Contextualism and Moral Justification

Croatian Journal of Philosophy 5 (3):569-582 (2005)
In his insightful and stimulating book Morality Without Foundations: A Defense of Ethical Contextualism, Mark Timmons presents a strong case for embracing contextualism as a vibrant alternative to the two rival accounts that used to dominate moral epistemology in the past, foundationalism and coherentism. His sophisticated version of contextualist moral epistemology (CME) comprises of several intriguing and mind-boggling theses: (i) moral beliefs that lack Justification altogether can nevertheless be held in an epistemically responsible way; (ii) such unjustified beliefs can provide justification for other moral beliefs; (iii) the need for a justification of our moral beliefs does not always arise; and, finally, (iv) the potential for such a Justification depends on contextual parameters and can therefore never be fixed in advance.Despite its initial appeal, CME, or so I argue, ultimately fails to convince. In the paper I raise several mutually independent objections against Timmon’s solution. My main worry is that while contextualism mayguarantee us a cheap justification for our moral beliefs, such a justification is ultimately worthless for both theoretical and practical reasons: not only does it sever ties to moral truth that justification was initialy supposed to track, it also fails to resolve (or even point in the direction of resolving) any of our traditional moral disputes. Though, admittedly, none of my objections amounts to a knock-down argument, taken together they cast serious doubt both on certain aspects of Timmons’ particular solution and the presumed practical and theoretical need for a contextualist agenda in moral epistemology
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