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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: July 2009

3 - Moral Naturalism and Self-Evident Moral Truths

Summary

THE ISSUE

It is intuitively plausible that there are substantive moral propositions that are ‘self-evident.’ It is plausible, for example, that, “other things equal, it is wrong to take pleasure in another's pain, to taunt and threaten the vulnerable, to prosecute and punish those known to be innocent, … to sell another's secrets solely for personal gain,” and “to torture others just for fun.” It is plausible that these propositions are true, and it is plausible that they are self-evident. In what follows, I refer to them as “the common sense principles.” And I will call the thesis that some such propositions are self-evident “the self-evidence thesis.”

It is not entirely clear how to understand the idea of a self-evident proposition. Intuitively, a self-evident proposition is one that is obviously true without the need for any proof or argument. But the term “self-evident” is used as a technical term in philosophy, and philosophers have meant different things by it. Russ Shafer-Landau, who gives the common sense principles as examples, proposes a stipulative definition. Expressed informally, his idea is that “once one really understands” the common sense principles, “(including the ceteris paribus clause),” one is justified in believing them. Robert Audi proposes a somewhat different definition. He suggests that a self-evident proposition is such that anyone who “adequately understands” it would be justified in believing it and would know it if he believed it on the basis of this understanding.

REFERENCES
Audi, Robert. 1996. “Intuitionism, Pluralism, and the Foundations of Ethics.” In Sinnott-Armstrong and Timmons 1996: 101–136.
Audi, Robert. 1997. Moral Knowledge and Ethical Character. New York: Oxford University Press.
Audi, Robert. 1999. “Self-Evidence.” Philosophical Perspectives 13: 205–226.
Audi, Robert. 2004. The Good in the Right: A Theory of Intuition and Intrinsic Value. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Copp, David. 1995. Morality, Normativity, and Society. New York: Oxford University Press.
Copp, David. 1996. “Moral Knowledge in Society-Centered Moral Theory.” In Sinnott-Armstrong and Timmons 1996: 243–266.
Dancy, Jonathan. 2004. Ethics Without Principles. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Field, Hartry. 2000. “Apriority as an Evaluative Notion.” In New Essays on the A Priori, ed. Boghossian, Paul and Peacocke, Christopher, 117–149. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Kripke, Saul. 1980. Naming and Necessity. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Mackie, J. L. 1977. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin.
Shafer-Landau, Russ. 2003. Moral Realism: A Defence. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter. 2007. “Reflections on Reflection in Robert Audi's Moral Intuitionism.” In Rationality and the Good, ed. Timmons, Mark, Greco, John, and Mele, Al. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter, and Timmons, Mark, eds. 1996. Moral Knowledge? New Readings in Moral Epistemology. New York: Oxford University Press.