Moral Skepticism Essay

Kant’s “Tartuffery” and Spinoza’s “hocus-pocus of mathematical form” in his They all pose as if they had discovered and reached their real opinions through the self-development of a cold, pure, divinely unconcerned dialectic…while at bottom it is an assumption, a hunch, a kind of “inspiration”—most often a desire of the heart that has been filtered and made abstract—that they defend with reasons sought after the fact.They are all advocates who don’t want to be called by that name, and for the most part even wily spokesman for their prejudices which they baptize “truths.” (BGE 5) Later in the same book, Nietzsche notes that moral philosophers “make one laugh” with their idea of “morality as science,” their pursuit of “a rational foundation for morality,” which “seen clearly in the light of day” is really only a “scholarly form of good it.” Pointing at Schopenhauer’s attempt to supply a rational foundation for morality, Nietzsche says “we can draw our conclusions as to how scientific a ‘science’ could be when its ultimate masters still talk like children” (BGE 186).We can agree with Peter Railton that we lack “canons of induction so powerful that experience would, in the limit, produce convergence on matters of fact among all epistemic agents, no matter what their starting points” (“Moral Realism,” [1986]), and still note that there exists a remarkable cross-cultural consensus among theorists about fundamental physical laws, principles of chemistry, and biological explanations, as well as mathematical truths, while moral philosophers, to this very day, find no common ground on foundational principles even within the West, let alone cross-culturally.

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But that still does not answer the question of how the of incompatible moral philosophies providing dialectical justifications for moral propositions is best explained as follows: (1) there are no objective facts about fundamental moral propositions, such that (2) it is possible to construct apparent dialectical justifications for moral propositions, even though (3) the best explanation for these theories is not that their dialectical justifications are sound but that they answer to the psychological needs of philosophers.

And the reason it is possible to construct “apparent” dialectical justification for differing moral propositions is because, given the diversity of psychological needs of persons (including philosophers), it is always possible to find people for whom the premises of these dialectical justifications are acceptable.

If the former, is utility a matter of preference-satisfaction (as the economists often believe) or preference satisfaction under idealized circumstances—or is it, rather, unconnected to the preferences of agents, actual or idealized, but instead a matter of realizing the human essence or enjoying some ‘objective’ goods?

And perhaps a criterion of right action isn’t even the issue, perhaps the issue is cultivating dispositions of character conducive to living a good life.

But, then, what is the force of the claim that “every morality can be dialectically justified”?

It must obviously be that every morality can have the of being dialectically justified, either because its logical invalidity is not apparent or, more likely in this instance, because its premises, while apparently acceptable, are not true.

Yet what we find is that these philosophers remain locked in apparently intractable disagreement about the most important, foundational issues about morality.

This persistent disagreement on foundational questions, of course, distinguishes moral theory from inquiry in the sciences and mathematics, not, perhaps, in kind, but certainly in degree.

And here, of course, I have merely canvassed just of the disagreements that plague Western academic moral theory, not even touching on non-Western traditions, or radical dissenters from the mainstream of academic moral theory, such as Nietzsche himself.

Notice, too, that the disagreements of moral philosophers are amazingly intractable.


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