Realism, projectivism and response-dependence: On the limits of 'best judgement'

Philosophy and Social Criticism 28 (2):123-152 (2002)
This essay offers a critical appraisal of some claims recently advanced by Crispin Wright and others in support of a response-dispositional (RD) approach to issues in epistemology, ethics, political theory, and philosophy of the social sciences. These claims take a lead from Plato's discussion of the status of moral value-judgements in the Euthyphro and from Locke's account of 'secondary qualities' such as colour, texture and taste. The idea is that a suitably specified description of best opinion (or optimal response) for some given area of discourse will provide all that is needed in the way of objectivity while avoiding the problems raised by anti-realists like Michael Dummett with respect to the existence of truth-values that transcend our utmost powers of recognition or verification. I focus on three main areas - mathematics, morals and constitutional law - and argue that an RD approach falls short in certain crucial respects. That is to say, it works out either as a trivial (tautological) claim to the effect that 'best judgement' cannot - per definiens - diverge from truth under conditions of idealized epistemic warrant, or as an approach that leans strongly towards the anti-realist side of the argument. Thus the promised 'third way' - here as in other present-day contexts of debate - most often carries no substantive implications for our thinking about truth, moral virtue, or justice. Elsewhere, especially when applied to juridical matters, it lays chief stress on the truth-constitutive role of human judgements or responses, and hence the impossibility of appealing to standards of natural justice beyond some existing highest authority or source of constitutional warrant. This point is made with specific reference to recent events surrounding the 'election' (or leverage-into-office) of President George W. Bush. In such cases, I conclude, an RD approach would tend strongly to endorse the view that 'best opinion' - as enshrined, say, in the deliverance of US Supreme Court justices - is the furthest we can get towards an adequate assessment of the moral and political issues. Key Words: anti-realism • ethics • judgement • mathematics • political theory • realism • response-dependence.
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DOI 10.1177/0191453702028002799
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