The Mysterious Case of Ethical Intuitionism

Dissertation, The Florida State University (1995)

I begin by arguing that ethical intuitionism is philosophically dead. Contemporary moral philosophers have abandoned it because of four main kinds of criticism: disagreement, criterion, motivation, and better-explanation objections. But if these are the reasons which contemporary philosophers have for rejecting ethical intuitionism, then there is this mystery: these same contemporary objections are essentially present in Locke's attack on innate practical principles which occurs in his Essay of 1690, so that ethical intuitionism should have been rejected then for the same reasons it has now finally been rejected. I investigate this mystery by examining the arguments of four ethical intuitionists: Hutcheson, Price, Reid, and Whewell. If they adequately defended ethical intuitionism against the four main objections, then the contemporary rejection of ethical intuitionism is a mistake and there is no mystery about ethical intuitionism's longevity. But I argue that their defense of ethical intuitionism is indeed inadequate. So the mystery remains. In the final chapter, I try to solve the mystery by arguing for a psycho/sociological explanation of the longevity. More particularly, I argue that a certain kind of environment fosters belief in indubitable moral judgments and then that the difficulty of arguing "backwards" to find the inferential justification for these seemingly indubitable moral beliefs causes an intellectual despair which some philosophers seek to escape in the invention of a new theory of justification: ethical intuitionism
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