Do you enjoy puzzles? Yeah? Well then, let me share one with you. John Basl (Northeastern University) and I have had some fruitful conversations about it; and we have some views about how to address it (and some views about how not to); but in the spirit of collective inquiry and intellectual theft let me take this opportunity to solicit your initial responses.
The puzzle might be construed either in terms of rationality or theoretical justification, but it is roughly as follows:
Why are we permitted to revise our moral/normative/evaluative beliefs in light of non-moral beliefs but not vice versa?
Indeed, while it’s clear we are often guilty of sub-consciously shaping the facts to fit our evaluative commitments (e.g. the powerful correlations between political ideology “climate skepticism”, 911 conspiracy theories, and beliefs about the president’s religion and birthplace), we all disavow this a proper way to form our non-moral beliefs.As obvious as this may seem, the puzzle is how to best explain why this is so and then sorting out what the implications may be for meta-ethics, moral epistemology, and even epistemology more generally….
A related illustration and way of framing the issue might help get your intellectual juices flowing:
While there is significant doubt about the possibility of deriving a normative conclusion from purely descriptive premises, deriving an is from an ought seems relatively straightforward:
A. Act utilitarianism is true
B. It is always morally wrong to kill an innocent child.
C It never maximizes utility to kill an innocent child.
Though C is logically entailed by A and B, it also seems clear that one makes some serious mistake were they to infer C from A and B. Imagine a sheltered scientist or an isolated hermit who decides to give up direct empirical investigation and instead turns to learning about the empirical world via a study of morality. For example, he might appeal to powerful intuitive responses to killing innocent children, and then appeal to what he takes to be unique and compelling theorhetical virtues of act utilitarianism, and thus some justification for both A and B. So does he thereby have some (defeasible) justification for C? If not, why not? What exactly is wrong with our scientist/hermit’s research program?
So here are some specific questions you might use to frame your response.
1. Can we agree these inferences are problematic?
2. If so, to what extent and why?
a. Is there a general problem with moral to non-moral inferences?
b. Is it a unique problem with respect to the moral?
I’m excited to hear what you have to say, and please say hello and introduce yourself to John when he chimes in during the exchange.
Christian (and John)