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The Method of Moral Hypothesis

Makin, Stephen C. (2013) The Method of Moral Hypothesis. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Moral philosophy has become interested again in particular, substantive questions of right and wrong. In an effort to divine answers to such questions, philosophers often employ the following method: general rules are floated as potential principles of morality; the principles are regarded as confirmed insofar as they match our pre-theoretical intuitions about particular cases; and otherwise infirmed. Such principles, if sufficiently confirmed, are then used to overturn other, ‘aberrant’ moral intuitions that do not square with the rule.

The aim of this work is to indict this ‘method of moral hypothesis’, and with it the moral theory project which relies on it. I argue that the method trades on an unsustainable picture of moral epistemology; that the motivations for engaging in it are without merit; and that its attractions as a systematizing tool are illusory.

In chapter one, I examine some recent ‘etiological’ skeptical challenges to moral knowledge; and argue that such challenges succeed only against a particular sort of moral epistemology—the kind to which the moral theory project is wedded. I conclude that we should reject this epistemology, and the project with it.

Chapter two aims to vindicate the charges of Pessimists about moral testimony—those who claim that testimony cannot transmit moral knowledge. I argue that one barrier to moral-knowledge transmission by testimony is its inability to transfer moral-conceptual ‘know-how’; more generally that the ‘Humean reasons’ which support testimony are insufficient to support moral knowledge; and that, for parallel reasons, the theory project cannot produce moral knowledge.

Chapter three attacks a picture of justification which makes the theory project seem pressing. In its place, I argue for an alternative picture, on which justification is infected with certain pragmatic, contextual factors. This alternative undermines one of the motivations for the theory project: finding an ultimate justification for our moral beliefs.

In chapter four, I unify these arguments; and argue that, in general, we are correct to reject any summarizing principle which conflicts with a strongly held, pre-theoretical moral verdict. This negates one of the central ambitions of the theory project. Its other motivations are, I argue, equally misplaced.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Makin, Stephen C.scm18@pitt.eduSCM18
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBrandom, Robert B.rbrandom@pitt.eduRBRANDOM
Committee CoChairThompson, Michael
Committee MemberMcDowell, John H.jmcdowel@pitt.eduJMCDOWEL
Committee MemberSetiya, Kierankis23@pitt.eduKIS23
Committee MemberMachamer, Peterpkmach@pitt.eduPKMACH
Date: 29 January 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 23 August 2012
Approval Date: 29 January 2013
Submission Date: 6 December 2012
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 122
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Ethics Moral Epistemology Moral Theory Moral Skepticism Moral Justification Moral Testimony Anti-Theory
Date Deposited: 29 Jan 2013 21:59
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:08


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