ArgLab • Permanent Seminar

Samuel Laves

Self-evidence and Certainty: Wittgensteinian Critique of Moral Intuitionism

Moral skepticism is an old problem in philosophy that continues to spark debate. This presentation will consider one attempt at refuting it: moral intuitionism. While moral intuitionism was a popular position in metaethics in the first half of the 20th century, it has until recently fallen out of favor. Thanks to modern updates most prominently given by Robert Audi in his book The Good in the Right: A Theory of Intuition and Intrinsic Value, it has recently regained some of its prominence and is seen by some as a viable metaethical positions that serves as a response to the moral skeptic. The response to the moral skeptic relies on Audi’s account of self-evidence. According to Audi, it is possible to have non-inferential knowledge of certain basic moral propositions. He argues that properly understanding certain moral propositions can serve as a justification for believing them. This allows one to assert moral knowledge claims while avoiding the infinite regress that is insisted on by the moral skeptic.

After introducing moral intuitionism, I will argue that this account is misguided by appealing to Wittgenstein’s epistemological arguments in On Certainty. In On Certainty, Wittgenstein advances a novel response to skepticism, arguing that there are states of affairs which underlie our practices which in an important sense lie “beyond being justified or unjustified” (OC 359). His arguments come as a response to GE Moore, who insists that he has self-evident knowledge of certain propositions and that this is an adequate response to skepticism. Wittgenstein argues that it is incorrect to conceive of these fundamental attitudes as knowledge, and instead argues that they are certainties which are grounded in our fundamental ways of acting. I will argue, following recent work on the concept of moral certainty, that this can be applied to moral epistemology and can serve as a compelling critique of moral intuitionism.

Samuel Laves (NOVA University Lisbon)