Monday, November 1, 2010

Can we get pluralism going at the level of normative ethical theories?

(Some WIP thoughts)

And if we can, does doing so force us into any particular meta-ethical position?  I think we can, and that it does not (but looks like it works out well for error-theories of meta-ethics).

The idea would go something like this:
  • There are multiple sufficiently plausible moral codes (aka sets of instructions on how to act morally).  
  • These roughly correspond to things like 'the current best account of utilitarianism' and 'the current best virtue ethical moral framework'.  
  • None of these current best accounts is universally preferable to any other best account, but each is universally preferable to any other account from within the broader category (utilitarianism, virtue ethics, Christianity).
    • It may be that this lack of universal preferability merely means that multiple accounts provide equally plausible means of decision-making in particular contexts.
  • Utilising any one of these codes will enable an actor to act morally in the (vast) majority of circumstances.
  • It is at least unclear and possibly indeterminate which of the codes offers the best chance of acting morally in the greatest number of circumstances (particularly once the chance of acting immorally is discounted in virtue of the likelihood of the situation arising).
  • There are practical reasons mitigating against using some combination of best theories.
So, to act morally is to utilise any one of the sufficiently plausible moral codes in guiding your decision-making.  In particular instances, this will result in the moral thing to do being A (for code X) & ~A (for code Y).  This isn't a problem, given the above.

So what is going on meta-ethically here?  I would think that what our normative theories are doing is pointing not to moral truth, but to something akin to usefulness or suitability.  Despite acting as though they state moral truths, and systematically failing to do so (evident in virtue of their disagreement with each other while all falling within the realm of the moral), these competing systems each individually provide the right kind of enabling framework to allow actors to interact morally.

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