In the previous lecture, we were mostly concerned with the use of empirical claims about moral psychology within ethical arguments. Now we turn to whether discoveries about moral psychology can be used to undermine ethical arguments from the outside.
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If you are short of time this week, go straight to Greene contra Ethics (Railgun Remix), consider the outline of the argument and the implications. Then review sections associated with any of the premises you are unsure about. Optionally consider Conclusion: Guesses Aren’t Evidence. Done.
In this week’s lecture, we will consider a loose reconstruction of Greene’s argument for the claim (as I put it) that discoveries in moral psychology reveal that not-justified-inferentially premises about particular moral scenarios cannot be used in ethical arguments (Greene, 2014).
If Greene is right, the methods of Foot (see Foot and Trolley Cases: Kant Was Wrong), Kamm (see Singer vs Kamm on Distance) and Thomson (see Thomson’s Other Method of Trolley Cases) are all misguided, along with many other philosophical arguments in ethics.
We will also eventually (but not in this lecture) examine Greene’s further, logically independent contention that his argument supports the application of some kind of broadly consequentialist ethical theory to unfamiliar problems.
This lecture does not depend on Lecture 06 (as I anticipate that you may skip one or the other of these lectures) but you may find it helpful to relate the two.
The key contrast is this: in Lecture 06, we were concerned with the use of empirical claims about moral psychology within ethical arguments. We considered attempts to show that moral psychology is relevant to ethics which rely on some philosophers’ approaches being broadly correct. In this lecture, our concern is with whether discoveries in moral psychology can undermine the case for accepting non-empirical premises of ethical arguments from the outside. We will consider attempts to show that moral psychology is relevant to ethics which rely on some philosophers’ approaches being substantially misguided.
To assist in understanding the contrast, a recap may be helpful.
Some arguments for ethical principles rely on noninferentially justified premises about particular moral scenarios. Among these arguments, some are straightforwardly undermined or supported by discoveries in moral psychology (see Foot and Trolley Cases: Kant Was Wrong and Singer vs Kamm on Distance). Other arguments have no straightforward relation to discoveries in moral psychology (see Thomson’s Other Method of Trolley Cases). Further, invoking discoveries about framing effects does not, by itself at least, appear to create significant challenges (see Framing Effects: Emotion and Order of Presentation).
Greene’s argument, if correct, shows that discoveries in moral psychology are, after all, relevant to evaluating Thomson’s argument.
In Lecture 06, we considered framing effects (see Framing Effects: Emotion and Order of Presentation). Greene’s argument requires a deeper understanding of the processes underpinning ethical judgements than do arguments from framing effects.
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.