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Title: Moral Intuitions and their Role in Justification
Authors: Fanselow, Ryan Taylor
Advisors: Kerstein, Samuel J
Department/Program: Philosophy
Type: Dissertation
Sponsors: Digital Repository at the University of Maryland
University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
Subjects: Philosophy
Keywords: Coherentism
John Rawls
Moral Epistemology
Moral Intuitions
Moral Psychology
Reflective Equilibrium
Issue Date: 2011
Abstract: Moral intuitions play a vital role, not only in ordinary moral thought, but also in how philosophers choose between competing normative theories. The standard view about how intuitions ought to be used in moral theory is John Rawls' method of reflective equilibrium, according to which an agent ought to work back and forth between her intuitions, the principles that systematize them, and other background beliefs, revising each until all of her judgments are consistent. My dissertation addresses two problems with the standard view. First, the method makes use of moral intuitions but offers no account of why these judgments have the epistemic credibility to play a role in choosing between normative theories. Second, when we find an inconsistency between an intuition and a moral principle, the method tells us to revise either the principle or the theory. However, this leaves the interesting question unaddressed. Simple norms of consistency tell us that we ought to revise either the principle or the theory; the interesting question is which should we revise. I argue that both of these problems can be solved simultaneously by conjoining the method of reflective equilibrium with an account of belief revision. Accordingly, I formulate and defend what I call a contributionist account of belief revision, according to which, when faced with a conflict between beliefs, one revises so as to preserve the belief that makes the greatest overall contribution to the coherence one's set of beliefs. This account, I argue, not only solves the second challenge by making the method of reflective equilibrium more determinate. It also explains why those intuitions that survive the reflective equilibrium process have the requisite epistemic credibility. These intuitions have this credibility in virtue of the contribution they make to the coherence of one's overall set of beliefs.
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UMD Theses and Dissertations

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