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Ethical Intuitionism Paperback – Jan 22 2008
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'Read this. It is the best book ever written on meta-ethics. Even philosophers who know the field may feel as though they are confronting these issues for the first time. I used to think of ethical intuitionism as a silly, naIve, even ridiculous theory, but Michael Huemer has made an intuitionist out of me.' - Stuart Rachels, Department of Philosophy, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, USA
'Huemer's book may be the best, most comprehensive defense of ethical intuitionism since Moore's Principia Ethica...[it] is an outstanding defense of the view that there are objective moral truths knowable through intuition. Whether or not one agrees with Huemer's conclusions, one cannot ignore the power of his arguments.' - Richard Fumerton, Department of Philosophy, University of Iowa
'A terrific book. Now philosophers will have no excuse for treating ethical intuitionism as if it were a silly and easily-refuted view.' - James W. Nickel, Arizona State University College of Law, USA
About the Author
Michael Huemer is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA, where he has worked since 1998. He is the author of Skepticism and the Veil of Perception and Ethical Intuitionism , as well as more than 40 articles in ethics, epistemology, political philosophy, and metaphysics.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
He does do a very good good job of demonstrating that ethical intuitionism is a defensible position and offering arguments to show that most of the alternatives, including ones that are much more widely accepted, are not. But he does not provide an adequate response to the one challenge I am concerned with, the view that combines ethical nihilism with evolutionary psychology.
The claim of that view is that there are no normative facts, that nothing is good or bad and there is no moral reason to do or not do anything. It explains our moral beliefs, the intuitions that Huemer views (and I view) as imperfect perceptions of normative facts, as explainable by evolution--they were beliefs that increased the reproductive success of those who held them in the environment in which we evolved, and so got hard wired into their descendants.
That approach challenges intuitionism in two ways. First, it explains the evidence, my ethical intuitions, on the basis of facts of reality I already believe to be true. Once we have one explanation there is no need for another. Second, it raises the question of how, if there are moral facts, we could have acquired the ability to know them, since at least some of them would presumably have led us to modify our behavior in ways that reduced our reproductive success--make us less willing, for instance, to slaughter the men of a neighboring tribe and take their women.
Despite these problems, I have not yet abandoned my current moral position, in part because the alternative position fails to answer the questions I want answered, indeed implies that they are unanswerable, that there are no actual oughts. In part also, I fail to adopt the nihilist position because I am unable to believe it. That inability is psychological, not logical. I cannot actually believe that there is nothing wrong with torturing small children for the fun of it or murdering large numbers of innocent people, both conclusions that follow from the view that nothing at all is wrong or right.
While the basic elements of this view are straightforward, the philosophical issues related to it are complex. Huemer does an excellent job of seeing to the heart of the matter and explaining his position in a clear fashion. He follows the tried-and-true procedure of laying out his own view, criticizing alternatives to it, and defending it against a variety of objections. Huemer's defense of ethical intuitionism against assorted objections is a real strength of the book. He considers both popular and more philosophical objections, and his replies are challenging. Any intellectually honest person who has considered and rejected ethical intuitionism (or some view labeled "ethical intuitionism") will want to read this book (and many others *should* read it whether they want to or not).
The book is very reader-friendly; much of it is accessible to non-philosophers and more technical sections are identified as such and can be skipped by non-specialists without disruption of the main thread of argument. It also contains a very helpful analytical table of contents.
Students, professional philosophers, and interested laypersons will find much of value in this book. The only significant drawback of the book is its price. I very much hope that the publisher will produce a paperback version so that the book can reach the wide audience it deserves (and who badly need it).
Huemer does a great job of explaining his views clearly and supporting them with a lot of strong arguments, in a clear and accessible style. He thinks that moral statements are meaningful and are true or false just like statements about physical reality (this is called moral realism) and that we become aware of moral truths through intuition (hence the book's title). He criticizes all forms of moral subjectivism, which is the view that moral statements can be true or false depending on the speaker's, or society's, attitude or perspective toward the statement.
Huemer also does us hobbyists the favor of clearly marking the parts that are intended primarily for his fellow professional philosophers due to their technical nature and depth of engagement with the literature.
If you are interested in metaethics, or in a clear exposition of moral realism and critique of subjectivism, this is required reading. It helps if you're already familiar with modern moral philosophy -- it's not intended purely for a popular audience -- but if you count philosophy among your interests and hobbies, then you don't need to be an academic to appreciate this book.
It is the book I would have written if I had been a smarter and more energetic person. It is just about as good as it could be.
The author has a special gift for clarity and succinctness which is rare among academics. The concluding chapter is a summary of his main points and is a marvel of clarity. If one has, as so many do, a long held negative opinion of ethical intuitionism, one should read this short chapter and be persuaded by it to then take the position seriously and to read the whole book.
My only negative feeling is one of envy.