Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Intuition and justification

Right on target, I'm working on a paper on reflective equilibrium, and one of my claims will be nobody really "does" RE. Our moral world is norm-centric, not theory-centric. When was the last time you used moral theory against the jerk who butt in line in front of you?

Instead, I claim that what we think of as reflective equilibrium is really just a mirroring of the academic social world: professors and students kicking around moral intuitions and theory's, and the discussion ends when some kind of understanding of all the concepts has sufficiently formed.

The issue of justificatory force for theory is thus irrelevant as it represents a category error.

(Sorry I don't know how to connect this to Arthur's post.)
Ed's Note: Added the link. I'll (PMJ) teach you how to do this, Adam.

6 comments:

  1. Adam,

    You and I have discussed this briefly before. Can you say more about how this discussion ends? Because it seems to me that it never would (some evidence: it's been going on for thousands of years and hasn't ended yet).

    A similar question arises if we think that some intuitions are innate and shared across cultures, while others are constructs of our culture and not authentic intuitions in the same way. After centuries of study, we have not yet agreed upon which intuitions are innate and which are relative to culture.

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  2. Adam,

    I agree that few of us use the ethical theories we study in class in our real life ethical dilemmas (such as people butting in front of us in line). But I am not sure I understand what you see as the upshot of that point. Partly this is because I am not sure I understand what you are claiming when you say that “The issue of justificatory force for theory is thus irrelevant as it represents a category error.” Is this to claim that an ethical theory cannot be justified? Also I don’t yet see how the premise, that I was accepting above, helps establish this conclusion.

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  3. Sounds interesting. Perhaps you could also say more about the difference between a norm-centric moral world and a theory-centric moral world. It seems to me that folk moral theories are invoked all the time in ordinary life, as when someone butts in line. Some of the more recalicitrant beliefs (convicitons?) in folk moral theory seem to what people are referring to when they cite their intuitions or claim that an argument has counter-intuitive results (So here I am not talking about ethical intutionism). It's like saying, "Well, if I believe you about X, then I'm going to have to adjust all kinds of things about my belief system."

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  4. "Our moral world is norm-centric, not theory-centric. When was the last time you used moral theory against the jerk who butt in line in front of you?"

    I'm not so sure that moral theory isn't used in real life: People very often appeal to their 'rights', or to the fact that an object is "theirs" in order to establish some rationale for a course of action. Of course, they don't sit there and compare Kantian and Utilitarian theories and so on, but I think a similar process does goes on: people weigh up acting out of principle and acting so as to achieve the best consequences, compare whether to let one person suffer to allow another to gain, decide whether to allow their child to be free and make their own mistakes or to give them more welfare by intervening more often, and so on.

    Generally, you may be right that morality is norm-centric, but isn't the point that those norms are theory driven and change according to changes in understanding?

    (of course I've only argued there that our theories influence our judgements, not the other half of RE; that our judgements influence our theories. However, it seems fair to me to say that people do form theories partly by examining what 'feels' right)

    Oh, and Artward:
    "Can you say more about how this discussion ends? Because it seems to me that it never would (some evidence: it's been going on for thousands of years and hasn't ended yet)."

    Whilst I can't see any a priori reason to think that the discussion either will, or will not, end, I don't think that that is a compelling piece of a posteriori evidence that it won't. People don't suspect the natural sciences (for example) of the same problem, and yet the discussion there has been going on for just as long.

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  5. yes, good point. It wasn't meant to be a substantive objection, but rather casual worry. If I've understood Adam's point (I may be bringing in something from our discussion that isn't in his post), "morality" is what we get after the discussion ends, but until then we have no agreed upon norm to apply (since we're not making heavy use of theory), so no appicable "morality" is present.

    Truth be told, though, I do not think the discussion will end in the way that it might end in science (though it probably won't end there either). We've made some significant progress in Science since Aristotle, but we've still got people defending virtue ethics. There just aren't as many tools of persuasion in philosophy as there are in science. People stopped believing in phlogiston some time ago, but still (silly people) believe in rights.

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  6. Adam,

    I think I'm with you on this, although I seem to be more cynical..

    Perhaps we should describe reflective equilibrium as the process whereby faculty members in a department of philosophy come to the kind of agreement that allows them to at least eat lunch together in the same room?

    Or at least have offices on the same floor with one another?

    Or.. err.. at least not kill each other?

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