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Analysis of the Relationship between Absolute Meta-ethical Realism and Deontological Normative Theory Based on Kantianism and Natural Law Theory

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Purpose

Meta-ethics regards a specific group of claims, which ethicists recognize as moral claims. In the process of grappling with the question of what exactly moral claims purport to report, ethicists have developed two general approaches. This research proposal is concerned with only one of the two approaches, moral realism, which encompasses the assertions that: 1) moral claims purport to report facts, 2) moral claims may be true or false, and 3) some moral claims are true.

The epistemological and ontological conditions that are identified and encompassed by moral realism are generally thought to generate two morally realist meta-ethical sub-approaches: absolutism and relativism. Absolutism offers that the conditions which make moral facts either true or false are absolute; they are thought to apply, in identical extension, to everyone everywhere always in exactly the same way. Relativism offers that the conditions which make moral facts either true or false are relative to specific locations, cultures, traditions, individuals, etc; they are thought to apply differently for different people depending on the circumstances of their respective situations.

Meta-ethical assertions generate implications for normative ethical theory. Moral realism is typically credited with engendering two branches of normative ethical theory: deontic theories and aretaic theories. Deontic theories guide and assess our choice of what we ought to do and aretaic theories guide and assess what kind of person we are and should be. Encompassed within deontic theory is both teleological theory and deontological theory. Teleological theory offers that we should assess our choices on the basis of the consequences that they generate. Deontological theory on the other hand offers that we should assess our choices against criteria different from the states of affairs those choices bring about. A typical expression of deontological ethics is to proclaim that some choices are always bad in-and-of themselves independently of the events they happen to bring about.

The purpose of this proposed research will be to conduct a thorough analysis of the relationship between absolute meta-ethical realism and deontological normative theory in an attempt to evaluate arguments for and against believing that this relationship is necessary or reasonable.

Problem

Hume (1739) held that no set of claims about plain matters of fact (‘is’ claims) can entail evaluative claims (‘ought’ claims).[footnoteRef:2] If Hume is right, every valid argument for an evaluative conclusion either includes or presupposes some evaluative premise. And, as a result, there is no value neutral argument for an evaluative conclusion. But if we need to rely on evaluative premises or principles in order to infer substantive moral conclusions from non-moral premises, the question immediately arises, “How might we justify evaluative premises or principles?” [2: Hume, David, 1739. The Treatise Concerning Human Nature, Edited by L.A. Selby-Bigge. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Edited by L.A. Selby-Bigge, 1888.) Book III, Part I, Section I, p. 469.]

Hume’s Law, or the fact-value gap as it is sometimes called, directly criticizes the tenability of a possible causal relationship between absolute meta-ethical realism and deontological normative theory. To investigate the reasonableness of such a relationship, I will evaluate whether theories that suppose a connection are defensible. To this end, I will identify and investigate grounds upon which one might successfully propose and defend a deontological normative theory on a basis of absolute meta-ethical realism. I will encounter such questions as: “what counts as good grounds for accepting either absolute meta-ethical realism or deontological normative theory?” and “What sort of evidence might be relevant in this reasoning?”

These questions address, in part, the grounding problem of meta-ethics. The grounding problem, as it applies to meta-ethics in general, is far too wide in scope to be adequately deal with over the course of four years of study. My intention is to limit the scope of this problem to its implications only for absolute meta-ethical realism and address it at this point. This proposed research will investigate the grounding problem of meta-ethics only in as far as it relates to absolute meta-ethical realism and by extension deontological normative theory.

Method

The purpose of this proposed research will be to conduct a thorough analysis of the relationship between absolute meta-ethical realism and deontological normative theory in an attempt to evaluate arguments for and against thinking that this relationship is necessary or reasonable. My research will evaluate a limited number of select deontological theories that propose a connection between absolute meta-ethical realism and deontological normative theory. In order to conduct my analysis, I will subject these theories to specifically tailored criticisms that challenge their connection between absolute meta-ethical realism and deontological normative theory. In addition to these specifically tailored criticisms, I will conduct an analysis to evaluate the extent to which each theory stands up against Hume’s Law directly.

I have preliminarily elected to conduct this proposed research using text analysis. I offer that employing this method is appropriate because it is designed specifically for analyzing ideas in the form of text.[footnoteRef:3] The text analysis method has two specializations: systematizing content and critically reviewing content.[footnoteRef:4] For the first part of the analysis, I intend to develop clear ideal-types capable of distinguishing meta-ethical realism from meta-ethical anti-realism, absolute meta-ethical realism from relative meta-ethical realism, deontic normative theories from aretaic normative theories, and deontological normative theory from teleological normative theory. Each ideal-type will include the benchmark criticisms typically raised against that specific approach. Having developed these ideal-types, I will produce a systematizing text analysis upon a select number of deontological theories using my ideal-types as a categorical framework.[footnoteRef:5] For the second part of the analysis, I intend to conduct a critically reviewing text analysis upon my already systematized benchmark texts. To execute my critical reviews, I will be relying on the method of idea-critique. Idea-critique is a critical method of analysis that aims to take a position regarding the extent to which a given argument lives up to predetermined norms.[footnoteRef:6] In this case, the given arguments are those presented by each deontological theory, and the predetermined norms are the standard criticisms raised against each deontological theory and Hume’s Law. [3: Esaiasson, P., Gilljam, M., Oscarsson, H., Wängnerud, L. (2012). Metodpraktikan, 1st ed. Stockholm: Norstedts juridik. p. 210] [4: Ibid.] [5: Bergström, G., Boréus, K. (2012). Textens mening och makt, 1st ed. Lund: Studentlitteratur.; Esaiasson, P., Gilljam, M., Oscarsson, H., Wängnerud, L. (2012). Metodpraktikan. p. 211] [6: Esaiasson, P., Gilljam, M., Oscarsson, H., Wängnerud, L. (2012). Metodpraktikan. p. 212]

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This method is intended to evaluate the resilience of a causal relationship between absolute meta-ethical realism and deontological normative theory.

Theoretical Framework

I have preliminarily selected a series of three deontological normative theories, which I intend to focus my proposed research on. The first is Kantianism, followed by Inclinationist Natural Law Theory, and lastly Analytic Naturalism.

Kantianism argues that the supreme principle of morality is a standard of rationality dubbed the “Categorical Imperative” (CI).[footnoteRef:7] The CI is categorized as an objective, rationally necessary, and unconditional principle that we must always follow despite any natural desires or inclinations we may have to the contrary. Within this theory, all specific moral requirements are justified by this principle, which means that all immoral actions are irrational because they violate the CI. [7: Kant, I. (1991). Perpetual Peace. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.; Kant, I. (1996). Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.; Kant, I. (1999). Critique of Pure Reason (The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant). Cambridge University Press.]

Inclinationist Natural Law Theory

Natural Law Theory offers that there exists a rational plan by which all creation is ordered, and that natural law is the way that human beings “participate” in the rational plan. Human beings become aware of the order of this natural plan by detecting the good in the world and pursuing it. It is essential, therefore, to the natural law position that there be some things that are universally and naturally good.[footnoteRef:8] One account of fundamental goods has been labeled ‘inclinationism.’ On this view, one’s explicit grasp of the fundamental goods follows upon but is not derived from one’s persistent directedness toward the pursuit of certain ends, which directedness involves an implicit grasp of these items as good. So human beings exhibit a tendency to pursue life, knowledge, friendship, and so forth; and reflection on this tendency occasions an immediate grasp of the truth that life, knowledge, friendship, and so forth are goods. The affirmation of the claims ‘life is good,’ ‘knowledge is good,’ ‘friendship is good,’ etc. makes intelligible the persistent pursuit of these ends by rational beings like us. A developed natural law theory includes within it a catalog of the fundamental goods, the basic values upon which the principles of right are founded. Suppose that we follow at least the inclinationist line, taking it to be faithful to the natural law idea that knowledge of the basic goods is widely distributed. Our task as inclinationists, then, is to provide an explicit account of those goods accepting that implicit knowledge of them is manifested in human inclination toward certain ends. [8: Aquinus, T. (ca. 1273). Summa Theologica.]

Analytic Naturalism

Moral realists hold that there are objective, mind-independent facts and properties; moral naturalists hold that these objective, mind-independent moral facts are natural facts. According to naturalism, the only facts we should believe in are those compatible with the results of science. Analytic naturalism goes one step further by offering that moral claims are synonymous with certain claims in the natural sciences. By this reasoning, Analytic Naturalism may provide us with a sensible explanation of how moral facts could be “natural” facts.[footnoteRef:9] We might define a “natural fact” in linguistic terms as the kind of fact about which we make certain kinds of claims—natural or descriptive claims. Claims are or are not “natural” depending on what kind of terminology they use. Claims that use normative terminology like ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘right’, ‘wrong’, etc. are normative claims. Claims that avoid this use of evaluative terminology, and instead use terminology common to the natural sciences, are natural claims. If moral claims and natural claims are synonymous, then moral and natural claims must refer to the same facts. If the moral claims refer to the same facts that natural claims refer to, it follows that moral claims refer to natural facts. [9: Parfit, Derek, 2011, On What Matters (Volume Two), Oxford: Oxford University Press.]

The Study’s Relation to Previous Research

To guide the implementation of my method, I will rely primarily on two books. The first is Textens mening och makt by Bergström and Boréus.[footnoteRef:10] The second is Metodpraktikan by Esaiasson et al.[footnoteRef:11] [10: Bergström, G., Boréus, K. (2012). Textens mening och makt, 1st ed. Lund: Studentlitteratur; Esaiasson, P., Gilljam, M., Oscarsson, H., Wängnerud, L. (2012). Metodpraktikan.] [11: Esaiasson, P., Gilljam, M., Oscarsson, H., Wängnerud, L. (2012). Metodpraktikan, 1st ed. Stockholm: Norstedts juridik.]

In my treatment of Kantianism, it seems appropriate to rely on Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals as a benchmark text.[footnoteRef:12] In order to conduct my analysis of Kantianism, I will subject this theory to specifically tailored criticism that challenges its implicitly proposed connection between absolute meta-ethical realism and deontological normative theory. I have preliminarily selected Hare’s criticism of Kantianism as a suitable candidate. Hare (1993) took Kant’s view to be that moral judgments are not truth apt.[footnoteRef:13] Although on the surface moral judgments can look as if they describe a moral world, they are, as Hare reads Kant, “prescriptions”, not “descriptions”. This is not, in his view, to say that Kant’s ethics portrays moral judgments as lacking objectivity. This criticism attacks the first assertion of meta-ethical realism by claiming that moral claims do not report facts as expressed by the CI. Instead, they offer prescriptions which untethers them from being absolute even if they are universally prescribed. [12: Kant, I. (1996). Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.] [13: Hare, R. M. (1993), “Could Kant have been a Utilitarian?”, Utilitas, 5: 1–16; revised in 1997a: 147–65. ]

In my treatment of Natural Law Theory, I will rely on Summa Theologica by Aquinas.[footnoteRef:14] Natural Law Theory is commonly criticized on the basis of the apparent difficulty of formulating a position that explains well precisely why an account of universal good is reasonable. To represent this criticism, I have selected Weinreb’s challenge from his work Natural Law and Justice, in which he argues that all efforts to develop a credible theory of natural law are doomed, and yet, that it is impossible to devise an alternative to conceiving of problems in moral and political philosophy as problems of natural law.[footnoteRef:15] [14: Aquinus, T. (ca. 1273). Summa Theologica.] [15: Lloyd W. (1987). Natural Law and Justice. Harvard. ]

In my treatment of Analytic Naturalism, I will rely on the book On What Matters written by Parfit, which offers that Analytic Naturalism can provide us with a sensible and tractable explanation of how moral facts could be “natural” facts.[footnoteRef:16] In order to evaluate Analytic Naturalism, I will rely on criticisms raised by Shafer-Landau in his 2003 work entitled Moral Realism: A Defence. Shafer-Landau rejects moral naturalism on the grounds that he believes that we can know moral facts by using intuition, which is decidedly not an empirical method.[footnoteRef:17] [16: Parfit, Derek, 2011, On What Matters (Volume Two), Oxford: Oxford University Press.] [17: Shafer-Landau, Russ, 2003, Moral Realism: A Defence, Oxford: Clarendon Press.]

In addition to these specifically tailored criticisms, I will conduct an additional analysis of each theory by evaluating the extent to which each theory stands up against Hume’s Law directly.

Research Material for The Future Thesis Project

  1. Bergström, G., Boréus, K. (2012). Textens mening och makt, 1st ed. Lund: Studentlitteratur; Esaiasson, P., Gilljam, M., Oscarsson, H., Wängnerud, L. (2012). Metodpraktikan.
  2. Esaiasson, P., Gilljam, M., Oscarsson, H., Wängnerud, L. (2012). Metodpraktikan, 1st ed. Stockholm: Norstedts juridik. p. 210
  3. Hare, R. M. (1993), “Could Kant have been a Utilitarian?”, Utilitas, 5: 1–16; revised in 1997a: 147–65. Aquinus, T. (ca. 1273). Summa Theologica.
  4. Hume, David, 1739. The Treatise Concerning Human Nature, Edited by L.A. Selby-Bigge. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Edited by L.A. Selby-Bigge, 1888.) Book III, Part I, Section I, p. 469.
  5. Kant, I. (1991). Perpetual Peace. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    1. . (1996). Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    2. . (1999). Critique of Pure Reason (The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant). Cambridge University Press.
  6. Lloyd W. (1987). Natural Law and Justice. Harvard.
  7. Parfit, Derek, 2011, On What Matters (Volume Two), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  8. Shafer-Landau, Russ, 2003, Moral Realism: A Defence, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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Analysis of the Relationship between Absolute Meta-ethical Realism and Deontological Normative Theory Based on Kantianism and Natural Law Theory. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 29, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/analysis-of-the-relationship-between-absolute-meta-ethical-realism-and-deontological-normative-theory-based-on-kantianism-and-natural-law-theory/
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Analysis of the Relationship between Absolute Meta-ethical Realism and Deontological Normative Theory Based on Kantianism and Natural Law Theory. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/analysis-of-the-relationship-between-absolute-meta-ethical-realism-and-deontological-normative-theory-based-on-kantianism-and-natural-law-theory/> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2023].
Analysis of the Relationship between Absolute Meta-ethical Realism and Deontological Normative Theory Based on Kantianism and Natural Law Theory [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Jan 29]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/analysis-of-the-relationship-between-absolute-meta-ethical-realism-and-deontological-normative-theory-based-on-kantianism-and-natural-law-theory/
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