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The purpose of this course is to examine the place of intuitions in moral inquiry, covering two main areas: (a) the epistemology of (non-moral and moral) intuitions and (b) the role of intuitions in ethical inquiry. In addition to examining both these areas in the contemporary setting, the course explores the historical development of moral intuitionism in the works of Ross, Sidgwick and Pritchard.
Both in philosophy and everyday life, ethical questions are difficult to answer. The majority of ethical views have been both supported and countered with equal vigor; what seems to one to be a plausible ethical position is oftentimes repudiated by others. An examination of an ethical view typically leads to justificatory chains: uncovering the assumptions of an ethical position leads to more questions concerning these assumptions and so on. In many cases, philosophers and folk eventually have to rely on the reliability of their intuitions to justify their ethical views. In standard philosophical procedure, a philosopher will attempt to balance her ethical view with the intuitions she has on the subject. If either the theory or the intuitions deviate from the previously reached equilibrium, the philosopher will modify them to retain the balance.
The importance of intuitions in moral inquiry is undeniable. This course will provide an overview of philosophical answers to the following questions:
- How are intuitions (moral and non-moral) justified?
- How does the justificatory status of moral intuitions affect ethical theories and inquiry?
- What are the meta-ethical assumptions of ethical theories that crucially depend on intuitions?
The course will be divided into three parts. The first part will provide an overview of the historical development of intuitionism in the works of Ross, Sidgwick and Pritchard. Emphasis will be placed in bringing forward the similarities and differences of their accounts about the epistemological status of moral intuitions and how their respective ethical views were shaped by the influence of these accounts.
The second part will present different attempts to justify intuitions. Broadly speaking, the discussion will be divided to two areas:
- non-doxastic accounts of moral intuitions, discussing treatments of intuitions as ‘intellectual seemings’ and ‘intellectual appearances’
- doxastic accounts of moral intuitions, such as Audi’s ‘reflectionism’ and Sosa’s idea of an ‘inclination to assent to a representational content’
We will begin by analyzing non-moral intuitions but the nature of the discussion will prompt us to focus on issues related to moral intuitions: how are they justified against the background of disagreement and conflicting intuitions that typifies ethical issues?
The third part of the course will illustrate how assumptions about the epistemology of intuitions influence ethical theories. After presenting an overview of ethical intuitionism, we will focus on Dancy’s ethical particularism and Audi’s ethical reflectionism. An examination of Shafer-Landau’s defense of moral realism will reveal some of the meta-ethical contours of using intuitions in philosophical theorizing. The final part of the course will include presentations by the students on a related topic of their choice.
During the duration of the course, students are going to form smaller working groups; each working group will focus on one of the following areas: the history of moral intuitionism, the epistemology of intuitions, and contemporary ethical intuitionism. Each group will be led by a faculty member who will assign readings to be discussed in the smaller group setting. Participants are encouraged to present their own paper in this setting as well. The outcomes of these discussions can form the content of a presentation at the end of the course.