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Intuition and Emotion

Author(s): Jonathan Dancy


Source: Ethics, Vol. 124, No. 4 (July 2014), pp. 787-812
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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Intuition and Emotion*


Jonathan Dancy
I start with a brief look at what the classic British intuitionists Ewing, Broad,
Ross had to say about the relation between judgment and emotion. I then look
at some more recent work in the intuitionist tradition and try to develop a
conception of moral emotion as a form of practical seeming, suggesting that
some moral intuitions are exactly that sort of emotion. My general theme is that
the standard contrast between intuition and emotion is a mistake and that intuitionism can happily accommodate the results of recent work in empirical
moral psychology.

All ethical judgments seem to presuppose at any rate these three


factors: a some empirical knowledge of the particular situation or
object: b some more or less incomplete analysis of it: c the previous or simultaneous occurrence in the person judging of some
desire or emotion relative to something good. The third presupposition has been emphasized very much by the opponents of rationalism in ethics, and it is indeed important to realize that in order
to have ethical knowledge we must be more than cognitive beings.
This does not, however, affect the validity of our ethical judgments
but only the possibility of our making them. A. C. Ewing, The Morality of Punishment, 194
The topic of this symposium is the impact of recent empirical research
on the notion of an intuition, more specifically on the notion of a moral
intuition and thereby, as I take it, on the intuitionist tradition in ethics.
It has been suggested that this empirical work gives us reason to believe
that there is nothing that corresponds to the intuitionist conception of
moral judgment as the exercise of a purely rational capacity. The more

* I am grateful to the editor of Ethics for the original invitation to participate in the
workshop that has led to this symposium and to two referees for unusually helpful criticisms and suggestions.
Ethics 124 ( July 2014): 787812
2014 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0014-1704/2014/12404-0006$10.00

787

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rationalist one is, the less willing one will be to allow that the moral emotions are anything other than a threat or stumbling block; any confirmation they provide of the products of judgment is irrelevant, and any
interference with the austere process of judgment is to be deplored. But
the experimental results have led some to suppose that the phenomenon
that the intuitionists call moral judgment is in fact a function of the
emotions, overladen with confabulation. Moral stances are not adopted
in response to reasons; where reasons are cited, this is in an attempt to
make cognitive sense of something that has no cognitive origin.
I start with a brief look at what the classic British intuitionists Ewing,
Broad, Ross had to say about the relation between judgment and emotion. I then look at some more recent work in the intuitionist tradition
and try to develop a conception of at least some moral emotion as a
form of practical seeming on the model of a familiar sort of perceptual
seeming, suggesting that some moral intuitions may be exactly that sort
of emotion. I then try to show that this conception of moral emotion is
one that intuitionism can perfectly well accommodate. My general theme
is that the standard contrast between intuition and emotion is a mistake.
I. THE HISTORY OF ETHICAL INTUITIONISM
Though the classic intuitionism of the first half of the last century is generally thought of as a form of rationalism, we find that most of its leading proponents were perfectly willing to allow some essential connection between emotion and moral judgment. The epigraph to this essay is
an example of such willingness. It is especially striking because Ewing
was, at this early stage in his work The Morality of Punishment is an expanded version of his doctoral thesis, much more rationalist than he
later became.1 The passage continues, interestingly, In passing we may
note that the emotion of desire need not necessarily be relative to the
specific object of the cognition, e.g., it is true that I could not judge a
particular lie wrong except on authority without having at some time
felt an aversion either to a lie as such or to some bad effects of a kind
similar to those which I expect to follow from the lie, but I may do so
without feeling aversion to the particular lie in question at the time I
think about it.2 One year after Ewing published The Morality of Punishment, Broads Five Types of Ethical Theory appeared, and in it we read:

1. See A. C. Ewing, The Morality of Punishment London: Macmillan, 1929. Ewings


later view was that moral judgments have reference primarily to some kind of practical
attitude which they express, though they do not merely express this attitude, but claim
that it is objectively justified or required. This remark is in the second appendix to his
Ethics London: English Universities Press, Teach Yourself Books, 1953, 182.
2. Ewing, Morality of Punishment, 194.

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Let us now take Non-Naturalistic theories. Here the emotion or


feeling is never part of the content of an ethical judgment, in the
sense that we are asserting that such and such an emotion or feeling would be experienced by such and such people. But it might
be the case that the presence of certain kinds of emotion or feeling is a necessary condition for recognising the presence of ethical
characteristics, and thus indirectly a necessary condition for making ethical judgments. The occurrence of sensations, e.g., is a necessary condition of our getting the notions of colours and shapes,
and therefore is a necessary condition for making judgments such
as this is red and that is round. Yet these judgments are not
simply assertions about our sensations. Similarly, it might be that
we could not have got the notions of right, good, etc., and therefore
could not make such judgments as this is right or that is good,
unless we had felt certain emotions in certain situations. And yet
those judgments might not be merely assertions about our emotions and feelings.3
Ross concurred: what we express when we call an object good is our attitude towards it, but what we mean is something about the object itself
and not about our attitude towards it. When we call an object good we
are commending it, but to commend it is not to say that we are commending it, but to say that it has a certain character.4 Ross speaks here
of attitude rather than of emotion or of feeling, but it is clear from the
surrounding discussion that by attitude he means to include desire and
feeling. For otherwise the attitude expressed might simply be that the
object is good, as one might say that ones attitude towards a candidate
is that she is a good candidate. He went even further in this direction in
his earlier book: Now when I consider the variety of meanings of good
indicated in the preceding chapter . . . though I cannot agree that what
we mean in all or any of these cases by X is good is X is an object of
interest to some one, I am inclined to think that the only thread that
connects our application of the word in all these sensesi.e. the only
common fact that is present whenever we use the term goodis that
in each case the judger has some feeling of approval or interest towards
what he calls good.5
These various quotations show that these intuitionists were happy
to award a significant role to the emotions, though it has to be admitted
that the way in which they all move without any sense of strain between
the concepts of desire, feeling, attitude, and emotion seems to show that
they tended to lump all these things together as relevantly similar in the
3. C. D. Broad, Five Types of Ethical Theory London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1930,
268, and cf. 10810.
4. W. D. Ross, Foundations of Ethics Oxford: Clarendon, 1939, 255.
5. W. D. Ross, The Right and the Good Oxford: Clarendon, 1930, 90.

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way they are to be contrasted with judgment. It is judgment on one side


and all these other things on the other.
It is not clear, however, whether any of these thinkers were really willing to go much further than to allow the emotions feelings, attitudes as
a necessary precondition for moral judgment, or, in Ewings case, for the
possession of moral concepts in the first place. Nor do they make it clear
what it was that persuaded them to make some sort of room in their
story for something other than judgment, belief and knowledge. Here I
except Ross, who in his first book was trying to accommodate what little truth he saw in the views of R. B. Perry. And it is equally unclear that
they would have accepted a motivational state as an intuition. One of the
achievements of recent intuitionists, however, has been to stress the practical nature of moral cognition, in such a way as to avoid any worries deriving from the so-called Humean theory of motivation, which has it that
no state can be both cognitive and motivational. Ross and Prichard were,
admittedly, committed to this sort of Humeanism.6 But with the rejection
of Humean philosophy of mind, recent intuitionism can allow itself a
richer conception of intuition, one that allows us to think of an intuition
as intrinsically motivational, and so not purely cognitive. So conceived,
intuitionism ceases to be a form of pure cognitivism, and attacks on it as
such lose their focus. I will try to develop this idea in what follows.
II. RECENT WORK IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF INTUITION
Henry Sidgwick distinguished three questions about moral intuitions,
the question of existence, the question of validity, and the question of
origin.7 The question of existence is the psychological question whether
anyone ever has a moral intuition. The question of validity is the question whether all such intuitions are true. The question of origin is a psychogonical question of how our faculty of moral intuition was developed or from what it was derived.
Our answer to the question of existence will be affected, of course, by
what we think a moral intuition would be if anyone had one. Sidgwicks
answer to this leaves it open whether all such intuitions are true; in fact
he insists that the question of existence and the question of validity
should be kept severely separate. He says that a moral intuition is a
judgment or apparent perception that an act is in itself right or good,
and he claims that one can only answer the question of existence, that
is, the question whether such judgments or apparent perceptions oc6. This is not true of the Prichard who wrote Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a
Mistake? Mind 21 1912: 2137, but he seems to have changed his mind later.
7. H. Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics, 7th ed. London: Macmillan, 1907, bk. 3, chap. 1, at
211.

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cur, by direct introspection or reflection. He does not suppose that answering the question is therefore easy, even though each of us is answering it primarily for him or her self. He allows that people are often
liable to confound with moral intuitions other states or acts of mind
essentially different from themblind impulses to certain kinds of action or vague preferences for them or conclusions from rapid and halfunconscious processes of reasoning, or current opinions to which familiarity has given an illusory air of self-evidence.8 This list of things
that can be confused with intuitions is interesting, since it is not clear
why it should be hard to see some difference between a judgment or
apparent perception and a blind impulse or vague preference. Perhaps
this tells us something about what Sidgwick means by a judgment. However that may be, it seems that not all judgments that an act is in itself
right or good are intuitions. Perhaps the or in judgment or apparent
perception is not functioning as a disjunction. Further, as is now well
known, that intuitions are not the result of reasoning does not mean that
one cannot be led to have an intuition by a process of rational consideration.
On this account of intuitions in general and moral intuitions in
particular, one can allow that an intuition is occurring without allowing that it is truethat things are as the person doing the intuiting is
thereby taking them to be. In fact Sidgwick himself supposes that all
intuitions may turn out to have some element of error, and he ends up
announcing that almost all intuitions are less than true. Luckily there
do remain some true intuitions, though scholars are divided as to their
exact number.9
Following Sidgwicks lead, we should start by asking what sort of
event or state an intuition is, if there are any. As I said, Sidgwick thinks of
intuitions as judgments which may be false or apparent perceptions
which may not be veridical perceptions. But he also says that they can
be confused with blind impulses. This at least raises the question whether
he is right to think of them as judgments. And recent work on intuitions elsewhere, especially on philosophical intuitions as opposed to moral
ones, pushes that question further. This work understands philosophical
intuitions as intellectual seemings. These are to be understood as analogous to perceptual seemings, which are taken as the model for other
seemings. Perceptual seemings have interesting properties. In all this I
follow recent work by John Bengson.10 Perceptual seemings are con8. Ibid., 21112.
9. For discussion of the exact number see, e.g., A. Skelton, Sidgwicks Philosophical
Intuitions, Ethica & Politica/Ethics & Politics 10 2008: 185209.
10. This work was first presented in Bengsons doctoral dissertation at the University
of Texas at Austin. The main points can be found in John Bengson, The Intellectual
Given, Mind forthcoming.

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scious, contentful, nonfactive, representational, and presentational. It is


in being presentational that they differ from belief or judgment. And
qua presentational states, they are baseless, gradable, fundamentally nonvoluntary, and compelling, and they tend to make assent seem appropriate. In the next couple of paragraphs I run through these various properties, crucially those of being presentational and baseless.
I dont see any mystery in the idea that perceptual seemings are
conscious states which have a content, which are not factive, and which
represent things as being one way rather than another. Not all states with
a content are representational in this sense; fear and hope spring to
mind. So having a content is one thing and being representational is
another. Belief, of course, has a content and is representational. But it
is not presentational, in the sense that Bengson gives to that term. Consider the difference between merely believing that the two lines on the
board are unequal in length and looking at the Muller-Lyer picture. In
looking at the picture, the unequalness of the two lines is presented to
one, thrust upon one, as it were. In believing that they are unequal, one
is in no such state. There is a similar difference between feeling that the
water is cold and believing that it is cold. The belief represents the water
as being cold but does not present things that way. The difference between presentation and representation can be brought out by considering the phenomenon of blindsight. The blindsighted person, in being
a blindseer, is in a state which represents things as being a certain way in
his surroundings, but things are not presented to him as being that way,
as they are for the sighted person. Blindseers are often surprised by their
own successes. And belief is like blindsight in being representational
but not presentational. In believing, of course, one takes things to be
thus and so; but that they are so, what one believes, is not presented to
one as being so. The content of belief, as it stands, is neutral, just as are
the representations to which the blindseer is subject; he just learns to
trust them, as it were, but they do not impose their content on him.
This distinction between representation and presentation would
bear further examination, but I will take it here that it is sound enough, and
pass on to the further properties of presentational states, on Bengsons
account. Presentational states are baseless, in the sense that they are not
consciously formed on the basis of other mental states. They are gradable in various respects, being more or less clear, vivid, forceful, and so
on. They are fundamentally nonvoluntary, being things that just happen to us, come upon us unasked. Here again they are unlike belief,
which is in many cases much more a matter of decision pace Hume, of
course. And they are also states which one cannot simply decide not to
have, as one can with a belief in the light of new evidence, perhaps;
think of the Muller-Lyer illusion again. This aspect of involuntariness is
however different from the compelling nature of these states, which of-

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ten more or less force one to assent. It would take a very persuasive
counternarrative to get me to accept that the tree that I seem to see outside the window is not really there. Further, presentational states are
persistent, since they have a habit of surviving ones recognition that
they are misleadingwhich some of them are, of course. Even though
one knows perfectly well that the two lines are equal, they still present
themselves as unequal, and there is nothing one can do about that. And
presentational states make assent seem appropriate.
Finally, Bengson argues that some presentational states are translucent, in the following sense: a state in which it is presented to one that
p is translucent in that respect if there is no other content q such that
it seems to one that p is presented to one as being so in virtue of qs
being presented as being so. This is obviously the presentational version
of directness, which in the case of belief or judgment is noninferentiality. Not all presentational states are translucent in this sense. I can see
that the gas tank is empty by seeing that the gauge reads E; this can be
understood as nested presentation. But every time there is nested presentation, there will be unnested presentation.
An aside: Bengsons views are in the main a development of those
of George Bealer, whose work in this area has been seminal. But Bealer
restricts intuitions to the presentation of what he calls necessary truths
in concrete cases. And he supposes that we have intuitions in only four
domains: the conceptual, the logical, the mathematical, and the modal.
He also asks himself how an intuition can be corroborated, or how an
entire faculty can be vindicated as a source of evidence. His answer to
this last question is that there are three criteria, the three Cs: consistency,
corroboration, and confirmation. The consistency test asks whether one
intuition is consistent with other intuitions. The corroboration test asks
whether the intuitions of each person are corroborated by those of others.
The confirmation test asks whether the intuitions tested can be confirmed by experience or proof, I suppose, in mathematical and logical
cases.11 Now it seems to me that Bealers three Cs may be perfectly appropriate for the intellectual or philosophical intuitions that he is concerned with, but not be appropriate for intuitions in other areas, should
there be such. This need not surprise us; Bealer offers these criteria without considering the possibility of intuitions in areas to which they may be
less suited. So the epistemology he develops for the intuitions that interest him is not one that need be accepted by the friends of intuition in
other areas and certainly does nothing to show that intuitions that fail
by his epistemological criteria fail tout court. This leaves it open to moral

11. For all these points, see, e.g., G. Bealer, On the Possibility of Philosophical Knowledge, Nous 30 1996: 134.

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intuitionists to develop an alternative epistemology for the intuitions that


interest them.
III. INTUITIONS AND MORAL INTUITIONS
So now let us ask whether, on Bengsons account of what intuitions are, it
is plausible to say that we have moral intuitions. We should take this as a
question of existence, in Sidgwicks sense, not as a question of validity.
Do we have conscious, contentful, nonfactive, representational, and presentational states with moral content concerning particular cases? Myself, I see every reason to say that we do, and no reason to say that we
dont. No doubt these moral intuitions do not suit Bealers pronouncements about the subject matter of intuitionsnecessary truths in concrete cases, in the conceptual, mathematical, logical, and modal domains.
But that doesnt much worry me so long as there are states with moral
content that fit the general account of presentational states. One might
also doubt that moral intuitions, or the faculty of moral intuition in general, will stand up to the three Cs. There is of course widespread divergence of moral intuition, the corroboration of one persons intuitions
by those of his friends and neighbors doesnt seem to add much, and we
have yet to give a good sense to the question whether moral intuitions can
be tested by experience. But these epistemological worries seem more directed to the question of validity than to the question of existence. As
yet we are not doing epistemology but the philosophy of the mindthe
moral mind. The epistemology can come later.
Taking it, then, that moral intuitions do occur, we should investigate
their nature. We have already distinguished judgments from seemings
and decided that intuitions are seemings; so perhaps the first question is
whether moral intuitions are intellectual seemings or perceptual seemings. If they are either of these, we have already dealt with them. If they
are not, might they be some other sort of seeming? We should start by
admitting that some moral intuitions are intellectual seemings. Perhaps
it just strikes me that Caesar was wrong to cross the Rubicon; this looks
like an intellectual seeming with a moral content. But perhaps other
moral intuitions are seemings of a different sort. Could there perhaps
be such a thing as a practical seeming? And could some moral intuitions,
or some moral seemings, be a subclass of such practical seemings? It
seems to me to be worth trying to work out what things would be like if the
answer to these questions is yes. Here I am influenced by Sidgwicks
suggestion that it is easy to confuse some intuitions with what he called
blind impulses to certain kinds of action. If there are going to be
practical seemings, they are going to have a motivational aspect; perhaps
we should already be thinking of them as motivational states and as
such easily confused with blind impulses, though they may be motivational

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without being impulses. If they are impulses, the difference between a


moral intuition and a blind impulse will lie in the fact that moral intuitions are not blind, not in their not being impulses. If they are not blind
impulses, what might they be? We are thinking of our intuitions, whether
intellectual or practical, as presentational states in Bengsons sense. So
perhaps what distinguishes these motivational presentations is what they
present. Here an attractive possibility suggests itself, that these motivational presentations are presentations of reasons; they present a consideration as a reason. To present a consideration as a reason is to present it as calling for, or favoring, a response of a certain sort.
Obviously we need to distinguish between presenting a consideration as being so and presenting its being so as a reason for responding in
one way rather than another. A consideration that one already accepts
may present itself as a reason; and a consideration that itself is not presented in the special sense that I have been using here, but merely represented, may yet be presented as a reason, as favoring such and such a
response. Such presentations, being motivational, need not be thought
of as inert cognitive states; they may be cognitive, but they are still ert
in the sense that their presence makes the sort of difference to ones dispositions to act that is traditionally awarded only to desire. Practical moral
intuitions of this sort will be practical seemings, assent to which can be
action rather than belief. And even before we get to action, to accept that
the reasons are as they seem to be will be to go with, or consent to, a
motivational flow that already exists.
If practical seemings are presentations of reasons as reasons, this
will give us something of a distinction between intellectual and practical
seemings. For intellectual seemings are presentations of matters of fact
that do not ordinarily present those facts as reasons, even though those
facts may be reasons and be recognized as such. Of course it remains
possible that some intellectual seemings present facts and at the same
time present them as reasons for belief. But the possibility of this sort of
dual presentation is not a difficulty, since a practical seeming may do the
same. And I do not find the possibility disconcerting. We can perfectly
well distinguish between reasons for belief and reasons for action, emotion, and other practical responses; intellectual seemings that present
facts as reasons, if there are any such, are still intellectual rather than
practical because they present the facts as reasons for belief.
Now all this is rather opaque and needs considerable further development, a little of which will be provided later. But before that, having
got so far, I want to suggest a further move in the same direction. I have
spoken of presentations of reasons as practical seemings, and one might
be forgiven for thinking that these supposed practical seemings are an
unfamiliar and unnecessary addition to our psychological repertoire. In
this light, we might look for some already acknowledged aspect of that

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repertoire that could play this unfamiliar role, and one answer to this
question is worth considering, which is: Yes, the emotions or certain
emotions could do that.12 It is worth, therefore, considering the suggestion that the emotions, or some emotions, are themselves such practical
seemings, presentations of reasons. Could some moral emotions have
been moral intuitions all along? In raising this possibility, I want to leave
it open whether there are some moral emotions that are not intuitions,
not being the presentations of reasons, and as before whether there
are some moral intuitions that are not emotions, being intellectual seemings. As another example of the latter in addition to the one about Caesar above one might offer intuitions of mere permissibility. The absence
of a reason against action is not itself motivational, and for this reason I
would take intuitions of permissibility to be intellectual rather than practical seemings. Still, for the moment I simply announce, or more cautiously hypothesize, that some emotions are practical seemings, assent to
which can be action. As such, they are intuitions, and the moral ones are
moral intuitions.
I now turn to consider whether the picture that has been emerging
is available to ethical intuitionists. It may seem that even if the picture
has its own attractions, ethical intuitionism is by its nature unable to absorb them and call them its own. To determine whether this is so, I turn
to examine how flexible intuitionism can be or become, while remaining
recognizably within the intuitionist tradition.
IV. CONTEMPORARY ETHICAL INTUITIONISM
As I see it, we should not try to construct a list of necessary and sufficient
conditions for intuitionism, either by distillation from the views of the
great intuitionists of the past or by simple reflection on what is the best
way to construct a view that is overall recognizably similar to theirs. The
most constructive way of proceeding is to offer a list of marks of intuitionism. The idea here is that not all intuitionists need meet all the
marks but that all meet a fair number of them. Of course there will be
some people who are especially hard to map; this seems entirely predictable.
Mark 1: Intuitionists are realists, asserting that there are facts of the
matter in ethics as elsewhere.
Mark 2: Intuitionists are cognitivists, asserting that moral judgment
is a cognitive state. If challenged, they would probably say that this
12. Thanks to a referee here.

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is a straight consequence of the first Mark, since belief is the appropriate attitude to a fact.
Mark 3: Intuitionists are pluralists in the theory of the right; they are
suspicious of artificially architectonic theories, and especially of the
idea of a Supreme Ethical Principle; they assert several equipollent
principles if they deal in principles at all, and if they dont, they
assert that there are many distinct ways of getting to be right or
wrong.
Mark 4: Intuitionists are nonnaturalists, asserting that the facts at issue are nonnatural facts, not merely that they can be properly characterized using nonnatural concepts.
Mark 5: Intuitionists are metaphysical quietists, showing little interest in the metaphysical issues that are so often pressed against
them, in virtue of Mark 4. Those who press those issues can be
naturalists, on one side, and Kantians on the other; the Kantians are
driven by the thought that the normative needs a very special explanationsomething for which the intuitionists see no need. A
lot more could be said about this.
Mark 6: Intuitionists think that at any rate some of these normative
facts are self-evident and known a priori.
Mark 7: Intuitionists think that the right is independent of the
good.
This symposium is mainly concerned with the question what is the impact of recent experimental results on ethical intuitionism of this sort.
So I will not be attempting here to defend intuitionism against philosophical worries that are grounded in persistent disagreement, or in
metaphysical disquiet about the nonnatural, or in the way in which intuitionism conceives of moral judgment as both practical and cognitive,
and so on. These are all serious problems, but they do not concern us
here. Nor, officially, are we concerned with those worries that stem from
accepting that our moral faculty always assuming we have such a thing
was developed under conditions which render it incapable of the sort of
moral judgment required of us in modern conditionsjudgment about
the appropriate way of responding to terrible conditions on the other
side of the globe, for instance. Or rather, it is capable of generating
such judgments, but it does so with an inbuilt bias.
On this point, again, it is interesting to remember Sidgwick. His
third question, the psychogonical question of the origin of our moral
faculty, was raised because there was at the time a tendency to argue that

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if our moral faculty can be shown to be derived or developed out of


other pre-existing elements of mind or consciousness, a reason is thereby
given for distrusting it.13 Sidgwick denied that there is any such implication, but he also allowed that it may be possible to prove that some
ethical beliefs have been caused in such a way as to make it probable that
they are wholly or partially erroneous. This worry too is one that I will
simply ignore for present purposes. My concern here is only with the impact of recent experimental results, not with the wider fortunes of ethical intuitionism.
But we have not yet seen the full story about ethical intuitionism.
The intuitionists do think that there are moral facts that can be discerned by the developed intellect. They do think that there are moral
reasons, there is moral reasoning, and there is moral judgment. But
they do not now tend to contrast the cognitive and the recognitional
with the motivational; the aim is now to make sense of a moral response
that is recognitional and motivational at once. This is what was meant by
John McDowells insistence that the world is not motivationally inerta
remark that applies in spades to the moral world.
There is a second aspect of McDowells work that is relevant here.
This is that, though he is generally thought of as a leader in the latest
flowering of the intuitionistic tradition, he has himself been pretty scathing about the epistemological inadequacies of intuitionism. Here are
some relevant quotations.
The perceptual model is no more than a model: perception, strictly
so called, does not mirror the role of reason in evaluative thinking,
which seems to require us to regard the apprehension of value as
an intellectual rather than a merely sensory matter. But if we are to
take account of this, while preserving the models picture of values
as brutely and objectively there, it seems that we need to postulate
a facultyintuitionabout which all that can be said is that it
makes us aware of objective rational connections: the model itself
ensures that there is nothing helpful to say about how such a faculty might work, or why its deliverances might deserve to count as
knowledge.14
This appearance reflects an assumption that, at the metaphysical
level, there are just two options: projectivism and the unattractive
intuitionistic realism that populates reality with mysterious extra features and merely goes through the motions of supplying an epistemology for our supposed access to them.15
13. Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics, 21213.
14. J. McDowell, Values and Secondary Qualities, in Mind, Value, and Reality Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998, at 13233.
15. J. McDowell, Projectivism and Truth in Ethics, in Mind, Value, and Reality, at 157.

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The assimilation to the senses gives this intuitionistic position the


superficial appearance of offering an epistemology of our access to
evaluative truth, but there is no substance behind this appearance.16
When he wrote these passages, intuitionism for McDowell was a bad
thing. It could give no account of our access to the supposed facts about
value, and the same applied to facts about reasons supposed rational
connections. But still he himself clearly thought that there are facts
about reasons and that we have rational access to those facts. So how is it
supposed to work? I asked him this question some years ago, and this was
the reply:
It is the immediacy of the supposed cognition, not its object, that
makes the epistemology a mere pretence. There is nothing wrong
with objective, and so knowable, rational connections so long as you
dont suppose they simply impress themselves on some supposed
quasi-perceptual faculty. The idea of being on to objective rational
connections is all right if you put it in a context in which you talk
about acquired capacities to reason.17
It is this remark about acquired capacities that is the real point here. But
I wonder if it is right to think of these capacities exclusively as acquired
capacities to reason. The important point here is that the capacities
involved in our responses to objective rational connections that is, to
reasons are ones that can be developed by a process of education or
acculturation. Such a capacity to reason need not be understood merely
as a capacity to infer, or to grasp logical connections between propositions; it is the capacity to respond to reasons. The point becomes much
clearer in McDowells recent work on action, as yet mostly unpublished.
Here he raises the question what distinguishes human motivation from
animal motivation. The answer is that we are like the animals in having
immediate motivational responses to the unfolding of circumstances before us. But unlike the animals, we are capable of accepting or rejecting
what one might therefore think of as motivational proposals. There is a
flow which we can go with or decide not to go with. To accept a deliverance of this motivational capacity is to accept a consideration as a reason, which in some cases may simply be to act accordingly. There would
be a sort of practical yes involved. Animals are most of them, at least
incapable of this sort of standing back from the promptings of intuitive motivation, and deciding which ones to accept and which not.18 Mc16. Ibid., 154.
17. Personal communication with the author.
18. There is significant similarity between McDowells views on the relation between
human and animal motivation and action and those to be found in Christine Korsgaards
recent work; see her Self-Constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity Oxford: Oxford Uni-

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Dowell suggests that rational agency of the sort that we enjoy comes with
this ability to distance oneself from these promptings; in doing so, we are
in a position to reject those promptings as illusory rather than as merely
outweighed by others.
We could put these two thoughts together, add the idea that some
practical seemings are emotions, and emerge with the following complex and perhaps exaggerated picture, which I take to be fully compatible with the intuitionist conception of moral judgment.
Creatures without emotions would not be able to develop moral
concepts.19 And this applies not just to a species but also to the individual member of that species. Though some moral thought is purely cognitive/intellectual as in our thoughts about Caesars mistakes, for instance, it is the practical aspect of moral thought that is central. Take
this away and what remains is an empty huska set of distinctions whose
importance must remain opaque. Similarly, someone whose exposure to
reasons involves no cases in which reasons are thrust at them, presented
to them, would be someone for whom facts about reasons would have
a peculiar form of indirect relevance to their choices. Luckily most humans are born capable of a wide variety of emotional response. Luckily,
also, this capacity is capable of being altered or developed in training.
Children who are properly brought up become moral agents as a result
of the training they receive. The others become immoral agents, I suppose. In that training, their patterns of emotional response are altered
expanded in some directions, redirected or contracted in others. The
emotions remain, for them, as the most rapid and direct of their ways
of responding to the situations they encounter day by day. As a child develops into a fully functioning moral adult, she learns the extent to which
she can and cannot trust her own emotional responses. And the training process does not stop when one leaves home, as it were. One can train
oneself. Some things that our parents taught us to be disgusted by may
seem, on later reflection, not to be so disgusting after all. This does not
necessarily mean that we cease to be disgusted, though it might have
that effect. Sometimes the disgust remains, but the moral disapproval
that it tended to evoke is silenced and replaced with acceptance. In other
cases one just comes to feel differently about the matter. In the particular
case, where we are considering how to respond to the situation before us,
we will normally be experiencing various complex motivations or emotions. Our cognitive capacities can accept or reject those motivatedversity Press, 2009, esp. chap. 6 and 21213. I also note considerable affinities to some of
the views expressed by Peter Railton in his contribution to this symposium.
19. I dont argue for this strong claim, and perhaps it cannot be defended. My point is
rather that even this claim is available to intuitionists. Broad, for instance, made the claim
in the remarks quoted in Sec. I above. If one thinks it too strong, one can weaken it.

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nesses, deciding that some are and others are not, responses to genuine
reasons. In this way the emotions stand, or can be made to stand, before
the court of reason.
Of course this is by no means an infallible process. No doubt we
are all less than fully competent judges in the court of reason. The idea
of someone who is perfectly competent in that way is an ideal. And
given the many ways in which emotional, or motivational responses can
be triggered, it is quite easy for them to be affected by features that are
morally irrelevant. The work of judgment, or of reason, is to correct this
sort of distortion so far as is possible.
The general picture here is of a cognitive system sitting on top of
a motivational one, capable of influencing it in some ways but not in
all. The motivational system is not mere motivationthat would be the
blind impulse of which Sidgwick spoke. Not even the animals are restricted to blind impulse. The sort of motivation we are talking about is
a presentation of some consideration as a reason, and in that sense is
already cognitive. Korsgaard speaks of such states as presenting an object or a situation as to be avoided or to be pursued, to be done, or
to be eschewed.20 The cognitive system may endorse such a presentation, accepting what is presented as a reason to avoid or pursue, or it
may reject it as what Korsgaard would call a mere incentive.
V. ATTEMPTED CLARIFICATIONS
We need to be clear as possible about what we mean by speaking of a state
as motivational. I am thinking of a motivational state as a state whose
onset is or includes21 a change in ones motivationsa change, that is,
in how one is motivated to respond to ones surroundings. Emotions are
motivational states with normally a cognitive content. I can be angry
that you didnt come home when you said you would. I can also be angry
with you for not coming home when you said you would. In these two
examples, the content is nonnormative, but in other examples the content will be normative, as where I am angry that you have treated me so
inappropriately. Either way, the attitude I use this unfortunate term as
the generic term for any state with a content is motivational; that is, my
becoming angry that p, or with you for V-ing, is or includes a change in
my motivations. The content in these cases of anger may be presented
or merely represented; either way, the account I am offering maintains
that in the emotion that content is presented as a reason. So these cases
are best described as a motivational response to a presentation or rep20. Korsgaard, Self-Constitution, 110.
21. This is a fudge phrase intended to duck the very difficult issue of the relation
between cognition, motivation, and affect in emotion.

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resentation, because the state of affairs presented or represented is not


motivational, even though it is what motivates, for what motivates one in
anger is not the anger that one feels, but what one is angry about. I may
know that p and be motivated by that fact that is, by the fact that p, but
when I become angry that p my motivation changes though what motivates me does not. I am now tempted to respond to what is angering
me in a way that I would probably not have responded before I became
angry.
In the debate about moral motivation, motivational internalism,
which is the view that moral judgment necessarily motivates, is usually
challenged by appeal to the listless, or those suffering from accidie. These
are people who supposedly make the moral judgment but fail to be appropriately motivated. Could this same challenge be raised to my suggestion that presentations of reasons necessarily motivate? I dont think
so. The victim of accidie may know that he has reasons, but these reasons
are not presented to him as such; they are only represented to him. He
has the right belief, but belief is not enough, since it is merely representational.
Some people might wish to think of a belief with normative content, such as the belief that those lads are treating that cat wrongly, as a
motivational state, doing so on the grounds that one can be motivated by
that belief; the idea here is not that the belief is a necessarily motivating
state, as desire is standardly supposed to be, but that it is capable of motivating in its own right, rather than merely piggybacking on some suitable desire.22 In my terms, this is a form of non-Humean psychologism.23
Others would take this belief as a nonmotivational state because it is
a belief with a normative content; to say this would be to adhere to a
broadly Humean form of psychologism. Participants in this debate conceive of motivation as a relation between mental states, an agent, and a
type of response. As a nonpsychologist,24 I think of motivation as a relation between a state of affairs real or supposed, an agent and a type of
response. I would for instance say that one can perfectly well be motivated by the fact that those kids are treating that cat wrongly. Of course
to be so motivated one must believe or at least take it that they are doing that, but still what motivates is the thing believed, not ones believing
it. But no matter how one resolves these complex issues, such a belief is
not itself a motivational state in the sense that I am giving to this phrase,
because coming to believe that those kids are treating that cat wrongly
22. This is how I described the situation in Jonathan Dancy, Moral Reasons Oxford:
Blackwell, 1993, chap. 2.2.
23. For these distinctions, see Jonathan Dancy, Practical Reality Oxford: Clarendon,
2004, chap. 1.
24. Ibid., chaps. 45.

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does not consist in a change in the agents motivation. Desire, by contrast, is a motivational state, because desire is not what motivates, it is
ones being motivated; a fortiori, therefore, acquiring a desire involves a
change of motivation.
Nothing changes if the belief is an agents belief about what she
has reason to do here, rather than about the rights and wrongs of other
peoples behavior. She may believe that she has good reason not to walk
away, and for that reason stay put, without that belief being itself motivational. Not all representations of reasons are motivational. But now
instead of thinking about the belief that their behavior gives her good
reason to intervene, think instead about the presentation of which such
a belief might be an acceptance, the presentation of some consideration as a reason for her. This is the motivational state that I am suggesting a moral emotion could be. And it is this state that I am thinking of as the prime case of a moral intuition. These intuitions present
some feature of the situation to one as a reason for oneself to act.
I take it that the picture I have laid out in this section, which understands some moral emotions as motivational presentations of reasons, is fully compatible with a traditional intuitionist conception of
moral judgment as a rational faculty. The crucial point is that judgment
is, in this area, the product of a rational capacity to assess, accept, or
reject certain presentations, in particular the sorts of practical presentation that I am thinking of as moral emotions. We know of courseand
if we hadnt known, rafts of recent experiments would have told us
that the emotions are likely to be affected by circumstances in ways that
introspection is not likely to reveal. Information about the often surprising ways in which this can work is certainly helpful, though knowledge of this sort in no way guarantees some sort of immunity to the
relevant phenomena. But none of this means that a well-trained that is,
well brought up moral agent is not in a position to trust her emotions
over a wide range of cases. We have to trust our emotions, and we can
trust them, just as we have to, and can, trust our judgment, in the knowledge that this trust will sometimes be betrayed. The recommended attitude for the competent moral agent is thus a sort of wary confidence.
VI. EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS AND PHILOSOPHICAL
DISTINCTIONS
In interesting work, Joshua Greene has suggested that we have inherited
a moral faculty which evolved in conditions that fit it best to situations of
an up close and personal sort.25 And he ties this idea to a conception of
25. See, e.g., J. D. Greene, The Secret Joke of Kants Soul, in Moral Psychology, vol. 3,
The Neuroscience of Morality: Emotion, Disease, and Development, ed. W. Sinnott-Armstrong

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deontology as stressing the application of rules, as opposed to a consequentialist system that calculates consequences. The deontological
system is designed for the up close and personal, in which it operates
quickly and efficiently, but it does not really deal in the calculation of
consequences. The consequentialist system is slower, not surprisingly,
and tends to kick in only when specially prompted as when people are
explicitly asked to consider the consequences of punishment or when
the circumstances themselves demand it. Further, the deontological system is driven by automatic emotional responses, while the consequentialist system is calculative and cognitive/rational.
All of this is compatible with the picture I have adumbrated except
in the way it contrasts rules with consequences. But as I see it, this contrast
is a misconception.26 In Rosss hands, the battle between deontology and
consequentialism is a battle between monism and pluralism. Both sides
are talking about rules. The intuitionist, whom I am going to treat as the
classic deontologist, is distinguished by his insistence that in addition to
a rule requiring us to maximize the good, there are other rules that are
not concerned with maximising either the good or anything else.27 These
rules, taken together, are the principles of prima facie duty. Ross allowed
seven sorts of prima facie duty. Duties of three of those sorts are not
grounded in consequences at all. These are the duties that concern promise keeping and reparation duties grounded in previous acts of ones
own, and those to do with gratitude duties grounded in previous acts
of others. The other four justice, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and
self-improvement are consequence-based, because in their different ways
they are concerned with goods which one is to maximize. So there are
four sorts of consequence-based prima facie duty, but of course none of
these are consequentialist duties, because consequentialism is simply the
view that all duties are consequence-based, and Rosss system is not consequentialist. It transpires, then, that Rosss form of intuitionism already
includes the consequence-related duties, and that Greenes contrast between a rule-based system and a consequence-based system does not fit;
it depends on the unmotivated and false assumption that there are no
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007, 35 117, and Cognitive Neuroscience and the Structure of the Moral Mind, in The Innate Mind: Structure and Content, ed. P. Carruthers, S.
Laurence, and S. Stich New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
26. I find the same misconceived contrast between rules and costs in S. Nichols, Innateness and Moral Psychology, in The Innate Mind: Structure and Content, ed. P. Carruthers,
S. Laurence, and S. Stich New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, 35369, at sec. 4.1.
27. Ross did allow that wherever one of the nonmaximizing rules applies, there will be
some good to be created or some bad to be avoided; but he insisted that these goods and
harms are not part of the grounds for the relevant prima facie duty; see The Right and the
Good, 162.

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rules about consequences, for which I see no justification, evolutionary or


otherwise.
So we need to move away from Greenes contrast between rules and
consequences, but we can do so in a way that would still suit the idea that
we have a rapid-response emotional system, if so desired. The result would
be an account which is structured more or less as Ross describes, though
it is one under which the pronouncements of the rapid response system
still require, and generally receive, the endorsement of reason. The latter
task takes more time, but not only because it gets itself involved in calculation of remote consequences. One striking aspect of Rosss account
is the way in which, having announced that we have prima facie duties
of beneficence, he almost immediately accepts a maximizing version of
these. He writes In the first place, it seems self-evident that if there are
things that are intrinsically good, it is prima facie a duty to bring them
into existence rather than not to do so, and to bring as much of them
into existence as possible.28 Against this, David Wiggins has suggested
that there was available to Ross a nonmaximizing version of the principle
of beneficence, one that restricted the operation of that principle to a
more local sphere of influence.29 Wiggins suggested this restriction as the
right way to forestall the standard tendency of maximizing consequentialist rules to expand to cover the entire ground of duty. But this need
not be our worry. We might instead be concerned to see the prima facie
duty of beneficence as operating much as other such duties do those,
perhaps, that have been held to be the product of moral evolution,
rather than to think of it as coming from somewhere else entirely and
standing very much at odds with those rules. A localized version of the
duty to do good, understanding it as the duty to help those around you,
makes perfectly good sense. And it also makes the duty of beneficence
much more analogous to the duty of nonmaleficence. This latter duty is
much harder to understand in maximizing terms. The idea that I should
do as much harm-avoiding as possible is very peculiar, as if I should try
to get myself into as many situations as possible in which I am in a position to harm someone and then sternly avoid doing so. The truth of the
matter is more that if I find myself in a situation in which some course of
action available to me would harm someone, then I have at least some
moral reason to avoid doing that action. Now this sort of principle of nonmaleficence of course applies to the fat man on the bridge as much as to
anyone else. It is an up close and personal matter, if you will. So our reluctance to do that is both explained by the rules and a matter of avoid28. Ibid., 24.
29. D. Wiggins, The Right and the Good and W. D. Rosss Criticism of Consequentialism, Utilitas 10 1998: 26180.

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ing certain consequences, just as is our keenness to help the five people
below. These complex and competing reactions are all applications of
an intuitionistic system, one that enjoins help and forbids harm.30
It could still be true, for all that, that the potentially maximizing
duties do lend themselves to calculation and that the time taken to reach
a view in appropriate cases is evidence of that calculation. But all this is to
be placed within the intuitionistic system rather than in addition to it.
Greenes work on response times is interesting here. He finds many
cases where those who reach one answer tend to take longer about it
than those who reach the other. And his diagnosis of these differences is
that the quicker decisions, or at least the easier ones, are the product of
an intuitionistic approach, the slower ones being evidence of the sorts of
calculation characteristic of consequentialism. I suggest a rather different reading. In the example about smothering ones baby, the people to
be saved are apparently villagers or fellow townspeople, and whether
people say it is right or say it is wrong to smother the baby to save the
villagers, they generally take a lot longer about it than they do with
easier decisions. But what if the people to be saved were ones other
two children? Would there be some suggestion that in that case the
decision would be quicker because it would not be based on calculation
of consequences? And if it took even longer, would this be because the
consequences are harder to calculate? Somehow I doubt it. Response
times tell us little about whether we are dealing with rules rather than
consequences.
Greene tends to work with a contrast between 1 cases where there
is a strong negative emotional push on one side which is nonetheless
capable of being fought down by cognitive considerations that are to do
with consequences, 2 cases where the strong negative emotional push
these pushes are always negative, it seems, being alarm-like31 wins
straight away, and finally 3 cases where the strong emotional push eventually wins out over the consequences, but only with difficulty. I would
think there are also 4 cases where the strong push, though it exists, is
defeated by other strong emotional pushes on the other side as when
one has to choose which child to sacrifice. One would imagine that in
each of these last two cases, more time is taken. In cases of type 3 there
is evidence of significant cognitive activity, although seemingly on the
losing side. What about cases of type 4? Is it that this should not take
30. I note that Sidgwick made the same suggestion that the intuitive principle of
benevolence has a restricted scope; see Methods of Ethics, bk. 3, chap. 4, and see also 382.
31. And yet these principles of prima facie duty are not all principles of the wrong; I
dont see an opportunity to help others as a sort of alarm, a warning of potential wrongdoing.

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too long because it is not cognitive, being a simple struggle of one


emotion against another? I would have supposed that where there is a
conflict between two nonconsequential duties, this might take a great
deal of sorting out. It would be interesting to see where that sorting out
takes place, that is, whether the parts of the brain where long-term planning and so on take place become centrally involved. If that turned out
to be so, we would have a general arrangement that is effectively what
would be predicted by the intuitionism I characterized above.
My conclusions are that Greenes attempt to link experimental results to a distinction between the application of rules quick and dirty
and the calculation of consequences hard, takes time is theoretically
misconceived, as is the attempt to marry that distinction to the distinction between intuitionism and consequentialism, and that there is nothing in his work on response times that is at all difficult for the intuitionist to absorb.
VII. THE MORAL GRAMMAR PROGRAM
The inclusion in this symposium of a paper on the so-called Linguistic
Analogy, or the Moral Grammar Program, is interesting. If the symposium as a whole is intended to be about the impact of experimental
philosophy on traditional ethics, and in particular on the intuitionistic
conception of moral judgment, it is not obvious what difference the
success of the Moral Grammar Program would make. Nor can that program make much claim to be part of experimental philosophy. Its main
datum is the convergence of judgment about the standard trolley cases,
and the explanation that it offers for this lies in an initial implicit acceptance of certain rewrite rules. That is, it is the implicit acceptance
of these rules that explains the convergence of judgment, even though
those doing the judging have no explicit knowledge of the rules that
generate the judgment. I suppose that this is experimental in a weak
sense, since it starts from questionnaires, but it does nothing like measure response times or examine the relative frequencies of firings of neurons.
Now everyone should agree that there is a good sense in which
moral judgment requires one to parse the situation that faces one. This
notion of parsing is familiar to me from the years I spent studying Latin
and Greek. But that sort of parsing was syntactic. It was important to
distinguish subject, verb and object, to distinguish adjectives and adverbs and to work out which adjectives belonged to which nouns and
which adverbs belonged to which verbs. This process was helped by semantical considerations; if one had not known the meanings of the various terms in the sentence, ones task as a parser would have been much

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harder. The parsing of sentences in English seems to me to be much


easier, since word order matters so much there. But maybe this is because I am so much better at English.
Parsing a situation, as this notion is standardly intended, amounts
to telling which aspects of the situation make what sort of difference to
the sort of response that is appropriate. This is a moral matter, because
the sort of appropriateness we are dealing with is moral appropriateness. And I would view this sort of parsing as lying on the semantic side
of the syntactic/semantic distinction, because one is, as it were, determining the moral significance of the presence of this or that feature.
There are different roles that considerations can play. Some are straightforward reasons for or against this or that way of responding; others
may be playing a support role, enabling something else to be a reason
or making it a stronger reason than it would otherwise have been. The
competent moral judge needs to be aware even if only implicitly of
the differences between these roles and able to tell which consideration
is playing which role here.
In my view, none of this requires any sort of regularity. It is not
required for the parsibility of situations that if a consideration is a reason
in one situation, it will be a reason in another, let alone in all others.
There is, as one might put it, a semantic variability in the way in which
repeatable features can contribute to making one response more appropriate than another. This sort of variability the sort of thing that
particularists in ethics make so much of makes life noticeably harder for
the parser, or judge, who cannot rely on how things were elsewhere to tell
her how they are here unless, of course, it is already established that the
two situations are relevantly similar.
Syntactic parsing is, however, very much a matter of regularities. If a
term is a verb, it is a verb wherever it appears; if it is an adjective, it is
always an adjective barring straightforward ambiguity, as where kick can
be either a noun or a verb. Of course parsing a sentence requires more
than knowing which terms are verbs, which nouns, which adjectives, and
so on; it also requires knowing which nouns are qualified by which adjectives, something that is mainly revealed by word order in English,
but in other ways in Latin and Greek. And this is not a matter of regularities. Still, when one has worked out which adjectives go with which
nouns, one still has to work out the meanings of the terms in that context. And as far as the enterprise of parsing goes, it is perfectly possible
that an adjective can mean one thing when applied to one noun and
another when applied to another. The color words are a good example
of this in English. White coffee is not white, it is a sort of cream color,
and black coffee is not black, it is more dark brown. If one asks for
brown coffee, as I do sometimes, one gets funny looks. White skin is not
white either. If I said that my coffee was the color of her face, I suspect

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that this would not be taken as very complimentary, even though they
are both white in their own ways. And then there are white lies. None
of this causes much problem for the competent parser.
With this preamble, I return to the Moral Grammar Program. The
relevance of this program to the sort of intuitionism that I would wish to
defend does not lie in any challenge it makes to the intuitionist conception of moral judgment. Here I can do no better than quote from a
recent article:
Huebner, Dwyer, and Hauser 200932 argue that currently available data are both insufficient to demonstrate that emotion is
causally implicated in the production of moral judgments, and insufficient to establish that emotion is critically required for the development of the capacity for making moral judgments. This does
not mean that emotion is unimportant to our moral psychology;
nor does it mean that there are no important interfaces between
moral cognition and emotion. Indeed, one view consistent with LA
the Linguistic Analogy is that various emotional processes are
likely to be brought on line to motivate morally significant actions,
antecedent to the computations required for making moral judgments. Thus, proponents of LA hypothesize that emotional representations play an important role in guiding moral performance,
although they are not part of our FM moral faculty narrowly construed.33
This picture is perfectly consistent with the conception of the relation
between emotion and judgment that I outlined in Section V. The relevance of the Moral Grammar Program to the fortunes of ethical intuitionism must then lie elsewhere, and I think the main thrust of it is that
it tends to support a sort of atomism. It purports to show that certain
features must make the same moral difference wherever they appear: that
there must be rules. And this is relevant because contemporary intuitionism, in the hands of John McDowell and David Wiggins, has strongly
particularistic tendencies. If so, the success of the Moral Grammar Program would at least undermine one significant aspect of intuitionism in
its present form.
John Mikhail, for instance, offers various rewrite rules, according
to which people are said to parse trolley cases. There are three of these:
i an effect that consists of the death of a person is bad; ii an effect
that consists of the negation of a bad effect is good; iii an effect that

32. The reference here is to B. Huebner, S. Dwyer, and M. D. Hauser, The Role of
Emotion in Moral Psychology, Trends in Cognitive Sciences 13 2009: 16.
33. S. Dwyer, B. Huebner, and M. D. Hauser, The Linguistic Analogy: Motivations,
Results, and Speculations, Topics in Cognitive Science 2 2010: 486510, at 495.

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consists of the negation of a good effect is bad.34 The idea is that the
speed and immediacy of our moral responses to various versions of the
trolley problem is evidence that we are operating with these three rules,
which both explain and ground those responses.
It is worth noting that these rules concern the good and the bad
rather than the right and the wrong, though it is in terms of the latter
that questions about trolley cases are usually expressed; after all, not
everyone agrees that there is some straightforward relation between the
right and the good. Leaving that aside, however, the question that interests me is whether these rewrite rules can be challenged, indeed may
even be provably false. It might seem that the only substantial rule is the
first one, and that the others should be conceived as formal transmutations. The latter appearance is given by the use of the term negation when
prevention would seem more appropriate. So is it true that preventing a
good is always bad? Here we hit a cluster of standard problems such as
that of the welfare of the wicked. The welfare of the wicked must consist
in their getting some good that it would be better if they had not got;
for it is only if what they are getting is a good that we feel it is inappropriate to their wickedness. It may be good to prevent the wicked having
that good. So preventing, or negating, that good can be good. Turning
to the more substantial i, is it true that an effect that consists of the
death of a person is always bad? This sounds to me like a piece of misplaced piety. Are there no people who deserve to die, people whose death
is a matter for rejoicing muted rejoicing, perhaps? All in all, these
rewrite rules seem to me to be highly contentious, or rather probably
false, and if the enterprise of moral grammar requires them, or something like them, that is a considerable hostage to fortune. The worry is
that a moral grammar, though necessary for moral judgment, is only possible at the cost of imposing on us some false beliefs. If that were the case,
moral thought would be in trouble.
Against this, it might be said that there are two very considerable
arguments in favor of the sort of atomism I am disputing, a Poverty of
the Stimulus argument and a Productivity argument. These are what lie
behind the Moral Grammar Program. Poverty of the Stimulus arguments start from the question how it is possible that every typical child
growing up in typical conditions comes to have the capacity to achieve
certain tasks. These tasks are, first, to draw and respect linguistic distinctions and, second, to draw and respect moral distinctions. The point

34. J. Mikhail, Universal Moral Grammar: Theory, Evidence and the Future, Trends
in Cognitive Science 11 2007: 14352, at 148, and also Elements of Moral Cognition: Rawls
Linguistic Analogy and the Cognitive Science of Moral and Legal Judgment New York: Cambridge University Press, 137 44.

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Dancy

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is that in both cases the childs competence goes far beyond anything
that can be explained by appeal to their limited and very varied experience. Children must then bring to the task equipment that they cannot be said to have acquired in experience. They have a partly unlearnt
competence which fills the gap between the poverty of stimulus and a
richness of developed ability. The basic Chomskian idea, in the linguistic
domain which is its home terrain, is that the ability of three-year-old children to distinguish between the role of the phrase the men expected to
see them in
1. The men expected to see them
2. I wonder who the men expected to see them
cannot be explained by appeal to anything the children have learned
since birth and must therefore be the product of a natural development,
or simply innate.
The argument from Productivity is different. On the linguistic side,
it is that since we are capable of producing and understanding completely new sentences without delay or strain, our semantic and syntactic
competences must already be enough to generate those achievements.
This is where the argument for moral principles, or regularities, comes
in. We cannot explain our ability to make moral judgments about new
cases with the ease which we do display unless we come to those cases
with a battery of general truths which we apply to those cases and which
generate the conclusions we draw. This second argument is, I would
say, nonexperimental, or more simply a priori. As such it falls outside my
present concerns.
One thing that worries me about the application of these two arguments to ethics is that it is often done without any challenge to the
idea that morality is a sort of system, one structured by the role of principles. The terms system and principle appear all over the place, without
any real empirical justification. Any justification there might be would
presumably consist either in the way that children themselves describe
their thinking, or in the theorists view that if the children are not operating according to certain rules, some aspect of their performance
other than their self-description would remain unexplained. The former suggestion is vulnerable to the fact that children are taught to think
in terms of rules and principles by their parents. The latter suggestion remains a pious hope. There is also the worry that developed moral thought
is not necessarily a merely more complex version of however it is that
children think about moral issues. It may be that, though one needs to be
inducted into such thought by means of comparatively simple prohibitions and requirements, the developed version does not work in that way
at all. We should not forget the Wittgensteinian point that the nature of

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the ladder we have to climb to get to the balcony does not tell us very
much about the nature of the balcony when we get there.
It seems to me therefore very contentious to suppose that considerations to do with the competence/performance distinction put pressure on us to allow that moral thought is systematic. And the same applies to considerations to do with the poverty of the stimulus. The idea
here is that we are trying to explain how it is that all children develop
a capacity for moral thought, and an answer could be that all children
have an emotional equipment suitable for development into a moral
sensibility. This perfectly plausible suggestion, which fits well with the
picture I gave in Section V above, allows that the capacity to draw moral
distinctions is itself cognitive, but maintains that it is developed in children as they learn which of their natural emotional responses are appropriate and which are not.

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