Justifying Moral Principles: Responding to the Radical Moral Skeptic

Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin (1990)

What is a justified morality or moral principle? Some recent moral theorists imply or suggest that the answer to this question depends on whether proponents of a moral principle can answer an extreme or radical moral skeptic. Failure to meet such a skeptic's doubts means that there are cracks in the moral foundation. If there is no irrefutable argument for a morality or moral principle, then that morality or moral principle should be rejected as having no practical bearing on anyone's life or conduct. These moral theorists believe that answering an extreme form of moral skepticism is a necessary and sufficient condition for discovering the foundations of morality. Moral philosophers, however, need not preoccupy themselves with radical moral skepticism. ;I examine some recent justifications of morality or moral principles aimed at satisfying a radical moral skeptic. These justifications are found in the theories of Alan Gewirth and the sociobiologists, Richard Alexander and Michael Ruse . I conclude that these moral theorists all fail to convince any radical moral skeptic that she ought to adopt any moral principle or morality. I also sketch the approach these moral theorists share in answering the radical moral skeptic. The moral theorist misunderstands the dialectical relationship between himself or herself and most radical moral skeptics. Upon examining that relationship the moral theorist should discover either that the radical moral skeptic is not practically committed to abandoning all morality and moral principles or that by trying to engage the radical moral skeptic in a dialectic the moral theorist either risks trying to deceive the radical moral skeptic or allows the radical moral skeptic to deceive him or her. No answer may satisfy the radical moral skeptic; however, this does not signal the end of moral theory
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