Objectivity and dialectical methods in ethics

Inquiry 42 (2):195 – 212 (1999)
A cognitivist interpretation of moral inquiry treats it, like other kinds of inquiry, as aiming at true belief. A dialectical conception of moral inquiry represents the justification for a given moral belief as consisting in its intellectual fit with other beliefs, both moral and nonmoral. The essay appeals to semantic considerations to defend cognitivism as a default metaethical view; it defends a dialectical conception of moral inquiry by examining Sidgwick's ambivalence about the probative value of appeal to common moral beliefs or intuitions. The essay then addresses two main concerns about the compatibility of cognitivist and dialectical conceptions of moral inquiry. The probative value of moral intuitions requires that they be sufficiently approximately true. The individual and collective benefits of regulating our interactions by norms like those of commonsense morality help explain how we can view ourselves as sufficiently reliable detectors of moral properties. But the probative value of moral intuitions may also seem threatened by the existence of pervasive moral disagreement both within and between cultures. However, a dialectical conception of moral inquiry has resources for resolving moral disagreement; in fact, the dialectical examination of diverse moral perspectives contributes to the justification of moral beliefs.
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