Michael Huemer. University of Colorado, Boulder. Abstract. This book defends a form of ethical intuitionism, according to which (i) there are objective moral. Ethical Intuitionism is a book (hardcover release: , paperback release: ) by University of Colorado philosophy professor Michael Huemer. Ethical Intuitionism was one of the dominant forces in British moral Michael Huemer, David McNaughton, and Russ Shafer-Landau, are now.

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Nathan Ballantyne and Joshua C. There is a more general condition on knowledge that everyone in epistemology accepts: When we think of something as good we do not think of it merely as having certain effects on us, or as picking out certain surface properties the property of goodness has, but think of it as having a distinctive characteristic.

Huemer’s methodology would thus seem to be that of reflective equilibrium, an approach in ethics that is widely endorsed. Therefore, Socrates is immortal.

There is a difference, though. Some philosophers the ‘nominalists’ say that the only thing multiple particulars have in common is that we apply the same word or idea to them. If there were certain moral propositions that can be known if adequately understood, then, it is argued, people with an adequate understanding of them would believe them, and there would be universal assent amongst mature, comprehending people.

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

I am not sure how I would go about checking on the reliability of introspection by non-introspective means, and I do not believe I have ever done so. It does not seem that the particular instance of redness in some particular red object could exist apart from that object any more than the particular instance of goodness of some good thing could.

Subjectively we cannot tell one from the other, but they are, one might argue, very different ethiacl. It may be maintained that it is quite unclear how we can know of moral facts.

Michael Huemer, Ethical Intuitionism – PhilPapers

We cannot perform such a comparison, since we have no way of accessing physical reality without relying on sensory experience. Furthermore, adequately grasping a universal cannot cause false intuitions about it.

Sidgwick took disagreement seriously, and thought that if there was intuitoinism disagreement about the truth of some apparently self-evident moral proposition, then that casts doubt on whether that proposition really is self-evident. These seemings are not beliefs, for something can seem true even though one does not believe it, e. For instance, our intuitions seem to be affected by whether we word our scenario in terms of killing or saving, and by the order in which the trolley examples are considered.

The test of that is whether we could render the statement false by a change in intuitionjsm convention, without changing what the statement means. Appearances intuitoonism be intellectual, as opposed to sensory, mnemonic, or introspective. According to this doctrine, we may produce some good that involves a bad outcome, so long as the bad outcome is not intended.


He should say that for some moral truths, we need no evidence, since we are directly aware of them, and that awareness takes the form of intuitions; that is, intuitions just partly constitute our awareness of moral facts. When subjects have considered Bridge first, they are more likely to say that it would be wrong to pull the lever in Switch.

But a self-evident proposition is not a conscious mental state. Huemer himself makes the important point that he does not regard intuitioniwm classification with which he starts as the most intkitionism illuminating. One could try to explain away these apparently conflicting intuitions with the nuemer of double effect.

He is standing on a trap door that would open and drop him onto the track if you pulled a lever. Right now I just want to use this argument to illustrate a general epistemological point. One might say I know it because I know a general rule that all inferences of the form ‘ x is an A ; all A ‘s are B ; therefore, x is B ‘ are logically valid–but, in the first place, this would only push the question to how I know that rule to be valid, and in the second place, it would intuitkonism introduce another inference I have to make: New Essays in Epistemology and EthicsS.

If one accepts Phenomenal Conservatism, the natural view to take is that the more obvious something seems, the stronger is its prima facie justification.

5 Moral Knowledge

One could, without conceptual confusion, debate whether something that causes pleasure is good. In such a case there is agreement about what is relevant, and how it is relevant, but disagreement about the weight of the competing moral considerations—one person regards the evil of killing one person as weightier than the good of saving five, while the other regards the evil of killing one as outweighed by the good of saving the five.

Grasping comes in degrees: Moore assumes that this will be true of every putative naturalistic definition of goodness, whether it be in terms of second-order desires, social approval, being more evolved, or whatever. On this view, when we perceive, we are aware, first and foremost, of sensory experiences; when we remember, we are aware of memory images; when we contemplate abstract matters, we are aware of concepts and intuitions.

His use of the term ‘self-evidence’ encourages Popper’s reading though in fact he says all he means by ‘self-evident’ is ‘non-derivative’and the rest of the passage encourages Tara Smith’s reading. But it is the intuition that justifies, not the understanding. So it is worth having the short sharp refutation on the table even if proponents of the theory might protest that he is attacking a straw person, since the objection that seems too obvious may yet go to the heart of the matter.


Given that a proposition may seem to be self-evident when it is not, we have to have some way of discriminating the merely apparent from the real ones. It is intuition that tells us that killing people is prima facie wrong. Also it seems that our intuitions are subject to framing effects.

It is here that some are tempted to appeal to scientific knowledge about the underlying nature of colors to construct definitions saying, for example, ‘red is the disposition to reflect such-and-such wavelengths of light’. Such facts involve an essentially a priori element. This objection would apply to any notion that philosophers claim is primitive in the sense that no informative definition in other terms can be offered, be it the notion of explanation, knowledge, or pain. On this account, then, natural facts can be known by purely empirical means, whereas non-natural moral facts cannot be known in this way.

So these principles state, for instance, infuitionism the fact that one’s act would produce some good, or the fact that it would be the keeping of a promise, or the expression of gratitude, etc. Their view implies that the answer to example 1 is yes. But self-evidence is not relative rthical this way. One suspects that his reference to the ‘queerness’ of moral knowledge lacks cognitive meaning, serving rather to express his own aversion to such things than to describe any objective feature of it.

Given all these ways in which the truth of a self-evident proposition may be missed, it is no surprise that there is no universal assent. Huemer’s Principle of Phenomenal Conservatism is spelled out, as the name iintuitionism, entirely in terms of the phenomenal understanding of ‘seems’ statements. If coming to see that something is good is coming to see that we have reason to have a pro-attitude towards it, then it would be no surprise if rational individuals come to have a pro-attitude towards perceived goods, any more than it would be surprising if rational beings come to do ethiczl they judge they ought to do.

But justification comes in degrees: Since all judgment and reasoning presupposes Phenomenal Conservatism, a rejection of Phenomenal Conservatism amounts to a general philosophical skepticism. In all of my examples, all conditions are to be assumed normal unless otherwise specified; likewise, most moral principles have an implicit ‘in normal conditions’ clause. There is a switch that determines which fork the trolley takes.