Dec 22, 2007

ethical pluralism as a consequence of experimental philosophy

D. A. Ridgely, upon reading a recent Times piece on the subject, initially declared experimental philosophy "silly," later qualifying:
Without belaboring the matter further for now, I have to say that nothing I have read so far leads me to retract my former, admittedly somewhat hasty use of the term “silly” to describe experimental philosophy. I still think it is all to the good that philosophers might do better at confronting their prejudices and the extent to which their supposedly competent, careful and even “robust” intuitions may differ significantly from those of ordinarily (merely?) competent speakers. Beyond that, however, the notion that research regarding the latter’s intuitions does any more than cast doubt on the reliability of the more ‘robust’ and thus decidedly non-ordinary intuitions of academic philosophers is, no pun intended, ill conceived.
Read the comments, where readers attempt to disabuse Ridgely of the notion.

I had intended to weigh in earlier, but more pressing concerns arose. Then, while checking out the always-useful Online Papers in Philosophy, I came across this paper [pdf] by X-philosophers on the grounding of moral intuitions and moral theories. Ultimately, the writers argue that established neural differences in moral reasoning might compel us to adopt ethical pluralism:
What we are arguing is this: our best understanding of the psychological facts indicates that moral judgment is accomplished by multiple systems that sometimes yield conflicting outputs, and consequently we are likely to be stuck with multiple moral theories that sometimes yield conflicting judgments. As a psychological phenomenon, we should expect this conflict to play out not only between individuals, but also within the minds of individuals. As a practical matter we suggest that our efforts are best directed toward perfecting individual theories rather than choosing between them, and that we should also recognize the dilemma as a distinct class of moral problem that has multiple answers.
The authors appeal to analogy: just as a rapper doesn't try to become a better beat poet, neither should a consequentialist try to join the deontological ranks. Both systems have their places, and the dilemmas faced by each are essentially intractable.

The argument, if I'm reading it correctly, essentially takes a different route to a conclusion have already made [pdf].

Is it silly? No. Warranted? Maybe. But it's certainly interesting.

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