- If philosophers are going to apply ethical theory successfully to practical issues, they must first have a theory. This may seem obvious; but they often proceed as if it were not so. A philosopher's chief contribution to a practical issue should be to show us which are good and which are bad arguments; and to do this he has to have some way of telling one from the other.
- Moral philosophy therefore needs a basis in philosophical logic - the logic of the moral concepts. But we find, for example, Professor Judith Jarvis Thomson, in an article on abortion which has been justly praised for the ingenuity and liveliness of her examples, proceeding as if this were not necessary at all. She simply parades the examples before us and asks what we would say about them.
- But how do we know whether what we feel inclined to say has any secure ground? May we not feel inclined to say it just because of the way we were brought up to think? And was this necessarily the right way? It is highly diverting to watch the encounter in the same volume between her and Mr. John Finnis, who, being a devout Roman Catholic, has intuitions which differ from hers (and mine) in the wildest fashion.
- I just do not know how to tell whether Mr. Finnis is on safe ground when he claims that suicide is "a paradigm case of an action that is always wrong"; nor Professor Thomson when she makes the no doubt more popular claim that we have a right to decide what happens in and to our own bodies. How would we choose between these potentially conflicting intuitions? Is it simply a contest in rhetoric?
- In contrast, a philosopher who wishes to contribute to the solution of this and similar practical problems should be trying to develop, on the basis of a study of the moral concepts and their logical properties, a theory of moral reasoning that will determine which arguments we ought to accept.
- Professor Thomson might be surprised to see me saying this, because she thinks that I am an emotivist, in spite of the fact that I devoted two of the very first papers I ever published to a refutation of emotivism. Her examples are entertaining, and help to show up our prejudices; but they will do no more than that until we have a way of telling which prejudices ought to be abandoned.
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