<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> Early Twentieth-Century Intuitionism <p> <p> If we understand intuitionism broadly, as the view that at least some basic moral truths are non-inferentially known, and in that very minimal sense known intuitively, the view is very old. It would go back at least to Thomas Aquinas. It is, however, with the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British moralists that the view as we know it now began to take shape. John Stuart Mill criticized this "intuitive school" in the opening chapter of <i>Utilitarianism</i>, but devoted little space to it. Mill's great utilitarian successor, Henry Sidgwick, by contrast, discussed intuitionism at length, and it is with him that we should begin in order to understand intuitionism in the twentieth century and especially in W. D. Ross. Ross's statement of the view is the primary one for the twentieth century and is still defended. I shall also consider G. E. Moore and, more briefly, H. A. Prichard and C. D. Broad, to provide for understanding Ross in particular and intuitionism in general. My main subject, until Chapter 5, will be intuitionism in ethical theory, which concerns the nature, basis, and justification of moral judgments. But much of what emerges in the theoretical discussion will help in developing a plausible intuitionist normative ethics—roughly, a set of standards governing everyday conduct—and the account of Ross in this chapter and the next will consider specific moral principles in the context of explicating his theory. Ross's list of these became so well known that for most of the twentieth century, `intuitionism' often designated his overall metaethical <i>and</i> normative position. Chapter 5 will articulate a normative view that modifies and extends Ross's normative position and will thereby complete the construction of the overall intuitionist ethics this book presents. <p> <p> <b>1. HENRY SIDGWICK: THREE KINDS OF ETHICAL INTUITIONISM</b> <p> Sidgwick treats intuitionism in some detail in several parts of his monumental <i>Methods of Ethics</i>, the seventh and last edition of which appeared in 1907. This book in some ways marks a transition from nineteenth- to twentieth-century ethical theory, and it perceptibly influenced at least the majority of the later philosophers in the intuitionist tradition. In Chapter 8 of Book 1 Sidgwick distinguishes three kinds—"methods," in his terms—of intuitionism. I take these in turn. <p> He characterizes the "intuitional" position as "the view of ethics which regards as the practically ultimate end of moral actions their conformity to certain rules or dictates of Duty unconditionally prescribed." These dictates include "ultimately valid moral imperatives ... conceived as relating to particular acts." Moreover, "Writers who maintain that we have `intuitive knowledge' of the rightness of actions usually mean that this rightness is ascertained simply by `looking at' the actions themselves without considering their ultimate consequences" (p. 96). Sidgwick seems to apply this point to both <i>kinds</i> of action and particular actions, i.e., act-types and act-tokens. The types are actions anyone might perform, even if they are specified in some detail, say as breaking a promise to help an uncle weed his garden. The tokens are deeds done by a particular agent at a particular time, such as the keeping of the promise just described, by a specific agent at a definite time. To accommodate intuitionism as regards act-types, particularly where their consequences are relevant to their moral status, Sidgwick says that we must "admit a wider use of 'Intuition' as equivalent to 'immediate judgment as to what ought to be done or aimed at'" (p. 97). <p> In an extreme form, intuitionism "recognises simple immediate [i.e., non-inferential] intuitions alone and discards as superfluous all modes of reasoning to moral conclusions: and we may find in it one phase or variety of the Intuitional method—if we may extend the term 'method' to include a procedure that is completed in a single judgment" (p. 100). Later, he calls this the "Perceptional" phase of intuitionism (p. 102), apparently to capture the analogy with both the immediacy of perceptual judgments grounded in sensory experience and their focus on a specific case. The kind of immediacy he has in mind is mainly the non-inferential character of the judgment. His reference to a method "completed in a single judgment" allows, however, that the agent reflect before judging. Doing so does not entail that the intuitive judgment that completes the application of the "method" is inferential. Nonetheless, the description of a prominent form of intuitionism as holding that "rightness is ascertained simply by 'looking at' the actions themselves," even with Sidgwick's signal quotes, has colored the general conception of the view. It has doubtless contributed to the impression that for intuitionism we "just see" what we ought to do. <p> Sidgwick thinks that all moral agents probably have "experience of such particular intuitions" and that these form "a great part of the moral phenomena of most minds" (p. 100). Still, many such agents feel a need for "some further moral knowledge"; for <p> these particular intuitions do not, to reflective persons, present themselves as quite indubitable and irrefragable ... the same conduct will wear a different moral aspect at one time from that which it wore at another ... Furthermore, we become aware that the moral perceptions of different minds, to all appearance equally competent to judge, frequently conflict: one condemns what the other approves. (P. 100) <p> <p> The point is not that intuitions do not commonly constitute knowledge; it is apparently that they still seem to need support from something else, perhaps something more general, that is "certain and irrefragable." <p> This felt need provides an incentive to move to "a second Intuitional Method: of which the fundamental assumption is that we can discern certain general rules with really clear and finally valid intuition. It is held that such general rules are implicit in the moral reasoning of ordinary men" (p. 101). The moral philosopher functions, on this view, "to perform this process of abstract contemplation, to arrange the results as systematically as possible, and by proper definitions and explanations to remove vagueness and prevent conflict" (p. 101). This is the kind of system Sidgwick sees as intended by the phrase 'Intuitive or <i>a priori</i> morality'—a reference that might identify the target of Mill's animadversions (in the introductory section of <i>Utilitarianism</i>) on what he called the "intuitive school." Here Sidgwick uses the name 'Dogmatic Intuitionism', presumably to highlight its assumption that we can have "finally valid" intuitions regarding the common-sense moral principles in question. <p> It is not surprising that Sidgwick sees philosophers as wanting more than this second kind of intuitionism can supply. His description of the felt need is echoed in current literature and worth quoting at length: <p> Even granting that these rules can be so defined as perfectly to fit together and cover the whole field of human conduct, without coming into conflict and without leaving any practical question unanswered,—still the resulting code seems an accidental aggregate of precepts, which stands in need of some rational synthesis ... From this demand springs a third phase of Intuitionism, which, while accepting the morality of common sense as in the main sound, still attempts to find for it a philosophic basis ... to get one or more principles more absolutely and undeniably true and evident from which the current rules might be deduced, either just as they are or with slight modifications ... (P. 102) <p> <p> This phase of intuitionism is the philosophical form (p. 102). It can both synthesize and provide evidential grounds for everyday moral rules. It is this "philosophical intuitionism" that Sidgwick favors. It seeks to account for highly general moral principles that constitute a basis for the less general ones recognized by the dogmatic intuitionist, and it provides a method of correction both of formulations at that middle level and of moral judgments concerning particular actions. In concluding this chapter he says, "So far I have been mainly concerned with differences in intuitional method due to difference of generality in the intuitive beliefs recognised as ultimately valid. There is, however, another class of differences ... as to the precise quality immediately apprehended in the moral intuition" (p. 103). This quality is one he tries to capture in explicating philosophical intuitionism in Book 3. <p> Given that Sidgwick sees philosophical intuitionism as synthesizing common-sense moral principles, and given that he often talks as if these are plainly true, one might think that he takes intuitions—in the usual psychological sense in which they represent non-inferential cognitions—as, if not infallible, then invariably true. But he is more cautious: he acknowledges <p> an ambiguity in the use of the term 'intuition'; which has sometimes been understood to imply that the judgment or apparent perception so designated is <i>true</i> ... by calling any affirmation as to the rightness or wrongness of actions 'intuitive', I do not mean to prejudge the question as to its ultimate validity ... I only mean that its truth is apparently known immediately, and not as the result of reasoning ... any such 'intuition' may turn out to have an element of error, which subsequent reflection and comparison may enable us to correct; just as many apparent perceptions through the organ of vision are found to be partially illusory and misleading. (P. 211; cf. p. 215) <p> <p> In addition to noting the fallibility of intuition, Sidgwick grants that we are "often liable to confound with moral intuitions other states of mind essentially different from them" (p. 102); and he makes clear that these impostors, which include "vague sentiments" or current opinions to which familiarity has given "an illusory air of self-evidence," are far from infallible. <p> An important counterbalancing element in Sidgwick's acknowledgment of the fallibility of moral intuitions is his restriction of the sources of their error. Of the propositions that are objects of moral intuitions, he says, "such ethical propositions, relating as they do to matter fundamentally different from that with which physical science or psychology deals, cannot be inconsistent with any physical or psychological conclusions. They can only involve errors by being shown to contradict each other" (p. 213). This possibility of logical conflict is one basis of his point that intuitions may embody "an element of error." <p> Sidgwick also notes a different source of possible error: some ethical beliefs may be caused in a way that makes their falsehood "probable" (p. 212). Factual errors, for instance, can cause erroneous intuitions or false intuitive judgments. These are points about the possibility and causes of error, not about how error is to be established. Causation by prejudice might also make it probable that a judgment is false, but would not entail this. The positive implication in what he says is that intuitions are nonempirical and hence not in potential logical conflict with empirical claims, even if empirical data can make error in some intuition probable. But in the context this implication is not developed. Sidgwick is more concerned with how we can ascertain and rectify error. Let us pursue this. <p> If intuitively believed moral propositions can be mutually inconsistent, and if, when these inconsistencies occur, we are to deal properly with them, the need for the synthesis called for by philosophical intuitionism comes to the fore. With this point in mind, Sidgwick concludes, "if the formulae of Intuitive Morality are really to serve as scientific axioms, and to be available in clear and cogent demonstrations, they must first be raised—by an effort of reflection which ordinary persons will not make—to a higher degree of precision than attaches to them in the common thought and discourse of mankind in general" (p. 215). This is a task of refining and qualifying common-sense morality, not of abandoning it. It is this task that he undertakes in the final nine chapters. <p> The standard to be met in this task is self-evidence, a status intuitionists have generally attributed to some moral propositions. The axioms we seek, then, are such that when their content is "made explicit their truth is self-evident and must be accepted at once by an intelligent and unbiased mind" (p. 229). This conception of self-evidence is central for most later intuitionists and is still often held or presupposed. Explicating the conception further, Sidgwick says: <p> Just as some mathematical axioms are not and cannot be known to the multitude, as their certainty cannot be seen except by minds carefully prepared ... when their terms are properly understood, the perception of their absolute truth is immediate and irresistible. Similarly, if we are not able to claim for a proposed moral axiom, in its precise form, an explicit and actual assent ... it may still be a truth which men before vaguely apprehended, and which they will not unhesitatingly admit. (P. 229) <p> <p> There are at least three important points here. First, even what is self-evident may not seem true to those whose understanding of it is inadequate. Second, given an adequate ("proper") understanding of a self-evident proposition, its truth is non-inferentially seen (this truth is "immediate"). Third, reaching the kind of understanding in question <i>entails</i> seeing the truth so understood: perceiving it is indeed "irresistible." Sidgwick is clearly implying that despite their axiomatic status moral axioms (and perhaps self-evident propositions generally) (1) need not be <i>obvious</i>, yet (2) are non-inferentially knowable, and (3) are (doxastically) <i>compelling</i>, in the sense that when we consider them with proper understanding, we must believe them. <p> Chapter 13 of Book 3 shows what use Sidgwick, as systematic philosopher, makes of philosophical intuitionism. He formulates "real ethical axioms—intuitive propositions of real clearness and certainty" (p. 373). One is <p> the self-evident principle that the good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view (if I may say so) of the Universe, than the good of any other ... And [second] it is evident to me that as a rational being I am bound to aim at good generally ... From these two rational intuitions we may deduce ... the maxim of Benevolence ... each one is morally bound to regard the good of any other individual as much as his own ... (P. 382) <p> <p> What we have, in effect, is a movement from philosophical intuitionism to utilitarianism: "The Intuitional method rigorously applied yields as its final result the doctrine of pure Universalistic Hedonism ... Utilitarianism" (pp. 406–7). <p> For all his criticism of intuitionism, then, Sidgwick's ethical theory exemplifies the view, though in a utilitarian version. He rejects what he calls dogmatic intuitionism; but he apparently agrees with perceptual intuitionists that we commonly have non-inferential knowledge of singular moral judgments. Moreover, to his general principles from which he derives utilitarianism he seems to accord something like the epistemic status that "dogmatic" intuitionists ascribe to everyday moral principles. Although we are not entitled to take a dogmatic <i>attitude</i> in affirming them, they are self-evident. <p> <p> <b>2. G. E. MOORE AS A PHILOSOPHICAL INTUITIONIST</b> <p> In the light of Sidgwick's threefold categorization of intuitionist positions as perceptional, dogmatic, and philosophical, we can see both why Moore contrasts himself with intuitionists and why he is nonetheless commonly counted among them. In his Preface to <i>Principia Ethica</i> he says, <p> The Intuitionist proper is distinguished by maintaining that propositions of my <i>second</i> class—propositions which assert that a certain action is <i>right</i> or a <i>duty</i>—are incapable of proof or disproof by any enquiry into the results of such actions. I, on the contrary, am no less anxious to maintain that propositions of <i>this</i> kind are <i>not</i> 'Intuitions' than to maintain that propositions of my <i>first</i> class [propositions about the good] <i>are</i> Intuitions ... when I call such propositions 'Intuitions' I mean merely to assert that they are incapable of proof ... (P. x) <p> <p> Three points deserve emphasis here. First, in granting that there are broadly ethical intuitions, he agrees with Sidgwick's philosophical intuitionist—who is not taken by Moore to be an "Intuitionist proper"—that some broadly ethical propositions are self-evident (pages as early as vii–viii indicate that this is his view despite the 'merely' just quoted). Second, intuitions are unprovable not because they are either obscure or possibly false, but owing to special characteristics (to be described shortly). Third, although Moore is speaking of intuitions as <i>propositions</i> that are intuited, he also countenances intuition in the attitudinal, psychological sense common in Sidgwick's writing. In this sense an intuition is not a proposition but a cognition: not an abstract content but a propositional attitude, presumably a belief, that <i>has</i> such a content. <p> The distinction between the attitudinal and propositional senses of 'intuition' is important. Nothing in the notion of an intuition in the attitudinal sense entails that its object must be of a specific kind, much less unprovable. But the Moorean use of 'intuition' for unprovable self-evident propositions invites the contrary view and may have led some philosophers to think that intuitionism is committed to it. In a common sense of the term among ethical intuitionists, an intuition is something like a noninferential belief or non-inferential judgment (possibly an occurrent judgment, as where one assentingly considers a proposition). Its object need not be a self-evident proposition, but such propositions would be paradigms of the intuitively knowable. <p> The propositional use of 'intuition' is now uncommon, and I will use the term only in the attitudinal sense. One might think that Moore believed propositional intuitions to be the only appropriate <i>objects</i> of intuitions in the attitudinal sense. But (as I explain below) it is unlikely that he held this, and certainly no such assumption is warranted by the usage of 'intuition' in major twentieth-century intuitionist writings. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>THE GOOD IN THE RIGHT</b> by <b>Robert Audi</b> Copyright © 2004 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.