Intuitionism, Reliability and Reflective Equilibrium

Dissertation, Brown University (1983)

Michael DePaul
University of Notre Dame
I seek to defend coherentist methods of theory construction in normative ethics, specifically J. Rawls' method of reflective equilibrium, on the basis of a naturalistic theory of epistemic justification. The dissertation consists of four chapters. The first chapter is essentially a taxonomic discussion of approaches which might be taken towards the construction of theories of such epistemological notions as justification, knowledge or rational belief and such moral notions as right action or justice. The taxonomy extends that presented by R. M. Chisholm in his discussions of the problems of the criterion so that coherentist and classical intuitionist approaches are included in addition to methodism, particularism and scepticism. My aim in the second chapter is to argue that the statements which make up a moral theory are objectively valid, i.e., either true or false. The chapter begins with a consideration of the view that the purpose of moral and epistemological theories is to explicate the supervenience of moral and epistemological properties. I then critically evaluate N. Daniels's so called "piggy-back" argument. In conclude by presenting an alternative defense of the objectivity of moral judgements which stresses the similarities between moral and epistemological theories. In the third chapter I respond to R. Brandt's version of the standard objection to coherentist methods, i.e., that they are unacceptable since there is no guarantee that the theory such methods lead to will be true. I do not attempt to show that reflective equilibrium provides the sort of guarantee Brandt wants, but rather to show that it is the only method which leads one to rational moral beliefs. I begin the fourth chapter with a refutation of N. Daniels's argument that the method of wide reflective equilibrium is incompatible with intuitionism, since it is incompatible with intuitionism's inherent foundationalism. I conclude the chapter by suggesting a way in which one might account for the justification of propositions accepted in reflective equilibrium on the basis of a reliability theory of justification, and show that according to this account moral knowledge would be intuitional
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