Sunday, April 17, 2011

G. E. Moore's Open Question Argument and Phenomenology

In this post, I want to suggest something different about Moore's Open Question argument. It might be weird to say, but I've always found this argument convincing; yet it's more about what the Open Question argument implies Let's review.

For moral property M, M expresses the fact that there are intrinsically good things in this world like moral values. M is not the same as natural properties N in N is simply a descriptive state of affairs about how the world is, not how it ought to be. According to Moore, no M can be identified with an N. If an M is identified with an M, then the strange thing is we can still ask if  M is really an N? It is an open question whether or not, e.g. the good is identified with maximizing collective welfare. We can still ask if maximizing collective welfare is good? Thus, all determinate identifications of M as N suffer from the open indeterminacy of any predicate attributed to what is good. The inference suggested is that natural properties and moral properties are an irreconcilable divide, and any future identification between these realms of fact and values, is-statements and ought-statements, or what is called the descriptive and the normative is foolish. Instead, we should think that values are irreducible following that the difference between fact and value is a difference in kind, and it is not a stretch to say that within moral philosophy the sphere of the personal is also maintained as irreducible.

Husserl gives us good reasons to think that something like this follows from Moore's argument--that is, there is a diference in kind between what can be explained naturally and what should be explained at the first-personal level. From the natural standpoint, all events can appear as if they can be described by the totality of Ns in the universe. From this point of view, all events occur as N revealed in a long chain of physically caused phenomena. In this way, the antecedent conditions of the causal story result in my having chosen any decision and one gets in the habit of positing events as N all the time. Among the events as N, the fact that I have  subjectivity and have initiated deliberation as an event is lost in this perspective. There is nothing like consciousness in this view. All events that become subsumed in the overall chain of events. Thus, any first-personal perspective in which I initiate, feel or experience in any way is a fact to be explained. Yet, according to a shift in the perspective taken from the standpoint of my conscious experience, it is I that decides what to do. It is me that decides to endorse my son's adoption of a baby, or not. For moral experience, and the experience of M in general, the dimension of experience bearing on any moral quandary is to be lived through at the practical level of the first-personal experience. This is where all moral experience takes place and this is where the experience of the personal matters. It is never a question of what is to be explained as part of an overall order of natural explanation. Rather, it is a question of values pertaining to how different in kind they are from matters of description.

Let me be clear. Moore's argument does not endorse phenomenological analysis of the sphere of human being or of moral experience. Yet, it does not limit it either. What Moore's open question argument achieves is a strict non-identification between the natural and the moral. This adds evidence that we are not off base for thinking that our experience of morality should seek its answer within the lived-experience of human life. In other words, there is more to moral experience than seeking to explain the ontology of value-predicates in moral judgments. Given that Moore's argument achieves this, it is not a stretch to assume the possibility of a moral phenomenology. Moreover, it is silent on whether or not a moral phenomenology is the only way to get to the experience of values. One might as easily treat the moral and the natural with a pragmatic conception of experience. Thus, while I advocate the phenomenological approach, it is at least conceivable that there are other approaches to describe the respect of lived-experience the Open Question Argument implies.

No comments: