Saturday, May 31, 2008
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Value pluralism is a thesis not about the realism/anti-realism debate concerning values; it does not concern itself with subjectivism, objectivism or relativism even, but as to the structure or shape of values. It is opposed to value monism. When we are concerned with the shape or structure of values, we are concerned with the question: Are there a set of universally consistent values that pertain to what is moral reducible to one type of good, or are there sets of values that pertain to morality as more than one moral good? If value monism is true, then values are structured simple, and there is only one relevant moral consideration in any one given moral situation. If value pluralism is true, then morality looks quite different than the one-to-one correspondence between a value and a moral situation that is present in value monism. Why this question matters philosophically is that when we hold moral agents morallly accountable, the very assessment of their accountability shifts with what structure is true about values. The more values there are the more relevant moral considerations must be taken into account to determine accountability. Our moral evaluations follow from the structure of values.
To think it through another way, the structure of values is whether or not there is one ultimate type of value that trumps all others. Classically, utilitarian authors said it was pleasure (Bentham and Mill). They thought pleasure was the only intrinsic good. They framed moral judgments as maximizing only one type of value over all others since those goods were reducible to one type of value. By constrast, value pluralism holds that there are multiple values added to what morality is. There is not one type of morally relevant value to reduce everything else to.
In deontology, values are moral principles, and the monist would see one type of principle grounding all others. In this way, Kant can be seen as being a value monist since the categorical imperative is the sole morally relevant principle that generates the right reason (maxim) by which we all being rational agents must assent to. By constrast, W. D. Ross thinks there are multiple principles and supports a pluralism of principles.
I've recently begun to think on this debate, and I cannot see one way or the other to go. First, value pluralism reflects the complexity about moral life that is overlooked in most forms of monism. Yet, the oversimplification in monism avoids incommensurability of values. Pluralism is struck by this problem of how exactly do we decide between values if there are more than one reducible value to which all others do not refer. The values are there in the moral situation, and in some cases, it is reasonable to expect they cannot be ranked. Here, I could appeal to some form of Aristotelian phronesis or practical wisdom, as is commonly done, but that just posits a mysterious faculty to which no answer can be given. If practical wisdom enthusiasts explicate how practical wisdom decides between incommensurable values, then it could very easily cascade into a procedure for settling all incommensurability problems, which is just monism again.
At times like these, I anticipate that a phenomenological reduction on values would help immensely. Yet, my inexperience in this area causes pause for reflection. Oftentimes, it takes writing just to see where one's confusion lie, and if by writing this, I realize that I am just more puzzled than when I began. Indeed, this is the best thing about philosophy. When it leads to more questions, you at least know you are on the right track
Friday, May 9, 2008
An argument against intuitionism in ethics proceeds as follows. If everyone has access to the same self-evident intuitions, then moral knowledge would be consistent, and no disagreement of morality, nor its expression in principles would occur. Disagreement does, however, happen. Therefore, there are no self-evident moral principles or intuitions. If there were, then disagreement would never, if ever, occur.
While the disagreement objection follows from intuitionism if such a position claims certainty about a class of self-evident intuitions and principles, it is unclear that when we say that there is a moral fact of the matter in this situation, such a normative observation of a situation involves the level of certainty built into the disagreement objection. Moreover, intuitions in Ross are seen as defeasible and prima facie justified. There can be other more pressing considerations that once critical reflection is underway those considerations reveal how false our initial intuitions may be. For instance, I am a bank teller and see a dirty dingy man coming to my line. I call over the bank manager, and ask him to call over the security guard because he has a gun slightly showing above his hip. However, when the man comes over, I see a badge pressed underneath a shirt, and the police officer reveals his ending a shift requiring him to go undercover. My initial reflective judgments, intuitions so called, was wrong, and I owe him an apology for possibly embarrassing him in front of other customers.
The point is that moral knowledge is not certain as any other realm. The push for content-specifiability is a result of philosophy taking as its influence the emulation of the natural sciences in which the phenomena encountered can be quantified in explanation. A level of precision in handling objects of empirical study is available unlike the precision available to our conceptual analysis of morality. I think this is a problem, and secondly, content-specifiability is made problematic given that normative theories no longer justify the structure of values in the form of monism. Generally speaking, moral theorizing has become somewhat more sensitive to the context of morality and often construes the role of ethical principles and values in the form of a pluralism over a monism. I adopt this move as an appropriate characterization of morality.
I want to end this meandering thread on the fact that if I am accepting intuitionism in the form of W. D. Ross, then I must, like any intuitionist, give a response to the disagreement objection. In order to do this, I introduce a distinction between two levels of the moral epistemic scenario. First, our intuitions are reports of the morally relevant facts that pertain to our situation, and what centrally is at dispute with respect to the duty in a situation. I think here our intuitions gives us an understanding of what moral principles to apply. In Ross, however, one goes straight from seeing the morally relevant fact and this gets us the interpretation of the principles as it applies to the situation. I disagree. At the other end of the givenness of any moral situation, there stands the question of interpretation of applicability. The disagreement follows from interpretation of the intuitions, not simply from differing intuitions (which is still possible, I admit). Thus, I see a morally epistemic scenario as following three basic steps:
(1) Morally understanding the moral fact of the matter as it is given and pertains to the moral situation
(2) The framing of our intuitions of what is given to what pertains in the moral situation
(3) Deciding on how best to apply the framed intuitions in the moral situation.
I think (3) is a better source or culprit of disagreement more often than the difference in the content of our moral intuitions. I am not claiming that interpretation in application is the only source of disagreement. What I am claiming is that defenders of Ross never seem to consider this as a possible source of disagreement since the disagreement objection takes as its sole target our intuitions and not the interpretations of those intuitions to the particular cases in which such generality applies.