Moral Arguments

When analytical philosophers insist that argumentation is the only way to address ethical questions, it is a lot like sumo wrestlers insisting the sumo wrestling is the only way to address ethical questions.

9 comments:

  1. That is a terrible analogy. The second thing doesn't even answer ethical questions.

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    1. Who says? And who says argumentation does?

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    2. Samson, here is how to answer ethical questions with sumo wrestling:

      A believes abortion is immoral.

      B believes abortion is morally neutral.

      A and B sumo wrestle. The winner is declared to be correct.

      Question answered!

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    3. Of course, this is not the *liberal* way of resolving ethical issues... but who says that way is right? Or the only way?

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    4. Here is me playing devil's advocate for a bit, Gene: lets say that a liberal would then say "Well, how else could we *rationally* decide what is or isn't moral? We are only left to our conflicting intuitions and traditions!"

      I am not taking Samson's side. And Samson: this is an analogy. Of course the example doesn't portend to answer ethical questions! You should read the normative ethics literature out there: start with utilitarianism, then see the objections; the proceed to two-level 'preference' utilitarianism (as espouse by R. M. Hare), and then hear the objections to that: and then, from those objections, go to rule utilitarianism as espoused by Hooker in 'Ideal Code: Real World' and then proceed from there. After you see problems with that, go to deontological ethics as espoused by Kant: then read the objections and problems with *that*. After awhile, you find that all of these folks don't ever find resolution to moral questions - they just come up with theories that are easy enough to drive trains through in certain situations. The really damning thing about the whole liberal project of finding a rationalist ethical system is that people from the same school of thought arrive at different solutions - sometimes even completely so!

      This is exactly what Alasdair MacIntyre and Gene are getting at: liberal argumentation in ethics is really just a fancy, fun way of doing a whole lot of nothing. I would rather talk to my priest about a serious moral dilemma than any philosopher.

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  2. Seems like you would still need to argue for other ways to address ethical questions or just rely on assertion and authority. Not that I think one can't argue for them though everything may end up as assertions anyway, perhaps we will have more faith in them or less after doing so.

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    1. Well, you would only need to argue for them if you feel argumentation is the right way to answer such questions! Perhaps authority IS the right way to resolve them? Perhaps the right way to resolve them is to look to scripture?

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    2. As long as it is my authority and my scripture.

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  3. This is sort of like watching people argue over how to play tennis. They are playing the game for the end goal of having fun. When someone comes in and says, "There are other ways to play games with balls that are fun; for example, 'baseball' and 'football' can be fun, too" they jump at him and say "How the hell are you supposed to play tennis with bat?! And tackling people is ridiculous; why would you do that?! It just doesn't make sense!" When you respond "well, they both achieve the end of 'fun'", they scoff: only OUR game can be fun! You are standing on the tennis court, after all! You have already assumed that in order to have fun, you should play the tennis game!

    What Gene is doing is brilliant, and in line with some of the most profound philosophers on moral philosophy: he is saying that we have accepted the rules to a game that isn't bringing us to our desired conclusion - so look to other games to do so. (Of course moral philosophy isn't a game, but this is an analogy). To keep repeatedly stating 'but argumentation is the only way we can arrive at certainty about morality!' is like the tennis player telling the baseball player that the only way to play games that are fun is to hit them with a racket instead of a bat.

    There is no logical inconsistency here, because Gene is not assuming the regular, tired, faulty liberal assumption that argumentation is the only way to resolve disputes. If I understand him correctly, he is saying "there is more that one way to solve moral dilemmas: one of them is an appeal to intuition, the others might be appeals to authority; not all of them are only through argumentation." Appeals to authority are not always fallacious: look up 'argument from authority' if you think so. And intuitions are not only a great way of resolving moral disputes, all normative ethics must necessarily come from moral intuitions! Read the literature on ethical intuitionism - especially Michael Huemer's astonishing 'Ethical Intuitionism' to see why.

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