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Assess Empiricism In this essay I intend ..
One recent development in analytic ethical theory has been a revivalof divine command theory parallel to the revival of natural law theorythat I have already described. A pioneer in this revival was PhilipQuinn's Divine Command and Moral Requirements (1978). Hedefended the theory against the usual objections (one, deriving fromPlato's Euthyprho, that it makes morality arbitrary, and thesecond, deriving from a misunderstanding of Kant, that it isinconsistent with human autonomy), and proposed that we understand therelation between God and moral rightness causally, rather thananalyzing the terms of moral obligation as meaning‘commanded by God’. Though we could stipulate such adefinition, it would make it obscure how theists and non-theists couldhave genuine moral discussion, as they certainly seem to do. RobertM. Adams, in a series of articles and then in Finite and InfiniteGoods (1999), first separates off the good (which he analyzesPlatonically in terms of imitating the ultimate good, which is God)and the right. He then defends a divine command theory of the right byarguing that obligation is always obligation to someone, andGod is the most appropriate person, given human limitations. JohnHare, InGod and Morality (2007) and Divine Command (2015),defends a version of the theory that derives from God's sovereigntyand defends the theory against the objection that obedience to divinecommand itself requires justification. He also compares Christian,Jewish and Muslim accounts of divine command. Thomas L. Carson'sValue and the Good Life (2000) argues that normative theoryneeds to be based on an account of rationality, and then proposes thata divine-preference account of rationality is superior to all theavailable alternatives. An objection to divine command theory ismounted by Mark Murphy's An Essay on Divine Authority (2002)and God and Moral Law (2012) on the grounds that divinecommand only has authority over those persons that have submittedthemselves to divine authority, but moral obligation has authoritymore broadly. William Wainwright's Religion and Moralitydefends the claim that divine command theory provides a moreconvincing account of moral obligation than any virtue-based theory,including Zagzebski's divine motivation theory, discussedearlier. Finally, C. Stephen Evans, in Kierkegaard's Ethics ofLove: Divine Commands and Moral Obligations (2004) andGod and Moral Obligation(2013) articulates both inKierkegaard and in its own right a divine command theory that isargued to be superior to all the main alternative non-theist accountsof the nature and basis of moral obligation.
Intuition is a form of rational insight. Intellectually grasping aproposition, we just “see” it to be true in such a way asto form a true, warranted belief in it. (As discussed in Section 2below, the nature of this intellectual “seeing” needsexplanation.) Deduction is a process in which we derive conclusionsfrom intuited premises through valid arguments, ones in which theconclusion must be true if the premises are true. We intuit, forexample, that the number three is prime and that it is greater thantwo. We then deduce from this knowledge that there is a prime numbergreater than two. Intuition and deduction thus provide us withknowledge a priori, which is to say knowledge gainedindependently of sense experience.
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This movement of thought would need to proceed by stealth because the healthy tissues of thought would strongly resist any open attack on the springs of rationality and scientific thinking.Let a sufficient number of men whose intellectual respectability is vouched for by their academic position pay sufficient lip-service to the ideals of scientific method, and they will be allowed to teach by example whatever kind of anti-science they like, even if this involves a hardly disguised breach with all the accepted canons of scientific method.The ease with which this can be done will be much greater if it is done in an academic society where scientific specialisation is so taken for granted that no one dare criticise the work of a man in another faculty.
The section of this entry on the continental school discussed brieflythe topic of postmodernism. Within analytic philosophy the term isless prevalent. But both schools live in the same increasingly globalcultural context. In this context we can reflect on the two maindisqualifiers of the project of relating morality intimately toreligion that seemed to emerge in the nineteenth and twentiethcenturies. The first disqualifier was the prestige of natural science,and the attempt to make it foundational for all human knowledge. Thevarious empiricist, verificationist, and reductionist forms offoundationalism have not yet succeeded, and even within modernphilosophy there has been a continuous resistance to them. This is notto say they will not succeed in the future (for example we maydiscover a foundation for ethics in the theory of evolution), but theconfidence in their future success has waned. Moreover, thesecularization hypothesis seems to have been false, as mentionedearlier. Certainly parts of Western Europe are less attached totraditional institutional forms of religion. But taking the world as awhole, religion seems to be increasing in influence rather thandeclining as the world's educational standards improve. The secondmain disqualifier was the liberal idea (present in the narrative ofthis entry from the time of the religious wars in Europe) that we needa moral discourse based on reason and not religion in order to avoidthe hatred and bloodshed that religion seems to bring with it. Herethe response to Rawls has been telling. It seems false that we canrespect persons and at the same time tell them to leave theirfundamental commitments behind in public discourse, and it seems falsealso that some purely rational but still action-guiding component canbe separated off from these competing substantive conceptions of thegood (see Wolterstorff, “An Engagement with Rorty”.) It istrue that religious commitment can produce the deliberate targeting ofcivilians in a skyscraper. But the history of the twentieth centurysuggests that non-religious totalitarian regimes have at least as muchblood on their hands. Perhaps the truth is, as Kant saw, that peopleunder the Evil Maxim will use any available ideology for theirpurposes. Progress towards civility is more likely if Muslims,Christians, Jews, (and Buddhists and Hindus) are encouraged to enter‘the public square’ with their commitmentsexplicit, and see how much common ethical ground there in factis. This writer has done some of this discussion, and found the commonground surprisingly extensive, though sometime common languagedisguises significant differences. Progress seems more likely in thisway than by trying to construct a neutral philosophical ground thatvery few people actually accept.
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Nonetheless, an important debate properly described as‘Rationalism vs. Empiricism’ is joined whenever the claimsfor each view are formulated to cover the same subject. What isperhaps the most interesting form of the debate occurs when we takethe relevant subject to be truths about the external world, the worldbeyond our own minds. A full-fledged rationalist with regard to ourknowledge of the external world holds that some external world truthscan and must be known a priori, that some of the ideasrequired for that knowledge are and must be innate, and that thisknowledge is superior to any that experience could ever provide. Thefull-fledged empiricist about our knowledge of the external worldreplies that, when it comes to the nature of the world beyond our ownminds, experience is our sole source of information. Reason mightinform us of the relations among our ideas, but those ideas themselvescan only be gained, and any truths about the external reality theyrepresent can only be known, on the basis of sense experience. Thisdebate concerning our knowledge of the external world will generallybe our main focus in what follows.
An empiricist response to this general line of argument is given byLocke (1690, Book I, Chapter IV, Sections 1–25, pp.91–107). First, there is the problem of explaining what it isfor someone to have an innate concept. If having an innate conceptentails consciously entertaining it at present or in the past, thenDescartes’s position is open to obvious counterexamples. Youngchildren and people from other cultures do not consciously entertainthe concept of God and have not done so. Second, there is theobjection that we have no need to appeal to innate concepts in thefirst place. Contrary to Descartes’ argument, we can explain howexperience provides all our ideas, including those the rationaliststake to be innate, and with just the content that the rationalistsattribute to them.
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