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Ethical Intuitionism [Paperback]

Michael Huemer

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Book Description

Jan. 22 2008
A defense of ethical intuitionism where (i) there are objective moral truths; (ii) we know these through an immediate, intellectual awareness, or "intuition"; and (iii) knowing them gives us reasons to act independent of our desires. The author rebuts the major objections to this theory and shows the difficulties in alternative theories of ethics.

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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 received his Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1998 and is presently Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is the author of Skepticism and the Veil of Perception as well as more than twenty articles in epistemology, ethics, and other areas of philosophy.

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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, Virginia, torturing the innocent just for fun really is wrong... Feb. 13 2007
By Erik Wielenberg - Published on Amazon.com
This is an outstanding defense of the straightforward view that there are objective ethical facts, that such facts are not reducible to other kinds of (e.g. natural) facts, and that some of these ethical facts are simply seen to be true without being inferred from other things we know.

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).
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorite philosophers May 21 2014
By Jaime Andrews - Published on Amazon.com
I agree with Huemer on most things. In Ethical Intuitionism he defends a thesis of objective moral properties, which are not reducible to ordinary, descriptive "natural" properties, and that we know at least some moral truths non-inferentially (what he calls rational intuition). His argument is almost entirely negative in that it consists of arguments against the metaethical alternatives. He does a good job taking them down, but it could use more by way of a positive case... and he doesn't spend much time at all dealing with error theory (a point best descrived by Richard Garner in Beyond Morality, although his thesis is quite different). To him, morality is committed to categorical reasons, which resonates strongly with me.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible and engaging April 1 2007
By Ananda Gupta - Published on Amazon.com
This is a fantastic book about metaethics. Metaethics is the study of the meaning of right and wrong, as opposed to just plain ethics, which purports to tell us what's right and what isn't. For example, someone might ask "Is it good to keep promises?" That's an ethics question. But if someone asks "When you say 'It's good to keep promises', what do you mean?" then that's a metaethics question.

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.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good, but Not Quite Good Enough Feb. 13 2013
By David D. Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Like another reviewer, I started out agreeing with Huemer's basic claim, having concluded some forty-five years ago that the intuitionist position provided the most satisfactory explanation of normative beliefs. I read the book in part in the hope that he could provide better arguments than I had come up with, in particular a better rebuttal of what I view as the most serious challenge to our position. Unfortunately, he doesn't.

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.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Stunning Defence of this Neglected View Sept. 18 2008
By William H. Davis - Published on Amazon.com
First, a disclaimer. This book defends a position I have held for most of my 44 years as a philosophy professor.
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.

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