[lit-ideas] Re: Moral Judgment and Perceptual Metaphor -- Good to Think?

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 6 Aug 2010 01:00:08 EDT

Interesting to have R. Paul's recollections and thoughts on the  
subject-matter of ethics. He is commenting on Wager.

In a message dated 8/5/2010 10:20:59 P.M., jwager@xxxxxxxxxx  writes:

"What is ethics?  What place do concepts or principles have  in ethics?  
What do we do when we practice “ethics” as a thoughtful  process?  Many 
philosophers try to begin with the “theory” that would allow  us to predict 
general form “X is right” would have.  If I am treating  someone fairly, 
then “X” is the right thing to do. If I am maximizing happiness,  then “X” 
is right.  If “Happiness” implies “X,” and “Happiness” is the  correct 
view, then “X” follows.  Our old friend Modus Ponens. But I don’t  think this 
is the way we always operate when we try to do ethics as a rational  
process.  Sometimes we start with the conclusion, and then try to argue  back 
the premises.  “Y” is wrong.  Ooops! I hadn’t ever had to deal  with “Y” 
before, but clearly “Y” can’t possibly be the right thing to do!"
Another thing that bothers me: is when 'legal' strikes in.
As we were saying with J. Evans: It is up to New Yorkers to decide if  
Park51 is the right thing to do. Surely we mean the 'legal' thing. So then we  
hear of Habermas, "Morality and Legality". And we wonder that it is just  
IMPOSSIBLE to have something which is ILLEGAL and moral.
But this may depend on one's conceptions of legality. J. Evans is an expert 
 in political philosophy, so here I would think Kelsen's positivism comes 
to  mind. What is ACCEPTED (as legal, as a matter of fact, de facto) may 
still not  be what is acceptABLE (qua moral, as a matter of iure). But I'm 
talking vaguely  or confusedly.
Wager goes on:
"Ooops again; it looks like “Happiness” implies “Y.”  What to  do?  Our 
old friend Modus Tollens: If “Happiness” then “Y.”  Not “Y.”  Therefore, 
not “Happiness.”  What this means in practice is that most  of us are more 
than willing to throw out a theory when it conflicts with some  deeply held 
idea of the immorality of a particular practice, no matter what  theory might 
say it’s the right thing to do.  (At least, that seems to me  what I have 
done in the past, and what I see as a reasonable prospect for  following in 
the future.)"
---- Besides the moral/legal issue, which may not be relevant to what J.  
Wager is talking about, I would think what Wager IS talking about, in my case 
at  least to me, relates with Ross's sort of INTUITIONISM.

Moral intuitionism (Ross, Prichard, and a few others -- popular at  Oxford 
in the pre-Grice days) precisely holds intuitions to be prior. I would  even 
call a non-naturalist like G. E. Moore an 'intuitionist' in this sense. The 
 Scots idea of a 'moral sense'. 

The problem with intuitionism is that it becomes irrefutable,  incorrigible 
and a matter of privileged access. If you INTUIT x is right (or  wrong), 
then x IS right (or wrong). Your intuitions cannot 'go' wrong. But I  
disagree. I think intuitions -- or so-called intuitions CAN go wrong. My  
case here is Flanders/Swann's reluctant cannibal ("Eating people is  wrong" 
-- also title of, typically, an academic novel by Bradbury -- only  
academics like J. L. Mackie, "Inventing right and wrong" -- a favourite with  
-- care about meta-ethics and what makes a moral intuition the wrong sort  
of thing to start one's moralising with.
"It also seems to be how philosophers write journal articles; they try to  
modify the theory to allow for its use in situations where the theory seems 
to  allow “Y” so that the theory no longer allows “Y” to be seen as the 
right thing  to do. I think that this is similar to Turner's two "poles" of 
"concepts" and  the "sensory" component.  We change both as we go. We need 
both as  starting-points for ethics. What say other others?"
I think the way philosophers write journal articles may be more complicated 
 than that -- but not TOO MUCH more complicated. There is indeed a lot of  
ad-hocness (a moral philosopher proving that an alleged counterexample to  
rule-utilitarianism, say, is not a REAL counterexample) and there is a lot of 
My favourite nitpicker, who writes pretty good moral essays, is Sinnott  
Armstrong, of Dartmouth. My favourite ad-hoc nitpicking must be his now  

"Ought Conversationally Implies Can" (Philosophical Review).
Surely we know from R. M. Hare (the Language of Morals) that 'ought' is the 
 moral word par excellence (etymologically, "I ought" --> "I owed").  
Sinnott-Armstrong is applying Grice's minimal requirements of rationality in 
utterance of 'ought'. Ought does not entail can, does not presuppose can. 
It  merely 'implicates' it conversationally. The gist of Sinnott-Armstrong's 
essay  then is a mixture of his 'intuitions' which not only come out as 
'moral' now but  as 'linguistic'. When are we justified to see if we are using 
'ought'  correctly?
Grice thought that 'ought' is not necessarily the MAIN moral concept. He  
preferred, "must" (and 'should'). His example, "Nixon should be teaching 
moral  philosophy at Oxford" (Aspects of Reason). Grice viewed 'must' as 
encompassing  this sense of 'necessity' that we adjudicate to our moral 
when  uttered in Kant's favourite universalistic vein.
Of course Grice knew he could only do that because S. N. Hampshire, with  
his relativism, had cleared the ground for him. Warnock, too, in his "The 
object  of morality".
---------- If one learns from these Oxonian meta-ethicists, it is how  
'clever language is'. It would turn out that the immoral person is the one that 
cannot speak properly. Or something.
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