Review of 'Intuition, Theory and Anti-Theory in Ethics', Sophie Grace Chappell (ed.), 2015: Oxford, Oxford University Press ix + 230 pp, £40.00 (hb)
Contributor(s)University of New England
Full recordShow full item record
AbstractSince the publication of Jonathan Dancy's 'Moral Reasons' in 1991, many English speaking ethicists have been especially interested in the role of abstract theory in moral life and the extent to which principles analogous to those employed in the hard sciences like physics are central to the development of ethical knowledge. Unlike earlier generations of philosophers who had, on the whole, accepted that principles had an integral role in the life of a morally serious person, contemporary ethicists are largely divided about the merits of such principles and whether ethical knowledge is gained through principles. This debate about the form of ethical knowledge raises questions about the epistemic status of intuitions. Can intuitions about right and wrong provide an alternative source of genuine ethical knowledge? Is reflection upon a belief enough to show that it is true? This edited collection, consisting of 11 essays by distinguished philosophers, pursues and advances that debate. The early chapters of the book are concerned primarily with intuitions and intuitionism. John Cottingham, in an essay that casts doubt on the possibility of secular intuitions, argues that if intuitions are uprooted from their traditional theological foundations then they lose their plausibility. The claim is that theism and moral intuitionism are natural partners and morality is doomed if we reject theistic picture that 'provides a home for these intuitions' (p. 23). James Lenman provides an indirect response to Cottingham, questioning whether evolutionary explanations of intuitions genuinely debunk them. Explaining the causal origins of intuitions within a naturalistic framework is not damning of them or of morality itself (p. 29).