Premises about particular moral scenarios, and about debatable principles, which are not-justified-inferentially cannot be used in ethical arguments where the aim is knowledge. So the conclusion of Greene (2014)’s argument, as loosely reconstructed in Greene contra Ethics (Railgun Remix) and extended in Against Reflective Equilibrium. Given that this conclusion presents a problem for a variety of approaches to ethics, we should consider objections. Start with quick objections—those which do not require much additional knowledge or reasoning. If one of these succeeds, we will be spared from having to consider onerous objections.
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I claim that the loose reconstruction of Greene (2014)’s argument, unlike debunking arguments, does not depend on premises about which factors are morally relevant. Rini (2016) makes an assertion which is incompatible with this claim:
‘To say that a particular psychological process does not track moral truth is to say that the process generates judgments which are not subjunctively sensitive to certain moral properties. We cannot say this without making some moral judgments ourselves’ (Rini, 2016, p. 682, my emphasis).
Here Rini has in mind matters such as the controversy between Singer and Kamm, where they take contrasting positions on whether distance could ever be a morally relevant factor (see Singer vs Kamm on Distance). Of course Rini is right about such cases.
But the loose reconstruction depends only on general claims about general limits of fast processes. It does not depend on any premises about whether any particular factor is morally relevant. (Indeed, the loose reconstruction is consistent with any reasonable premises about which factors are morally relevant.) Rini’s assertion is false.
Against debunking arguments, Rini offers an objection based on the idea that no such argument can succeed without triggering a regress:
‘nearly any attempt to debunk a particular moral judgment on grounds of its psychological cause risks triggering a regress, because a debunking argument must involve moral evaluation of the psychological cause—and this evaluation is itself then subject to psychological investigation and moral evaluation, and so on’ (Rini, 2016, p. 676).
We can see that it does not because the regress objection works by attempting to raise doubts about the moral judgements requires by the argument it is targeting. But the loose reconstruction of Green’s argument does not depend on specific moral judgements (see Greene contra Ethics (Railgun Remix)).
Königs observes that debunking arguments
‘are dialectically useless if we assume that case-specific intuitions are, as a rule, subordinate to intuitions at a higher level of generality’ (Königs, 2020, p. 2607).
Does the same apply to the loose reconstruction of Greene (2014)’s argument? Yes.
Is this an objection? No, for two reasons. First, the assumption Königs’ requires conflicts with a range of methods in ethics (see Foot and Trolley Cases: Kant Was Wrong, Singer vs Kamm on Distance, and Thomson’s Other Method of Trolley Cases.) Second, although the conclusion of the loose reconstruction concerns judgements about particular moral scenarios, this is only for simplicity. The argument can be straightforwardly generalised to ‘intuitions [that is, not-justified-inferentially judgements] at higher level of generality’.
If the loose reconstruction of Greene (2014)’s argument succeeds, which ethical premises should we reject? The conclusion of the argument as stated is limited to not-justified-inferentially judgements about particular moral scenarios. However, the argument can be straightforwardly extended to a wider range of not-justified-inferentially judgements.
This suggests the following objection:
The loose reconstruction implies that we cannot use any not-justified-inferentially ethical judgements. But ethics depends on such judgements. So the loose reconstruction implies that ethics is impossible.
Such an objection might be especially appealing to proponents of Audi (2015, p. 57)’s view that ‘[i]ntuition is a resource in all of philosophy, but perhaps nowhere more than in ethics‘ (p. 57).
To see that this objection fails, consider that a counterpart of it targeting physics rather than ethics would, at some point in history, appeared have been no less correct than the actual objection is today. Since the counterpart targeting physics is clearly incorrect, it seems we should reject the objection.
Why does the objection fail? It relies on faith in contemporary philosophers’ methods. But even passing acquaintance with intellectual history reveals that philosophers, like all researchers, can pursue mistakes in great depth over long periods of time. This is not scepticism—it’s history.
Since automaticity and cognitive efficiency are matters of degree, it is only strictly correct to identify some processes as faster than others.
The fast-slow distinction has been variously characterised in ways that do not entirely overlap (even individual author have offered differing characterisations at different times; e.g. Kahneman, 2013; Morewedge & Kahneman, 2010; Kahneman & Klein, 2009; Kahneman, 2002): as its advocates stress, it is a rough-and-ready tool, not the basis for a rigorous theory.
Claims made on the basis of perception (_That jumper is red_, say) are typically not-justified-inferentially.
Why not just say ‘noninferentially justified’? Because that can be read as implying that the claim is justified, noninferentially. Whereas ‘not-justified-inferentially’ does not imply this. Any claim which is not justified at all is thereby not-justified-inferentially.