Two Intuitionist Insights
By Bryan Caplan
From Mike Huemer’s chapter in the new Arguments for Liberty, edited by Aaron Powell and Grant Babcock:
Virtually all nonintuitionists are hypocritical: they adopt and retain ethical beliefs in precisely the way that intuitionists do – namely, they believe what seems right to them, until they have grounds for doubting it – with the sole difference being that they are less self-aware, that is, they don’t say that this is what they are doing. Then they hold forth about how bad it is to do that.
Consequentialists are, as usual, the most egregious offenders. They scoff at intuition in favor of “arguments,” but what’s the non-question-begging argument for their view? After thirty years of philosophy, I’m still waiting.
Huemer also elaborates on the asymmetry between moral and political intuitions:
Even among nonlibertarians, it is not so much that most people have the intuition that the government has authority or that most people believe that government has authority, as that they are habitually disposed to presuppose the government’s authority. Most people, I suspect, have never actually thought about whether or why the government has legitimate authority. When explicitly confronted with the fact that the government performs many actions that would be considered wrongful for any other agent, very few people say, “Yeah, so what? It’s the government, so it’s obviously OK.” Rather, most people can easily be brought to feel that there is a philosophical problem here.
When I present the issue to students, for example, it is very easy to motivate the problem, and no one ever suggests that no reason is needed for why government is special. By contrast, for instance, when you point out that although it is wrong to destroy a human being, it is not considered similarly wrong to destroy a clod of dirt, no one gets puzzled.
Or as Huemer explains elsewhere:
At first glance, it may seem paradoxical that such radical political
conclusions could stem from anything designated as “common sense.” I do
not, of course, lay claim to common sense political views. I claim that
revisionary political views emerge out of common sense moral views.
If Huemer’s approach is so strong, why is it so unpopular? I’m tempted to blame people’s unphilosophical attitude, but Huemer’s approach is also unpopular within philosophy. A mix of status quo bias and emotional attachment to mainstream political ideologies is the best explanation I can muster.
P.S. Jason Brennan’s chapter on moral pluralism is also excellent.