Coherentism and the epistemic justification of moral beliefs: A case study in how to do practical ethics without appeal to a moral theory
Southern Journal of Philosophy 50 (1):50-74 (2012)
|Abstract||This paper defends a coherentist approach to moral epistemology. In “The Immorality of Eating Meat” (2000), I offer a coherentist consistency argument to show that our own beliefs rationally commit us to the immorality of eating meat. Elsewhere, I use our own beliefs as premises to argue that we have positive duties to assist the poor (2004) and to argue that biomedical animal experimentation is wrong (2012). The present paper explores whether this consistency-based coherentist approach of grounding particular moral judgments on beliefs we already hold, with no appeal to moral theory, is a legitimate way of doing practical ethics. I argue (i) that grounding particular moral judgments on our core moral convictions and other core nonmoral beliefs is a legitimate way to justify moral judgments, (ii) that these moral judgments possess as much epistemic justification and have as much claim to objectivity as moral judgments grounded on particular ethical theories, and (iii) that this internalistic coherentist method of grounding moral judgments is more likely to result in behavioral guidance than traditional theory-based approaches to practical ethics. By way of illustrating the approach, I briefly recapitulate my consistency-based argument for ethical vegetarianism. I then defend the coherentist approach implicit in the argument against a number of potentially fatal metatheoretical attacks|
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