Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Don Loeb: Wide Reflective Equilibrium

How Does a (Moral) Belief Get Warrent?

This is the last of my posts on Don Loeb's discussion on the the Argument from Moral Experience. This is an argument that infers from the fact that we experience morality as objective that there is reason for at least a presumption that there actually is an objective morality. This puts the burden of proof on those who would like to argue that morality is not objective (a burden that J.L. Mackie, for example, took seriously).

In the first posting we looked at Loeb's claims that the claim of experiencing morality as objective is not itself on rock solid footing.

In the second posting we looked at the idea that there are two different types of moral objectivity; intrinsic prescriptivity and objectively true moral claims. This is a distinction that J.L. Mackie himself makes clear in his book Ethics. When Mackie says that there are no objective values, he is looking only at the first type of objectivity, and allows that the second type of objectivity can and does exist.

Then, in the third posting, we looked at weaknesses in three of the ways one can try to get from an experience of moral objectivity to a presumption in favor of moral objectivity.

Now, to look at a fourth candidate for going from the experience of moral objectivity to the presumption of moral objectivity: Wide Reflective Equilibrium.

We appear to have no choice but to start off with the beliefs we have, not all of which cohere with one another. Our aim, it is often thought, should be to bring our beliefs into a coherent organization after careful consideration. Arguably, such an organization provides the best sort of justification available to us. (Don Loeb, "The Argument from Moral Experience," in A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory: 114 (Philosophical Studies Series))

In other words, all beliefs that go into this process of balancing and weighing, have at least some initial warrant. "How could beliefs that nave no warrant, even when made coherent upon reflection, produce beliefs that are warranted?"

Yet, Loeb wants to continue to reject that idea that a belief, merely in virtue that it is a belief, has warrant.

So how does a belief get warrant?

I find that a very interesting question - but I want to put it aside a moment while we continue with Loeb's argument.

Anyway, the line of reasoning being used to bolster a presumption of objectivity says that all our initial beliefs, including our belief in moral objectivity, get initial warrant. Consequently, if any belief ends up failing to survive wide reflective equilibrium, then there must be some reason found for getting rid of it.

However, the claim that all of our initial beliefs are "presumptively true" is just two strong. And without this overly strong presumption it does not follow that a belief is to be removed only when we discover a reason to remove it - that the burden of proof is on the side of the anti-objectivist.

Loeb then looks at whether the argument can work at the level of theory. "held, perhaps we have no alternative but to treat as warranted certain theories that unify and accommodate those beliefs." Yet, he concludes that a presumption that a theory is valid just because it is held is no better than a presumption that a belief is true merely because it is believed.

Yet, again, we come to the question: How does any belief (or theory) get any warrant?

[T]he strategy should hold that the reflective process itself (or at least, the availability of such a process) is what confers warrant on some, but only some, of those initial beliefs.

I would like to entertain the possibility that the warrant comes from the connections - the number and the strengths of the threads - that link beliefs. No belief has warrant on its own. No two beliefs have warrant. But, when somebody starts to make connections, then there is reason to start to get excited. "This might work." Remember, we are talking about warrant here, not truth.

Moral objectivity has no warrant on its own. It starts to acquire it once people start making links between these beliefs and others. Alternatively, warrant is immediately lost where we find moral objectivity to be in conflict with other beliefs - such as Mackie's Argument from Diversity and his Argument from Queerness.

Mackie uses these arguments to try to override a presumption in favor of moral objectivity - a presumption he thinks it has because it is written into the meanings of moral terms. However, the presumption, according to this argument, is ungrounded. Moral objectivity sits as a proposal, ready to be adopted or dropped according to the reasons that can be found for adopting or dropping it. Mackie shows us that there are reasons for dropping it.

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