- Paperback: 309 pages
- Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 2005 edition (December 14, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0230573746
- ISBN-13: 978-0230573741
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,087,823 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ethical Intuitionism 2005th Edition
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'Read this. It is the best book ever written on meta-ethics. Even philosophers who know the field may feel as though they are confronting these issues for the first time. I used to think of ethical intuitionism as a silly, naIve, even ridiculous theory, but Michael Huemer has made an intuitionist out of me.' - Stuart Rachels, Department of Philosophy, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, USA
'Huemer's book may be the best, most comprehensive defense of ethical intuitionism since Moore's Principia Ethica...[it] is an outstanding defense of the view that there are objective moral truths knowable through intuition. Whether or not one agrees with Huemer's conclusions, one cannot ignore the power of his arguments.' - Richard Fumerton, Department of Philosophy, University of Iowa
'A terrific book. Now philosophers will have no excuse for treating ethical intuitionism as if it were a silly and easily-refuted view.' - James W. Nickel, Arizona State University College of Law, USA
About the Author
Michael Huemer is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA, where he has worked since 1998. He is the author of Skepticism and the Veil of Perception and Ethical Intuitionism , as well as more than 40 articles in ethics, epistemology, political philosophy, and metaphysics.
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The only criticism I have is that I would have liked to hear more about what these intuitions *are*. Huemer provides a few examples (and I take his point that we all seem to have them, and know what they are), but it would have been nice to hear a little bit more about the epistemological question that will naturally arise ("Well, if we have these intuitions, what are they?"). Still, this is not really a problem for his view, nor did it take much away from it. Overall, this was a great read which I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to know more about realism and intuitionism.
Arguing that our ethical intuitions are of this second type (G. E. Moore had proposed they were akin to so-called simple unanalyzable properties like colors which would make them like the first type), Huemer suggests that, just as we know some things rationally, e.g., that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, that time proceeds sequentially, that nothing can be all red and all blue at the same time, that "a spinster is an unmarried woman" (contained in the meaning of "spinster") and that purple is a color (because, he points out, being a color is similarly inherent in it's definition), so we know that "pleasure is good." This, he assures us is similarly intrinsic to the concept of pleasure.
Having initiated the book with a spirited and well-argued attack on the alternatives (taking down subjectivism, non-cognitivism and moral nihilism decisively) and having proceeded to show that many of the standard attacks on the adequacy of an intuitionist account are wrongheaded because they demand more of intuitionism than they are prepared to demand of other forms of knowledge claims we make, he turns to the book's real point and this hinges on the case he wants to make FOR intuitionism. That case stands or falls on his claim that we can understand how good is intuited intellectually on the model of his "pleasure is good" argument. But here the thesis seems to founder.
On his view, knowing purple is a color is to know, a priori, what he calls a "property of purple." Aside from learning to use the word "purple," we don't need to discover its meaning for the meaning is in the use. Whenever "purple" is used in the standard way (and not, say, as a proper name) it must designate a color and that is built into learning how to use the word correctly. He then adds that, in the same way that we know purple is a color, so we know that pleasure is good and this is to know a "property of pleasure." But the analogy is not as strong as he thinks.
Certainly we do tend to think of pleasure, taken in the abstract, as unabashedly desirable (hence good) and this seems to suggest to us possession of a property called goodness. But pleasure is not, in fact, good in the same sense that purple is a color, since the idea of being a color applies to all standard uses of the word "purple" while there are many, many cases in which the notion of being good would not, on consideration, apply to pleasure (e.g., the pleasure of heroin for the addict, strong drink for the alcoholic, sexual activity for the callously promiscuous, amassing wealth for the greedy, etc.). Moreover, unlike "purple," the term "pleasure" covers a wide variety of cases, from physical sensations of many different types, to different kinds of emotional satisfaction, to the joys of hard labor or hard training (for the athlete). And, since all instances in which we use the word "pleasure" do not name the same experience or even the same kind, we can hardly agree that all are instances which unabashedly qualify as good.
Thus goodness cannot be thought of as a property, intrinsic to the idea of pleasure, in the same way that being a color can be thought intrinsic to being purple. Moreover, it's linguistically odd to speak of purple as having a property of color, which he requires to make the analogy that sets up his claim that to know what pleasure is is also to know a property of goodness belonging to pleasure. Purple is certainly a color, in the sense that it fits into that class of "things" which bear the name "color" in English. That meaning IS conceptually built into "purple" in much the same way being an unmarried woman is built into "spinster". But pleasure isn't similarly built in for it isn't best understood as one of a class of "goods" but only as something that is sometimes good and sometimes isn't. Since we can conceive of instances when pleasure isn't good, unlike how we can think of "purple," the analogy with purple and color breaks down.
If Huemer's argument is to hold, he needs a better affirmative account of how being good is embedded in other concepts we have. Still, it's a good book with a sharply pointed analysis of the different theories that have been advanced over the years as a basis for explaining the cognitive and practical significance of moral valuing. And, indeed, I was very taken with the innovative way he arranges the different possibilities. I had never thought, for instance, to group the idea of divine authority for moral claims under the broader category of subjectivism. Or to recognize a distinction between moral nihilism and non-cognitivism which, to me, have always seemed closely bound up with one another.