The Best Moral Theory Ever: The Merits and Methodology of Moral Theorizing
Committee ChairSchmidtz, David
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractAnti-theorists claim that moral theories do not deliver all the goods we want and that consequently such theorizing is not a philosophically worthy pursuit. We suffer from certain misconceptions about the point and purpose of such theorizing and the theories it produces. In this essay, I treat moral theorizing as a genuinely theoretical enterprise that produces abstract knowledge about the general structure of morality.Moral theories should be understood as tools--intellectual and practical tools with importantly different uses. Just as with hand tools where it is useful to have hammers for one sort of job and screwdrivers for another, it can be rational to accept multiple moral theories at the same time. The idea here is that all good theories illuminate some truths about morality, but are also misleading at times. A theory that is good at solving one moral problem may be bad at solving another; a theory that is illuminating in one place may be distorting in another.Chapter one outlines the differences between moral theory, metaethics, moral metatheory, and morality itself. It argues that disagreement about moral theory need not reflect moral disagreement, and vice versa. Chapter two argues that even if moral theory turned out to be practically useless, it would still accomplish certain theoretical tasks. Chapters three and four explain how and why one might adopt different incompatible moral theories at the same time. Chapter five defends moral principles from various particularists and shows how the imperfections of moral principles mirror the imperfections of laws in other fields. Chapter six explains why philosophical inquiry is worthwhile despite the overwhelming disagreement displayed by philosophers. Chapter seven shows that moral intuitions serve as a check on philosophical methodology just as much as methodology helps us verify our intuitions. It explains why a certain sort of psychology-based argument against deontological intuitions will not work. Finally, chapter eight explores the various ways in which moral theory is and is not practical. It concludes that the practical usefulness of theory is a matter of empirical contingency that philosophers have done little to investigate.