Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Moral Deliberation

Hi all... Thought I'd start off the year's first true post...

So, I'm working on a paper for Steve Wall and I'd love a bit of help on a couple of questions...

First: Can we think of any reasons NOT to admit the rationality of a certain degree of skepticism with regard to our own moral deliberative capacities? It seems to me almost obvious (which is a sure sign I've overlooked something), that we ought to recognize the possibility that we're wrong when we come to moral judgments. Moreover, I'm thinking, its got to be almost rationally necessary to recognize this possibility... i.e., its a rational defect not to realize the possibility that we're wrong. N.B. I'm just assuming the falsity of things like expressivism and the like which turns all moral assertions into truths no matter what. [EDITED: In deference to the well-resting of Charles Stevenson in his grave... I retract the "into truths no matter what" - leaving it in place only so all can see my shame. For laziness' sake, I'll hope the reader knows what I was after and leave it at that]

Second: I'm wondering about the "starting points" we take our cues from in moral deliberation. After a fashion, for instance, Rawls construes these as our "considered judgments" but we could certainly well think that thats not really the best place to start... But, it seems to me, we've certainly got to start from 'somewhere', since the denial of that seems to indicate that our moral deliberations are 'a priori' in such a way that, carrying out such deliberations, we'd be unable to come to justified conclusions about concrete moral matters. Clearly we do come to such conclusions, so, are we starting from something like Rawlsian considered judgments? An abstract background conception of the "good life" that, for the purposes of the deliberative process, has to take the form of an unchallenged assumption (if only provisionally)? How do we start the process rolling so to speak? And, relatedly, what justifies using the starting-points that we do, whatever they are? Is there a "best" place to start? Would starting from there, wherever it is, and deliberating with perfect rationality, necessarily yield true moral judgments? Or is the 'best' place still inadequate to that task?

Third: Assuming the rational demand for a certain degree of moral skepticism, can we nevertheless say that perhaps our moral conclusions, imperfect though they might be, at least might have 'something' right about them (think like a Millian partial-truth)? i.e. does skepticism necessarily imply that we're entirely wrong, or just that we're at least always 'partially' wrong in some way, and that we just don't know which part it is? Moreover, can we justify, on such grounds, the prima facie acceptance of other disagreeing moral views as themselves probably partially-right? Can we then go on to think that, perhaps, in encounters with others of this sort in situations of disagreement, we might have some rational hope of making at least some epistemic 'progress' even if we think that we'll never get morality "totally right"?

Sorry its a bit inchoate at the moment... if it makes anybody feel better having to sort it out, its only a bit more coherent in the fully-expanded version of the paper as it stands right now....

I'd love anybody's thoughts, and any suggestions for articles to look at would be more than welcome too....

Thanks! Happy start-of-the-year!
Corwin