Thursday, April 16, 2009

Phenomenological Properties Ground Moral Ones

Well, I just heard Robert Audi give a talk at the APA about moral perception, and I was suspicious about his project since anytime anyone would object; he'd just give him/her another distinction. One wasn't really sure how much work or what those distinctions are doing. The reason for positing moral perception is to make intuitionism somewhat more naturalistic since according to him moral properties are anchored in natural properties. Both the realist and the anti-realist I think accept something like moral properties are anchored by natural properties. I deny that moral properties are anchored in natural properties.

In this post, I only talk about my reasons for rejecting the relationship, and will not outline a substantive proposal to replace it. Much of moral philosophy is driven in terms of the larger body of philosophy, namely, that ontology drives what is legitimate. In this day, it is naturalism that drives all forms of philosophical legitimacy. The drive for this form of legitimacy first has grown so popular, it is actually uncritically accepted.

Moral properties resist articulation in more precise naturalistic terms. In fact, if you look at how we apply the term right and wrong, they are applied wholly to deed+agent. At first, this looks like a massive confusion to some that want more clarity in our usage, application and articulation of what exactly is going on in our moral language. Yet, the want for more clarity is, under my view, impossible. Our moral language encompasses qualities of an entire situation, and speak of morally relevant considerations as they might qualitatively change the situation. The frustration, I think, with this feature of our moral language makes some so frustrated that they impose standards from more scientific discourses onto our moral language for the want of rigor and precision that just can't be there.

So given the lacking precision of our moral language, I ask what kind of properties hold for situations in general, and what could possibly ground them? A philosophy that is driven by ontological naturalism tries to over-determine the possibilities of what exists in a top-down method. Phenomenology works from the bottom-up, and so I think that when I deny moral properties being anchored in natural properties what I really mean is that phenomenological properties ground our understanding of the world in general, including ethics. What naturalists often forget is that their understanding is a subjective accomplishment. Subjectivity is so embarrassing to them they would rather eschew the subject and the intentional life of consciousness than bring to light those implicit intentional structures that constitute the emergent-sense of our world.

If one were to ask what we could get from focusing on the experience rather than explaining the phenomena, I resist that objection on the grounds that there is no difference between explanation and experience as the naturalist would want. The explanation is not apart of how we experience it, and in ethics, we are trying to capture the structures of morality, judgment and our language without losing sight of the normative. Take for instance, B. Williams. His efforts at spelling out the internalism requirement of practical reason is an effort to philosophically explain AND capture how we experience the world. In fact, that's the appeal of motivational internalism, it explains how we experience ourselves in the world, and deflates a confused notion -- externalism -- based on our experience of the world (I'm just using this as an example; I happen to be more of an externalist) .

It's as if the world is not carved up so nicely that many of our distinctions do not work to bring it to light, I especially think this in relation to the top-down method of just doing meta-ethics without keeping sight of what we are trying to explain, the moral life.

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