The Development and Defense of a Method of Elimination Applicable to the Problem of Justifying Fundamental Principles in Ethics

Dissertation, University of Virginia (1981)
The purpose of this dissertation is to develop and defend a method of elimination for determining justifiable basic normative ethical principles. The method is developed by considering Books I and X of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Plato's Meno. The method requires consideration on two different "levels." Aristotle and Plato use regulative endoxic premises as the evaluative criteria of the method. Such premises, which ideally are based upon universal agreement, guide an inquiry of our sort, i.e., determine the elimination or nonelimination of the alternatives. Concerning the second "level," an adequate list of alternative possible solutions should be presented, and some principle or technique should be provided for determining such an adequate list. On the basis of the above premises, alternatives are evaluated in such a way that lack of accordance with any one of the relevant premises--assuming that there is more than one--is sufficient for the elimination of an alternative. The only alternative that is not eliminated by any of the premises provides the solution to the problem. The Aristotle chapter shows how regulative endoxic premises can be used, in an "ideal" sense, for choosing between two or more alternatives that generally accord with the premises. ;Our discussion of Aristotle and Plato shows that they do use this method and illustrates, in some detail, both how the method is used and specific variations of it. Our philosophers use different principles or techniques for determining the plausible alternatives. Aristotle chooses alternatives which are endoxic opinions. Plato uses the opinions of interlocutors, which are often endoxic, but he basically relies on a type of shared or cooperative rational inquiry to determine increasingly more adequate opinions, and, consequently, the plausible opinions that ought to be considered. On this "level," we attempt to show that the Platonic technique is more adequate than the Aristotelian procedure. ;Probably the most controversial feature of our method is the employment of regulative endoxic premises. Our final chapter is concerned with further clarification and defense of these premises. We attempt to show that regulative endoxic premises are different from and more adequate than the more objectionable opinions called conventionally moral opinions. We, then, attempt to provide a justifiable account of the differential value, in our method, in the evidential force of regulative endoxic premises and substantive endoxic opinions, and attempt to determine how adequate regulative endoxic premises relative to a specific inquiry can be identified. We argue that these premises provide the conditions necessary for the possibility of successful inquiry within, what I call, the ordinary ethical standpoint, and that the basic presupposition of this standpoint is an acceptable assumption. ;Two alternatives to our position concerning the defense of regulative endoxic premises are considered: They are intuitively self-evident. They are analytic truths based upon an appeal to ordinary usage. is readily seen to be objectionable. is, apparently, the position of Hare. We argue that Hare's position, which maintains that the probative force of regulative endoxic premises is based upon their analytic nature, is quite debatable, and does not, therefore, provide a viable alternative to our position. We also object to Hare's view of his regulative endoxa, viz., universalizability and prescriptivity
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