In this dissertation, I examine the credibility of moral intuitions and their relation to moral principles and background theories, as represented in the method of reflective equilibrium (MRE) originally set out by Rawls in A Theory of Justice. As part of elucidation and justification of this method, I make frequent comparisons to scientific methodology, which shares close similarities to the method of reflective equilibrium. I argue that MRE provides a non-foundationalist moral methodology which appears to be a promising approach to moral justification and moral adjudication.
Moral intuitions are a crucial feature of MRE: they serve as the starting points of moral theory construction and testing in a similar way as empirical data serve as the starting points of scientific hypothesis construction and testing. Moral intuitions - just as any data - can sometimes be mistaken, however. Upon what basis can the credibility of a moral intuition be determined? I examine how the credibility of an intuition can be determined by examining its "etiology." The etiology of a moral intuition is its causal origin, which includes sociological, psychological, evolutionary and biological factors, some of which might impugn its credibility.
Since intuition credibility determination is essential to the methodology of reflective equilibrium, I endeavor to show that moral intuitions can be vetted in nontrivial and noncircular ways. This filtration process discredits those initial moral judgments that are determined to be error-disposed. These resulting noncredible intuitions are then excluded from the set of considered judgments, which serve as the provisional starting points for ethical theory construction and testing.
Ultimately, I will show that the moral methodology of reflective equilibrium, when theoretically developed and empirically substantiated, provides a significant contribution to moral philosophy. In particular, this fortified methodology provides further traction in ethical debate and adjudication. I exemplify this point in the final chapter, demonstrating how intuition credibility determination lends defense to a certain form of utilitarianism against certain traditional intuition-based attacks, and I show how the triple adjustment between intuitions, moral principles and background theories, understood in the context of wide reflective equilibrium, can assuage such objections.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. October 2009. Major: Philosophy. Advisor: Norman Dahl. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 280 pages.
Brophy, Matthew E..
Moral intuitions in reflective equilibrium: applying scientific methodology to ethics..
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