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Towards reflectionist intuitionism in moral epistemology

Peter (Herbert) Tramel, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Essential to moral epistemic intuitionism of the sort proposed by W. D. Ross in the 1930s is the claim that there are self-evident moral propositions that we (or at least some of us) can be justified in believing solely on the basis of understanding them. Recently, intuitionism in this sense is enjoying something of a renaissance. It is receiving considerable sympathetic attention from such prominent ethicists as Robert Audi, Jonathan Dancy, Brad Hooker, and David McNaughton. ^ Of particular interest, I think, is Audi's claim that the most plausible intuitionisms will be what he calls “reflectionist” intuitionisms. By this he means that they will take advantage of what is most plausible in John Rawls's reflective-equilibrium-style moral epistemology, namely, the claim that the extent to which our moral beliefs approach reflective equilibrium—a kind of multi-level integration or coherence—determines, at least in part, how justified we are in holding them. ^ In this dissertation I explore the possibility and plausibility of a moral epistemology that is both intuitionist and reflectionist. I develop an objection to Audi's reflectionist intuitionism, and I propose a response in terms of a new account of the relation between intuitive justification and self-evidence. I then consider the implications of this new account concerning whether intuitive justification should be conceived in generalist or particularist, apriorist or aposteriorist, internalist or externalist terms. Finally, I consider whether the resulting sketch of intuitive justification is consistent with any plausible theory of the structure of epistemic justification. In doing so, I say more than has so far been said about the respective roles of both reflectionism and intuitionism in a plausible reflectionist intuitionism. I take the view that the reflectionist intuitionism that emerges from these trials is a new theory built on old foundations which merits consideration in the moral epistemic field. ^

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Recommended Citation

Tramel, Peter (Herbert), "Towards reflectionist intuitionism in moral epistemology" (2001). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3034394.