular motive, as we have already seen. And there are further 
difficulties  peculiar to Kant's position, in which the motive is specified as 
conviction  that the act concerned is a duty. 
The first is that the position has the consequence that no act, in  
Prichard's official narrow sense, is a duty at all. 
One's duty is to act from the motive of duty, never to do this or that act  
in the narrow sense. 
So Prichard is able to present Kant as holding that there is nothing that  
we ought to do, and therefore that it is impossible to act from the sense 
that  one ought to do this. 
If so, Kant has undermined his own position, since his understanding of the 
 motive of duty shows that there can be no such thing. 
Or rather, if there is such a thing as the motive of duty, it follows  
necessarily that it cannot be one's sole or primary duty to act on it.
Prichard was inspired by Cook Wilson, whom he heard say,

"What we know we know"
(cfr. I know eating people is wrong).
Prichard states that the view he inherited from Cook Wilson is that to act  
is to originate a change, has to be wrong. 
In fact, to act is to will a change, and the change willed is not an  
action; most often it is a bodily movement, 
Talk of principles was hot in Grice's Play Group. Gardiner was offered a  
bribe by one of his students to skip one of his seminars. "How would YOU have 
 acted?" he asked the members of the Play Group.
R. M. Hare said that he would have replied, "I don't take bribes on  
J. L. Austin said that he would have replied with a mere "No,  thanks."

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