On Audi's Marriage of Ross and Kant


Authors
Thomas Hurka
University of Toronto, St. George Campus
Abstract
As its title suggests, Robert Audi’s The Good in the Right1 defends an intuitionist moral view like W.D. Ross’s in The Right and the Good. Ross was an intuitionist, first, in metaethics, where he held that there are self-evident moral truths that can be known by intuition. But he was also an intuitionist in the different sense used in normative ethics, since he held that there are irreducibly many such truths. Some concern the intrinsic goods, which are in turn plural, so there are prima facie duties to promote pleasure, knowledge, virtue, and just distributions. But others are deontological, requiring one apart from any consequences to keep promises, not lie, make reparations, express gratitude, and not injure others. Audi embraces both these intuitionist views, but in each case with an important addition. Ross sometimes said that if a proposition does not need proof, it is incapable of proof, or cannot be justified inferentially. Audi argues persuasively that this is not so. A proposition that is selfevident, in the sense that understanding it justifies one in believing it, can also be derivable from other self-evident propositions in a way that increases its justification. And he exploits this possibility in his normative ethics. Whereas Ross held that his prima facie duties are underivative, Audi suggests that, while self-evident, they can also be grounded in a more abstract principle. More specifically, he argues in Chapter 4 of his book that they can be grounded in Kant’s categorical imperative, which he applies primarily in its second, or formula of humanity, version. The result is to transform what Audi calls Rossian intuitionism into Kantian 1 intuitionism, where specific duties about promoting pleasure and keeping promises derive from a more fundamental requirement to respect rational personhood. I will not challenge Audi’s version of metaethical intuitionism, which I think is the most subtle and persuasive yet given. Nor will I question his normative starting-point in Ross’s theory of prima facie duties, which I find unimpeachable..
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