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Moral Justification in Pragmatism Ellen-Marie Forsberg, Norwegian Committees for Research Ethics Presentation at the seminar: “Post-normal science and.

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Presentation on theme: "Moral Justification in Pragmatism Ellen-Marie Forsberg, Norwegian Committees for Research Ethics Presentation at the seminar: “Post-normal science and."— Presentation transcript:

1 Moral Justification in Pragmatism Ellen-Marie Forsberg, Norwegian Committees for Research Ethics Presentation at the seminar: “Post-normal science and its ethical aspects - Doctoral projects and other projects in the making”, Altonaer Stiftung für Philosophische Grundlagenforschung, January 2007

2 2 Context: Providing ethical advice Advisory committees on ethics give ethical advice, but how can we be sure their advice is good?  Methodological quality control is in focus in the secretariat of the Norwegian research ethics committees  A number of ‘tools’ for doing ethical assessments and evaluations have been tested out and studied  Doctorate project on method and justification of ethical advice on GM food applications – studying the ethical matrix method

3 3 The ethical matrix method Originally developed by Ben Mepham, University of Nottingham A principlist method, building on Beauchamp and Childress’ approach in biomedical ethics (1971), and referring back to Ross’ intuitionism and prima facie principles (1930) It can be used to assess and evaluate concrete technologies, policies, etc. It maps the most important ethical concerns within a field (e.g. plant biotechnologies) by specifying some basic general prima facie principles with regard to what they mean to specific affected parties  a matrix of principles and affected parties One can then see how the technology option to be assessed influences the specified principles, - which principles are respected, which principles are infringed?

4 4 Example matrix

5 5 Judgements and the ethical matrix Based on the analysis one may reach a conclusion on the ethical acceptability of an option Many different decision principles may be used to conclude from the assessment. However, the appropriateness of these will here be related to two theoretical assumptions: –The intuitionist assumptions of the matrix method –The pluralist assumptions of giving ethical advice in modern Western societies These will rule out simple application of e.g. a substantial moral theory or decision principle They also indicate that although a conclusion in some cases may be ‘read out’ of the assessment, the conclusion is still a matter of balancing the concerns, of judgement

6 6 Judgements and justification If the judgement is not made by following e.g. a substantial moral theory, but simply by balancing, how can case judgements be defended as justified?  Brings us to theories of justification Other places (Forsberg 2006a and Forsberg 2006b) I argue why foundationalism and coherentism are not viable options for accounting for how balancing judgements resulting from using the matrix method can be defended as justified. Here I will look at what resources pragmatism might offer for moral justification in general, and the matrix method in particular.

7 7 Pragmatism as a possible answer Pragmatism is not an epistemological theory about justification, but a general stance towards philosophy in general. However, it has implications for epistemology and may provide resources for answering the question of how judgements coming out of the matrix method may be defended as justified. Pragmatism is not a unified theory, but all versions of pragmatism stress the importance of understanding basic concepts like truth, meaning and value in relation to how these terms are used in our practices and what practical consequences they have. One can pull out at least three different possible approaches to justification from pragmatism: coherentism, contextualism and justification by inquiry.

8 8 Coherentism Coherentism is not necessarily a pragmatist method, but it is often endorsed by pragmatists (for instance Habermas 1993 and Rorty 1998) since it does not rely on any a priori’s or otherwise certain foundations. In ethics the most common form of coherentism is reflective equilibrium (Rawls 1971) Elsewhere (for instance in Forsberg 2006) I argue that there are problems with using the reflective equilibrium model for accounting for balancing judgements. I will not go into this discussion here.

9 9 Contextualism According to Timmons (1996) epistemological contextualism has its roots in Peirce and Dewey, as well as the later Wittgenstein. Timmons advocates a structural contextualism: ‘Regresses of justification may legitimately terminate with beliefs, which, in the context in question, are not in need of justification. Call these latter beliefs, contextually basic beliefs.’ (p. 297) Since some beliefs are not in need of justification this might be called a pragmatist foundationalism.

10 10 Contextualising prima facie principles In Ross’ intuitionism the prima facie principles are self-evident, ’in the sense that when we have reached sufficient mental maturity and have given sufficient attention to the proposition it is evident without any need of proof, or of evidence beyond itself’ (p. 29) A modern intuitionist would perhaps relativise self-evidence in the direction of contextualism – what is self-evident will depend on cultural context. Both B&C and Mepham claim that prima facie principles are established in common morality. Therefore, contextualism and intuitionism seems to fit nicely However, to justify balancing case solutions in a pragmatist foundationalist way we would need a contextual self-evidence about priority rules. But: a)This would not be allowed in intuitionism (as judgements are made with ‘perception’) b)When the context is pluralist societies one may doubt that there exist priority rules with contextual self-evidence

11 11 Problems with contextualism Timmons endorses Ross’ notion of reflection and advocates the use of judgement skills for making case judgements. These skills can be compared with the intuitive skills of expert chess players, and can only be rationalised after the fact I believe that this kind of intuitive skills are insufficient for justifying public ethical advice. Ethics committees give advice on behalf of the whole population and there is no reason to suppose that the intuitions of a moral expert is free from bias. Any judgement can be rationalised, but this does not mean that it is the best judgement. This kind of expert contextualism does therefore not seem to be suitable to account for the public justifiability of judgements coming out of the matrix method

12 12 Justification by inquiry Some account of judgement seems to be necessary if foundationalism and coherentism does not work If expert judgement lacks transparency and accountability, and therefore is difficult to challenge, we must look for a different kind of judgement In our practice at NENT we have used the matrix method in participatory processes with affected parties. This seems to be a way to perform judgements while avoiding the bias of individual intuitive judgements This would be what we may call justification by inquiry. There are at least two different accounts of this kind of approach, and they are both Peircean.

13 13 Habermas’ discourse ethics For Habermas, justification of norms is achieved in a process of discourse, which operationalises the justifying rule of universalisation (U): –Every valid norm must satisfy the condition that the consequences and side effects its general observance can be anticipated to have for the satisfaction of the interests of each could be freely accepted by all affected (and be preferred to those of known alternative possibilities for regulation) (1989, p. 32) However, case solutions are particular and are not justified through this procedure. In fact, since U does not apply to case solutions, they cannot be justified at all, they can only be appropriate. Their appropriateness is determined by an impartial judge testing them in reflective equilibrium (see Günther 1989)  brings us back to coherentism.

14 14 Cheryl Misak’s account Takes the same starting point as Habermas, but does not distinguish two different procedures for justifying norms and case solutions Misak takes the pragmatist starting point of looking at our practices. She takes our practices of believing and asserting to be tied to a concept of truth My concern is not truth, but rather justification, but Misak’s account is still useful as for Misak there is no great difference (in practice) between an ideally well-justified belief and a true belief.

15 15 Misak’s justificatory account In stead of theoretically determining criteria for justified beliefs, Misak claims that we must look at how we justify beliefs in practice. She notes that beliefs need to be justified when they are doubted. She also notes that the way we justify beliefs in practice is by inquiry. Contrary to Habermas and Timmons, Misak claims that good inquiry in ethics must be done with affected parties. Genuine beliefs must be responsive to all evidence, which in the moral domain includes the experiences of those that are affected by the belief.

16 16 Procedural and substantial justification A participatory ethical matrix process would in this approach give both –epistemic or procedural justification in the general meaning that this is the way beliefs are justified, as well as –substantial justification in the specific sense that substantial moral reasons are provided (and thoroughly criticised) for the conclusion reached Therefore we are with this approach able to claim that judgements resulting from using the matrix method are (at least ideally) justified

17 17 Conclusion I have in this presentation tried to show that pragmatism have resources to account for how judgements coming out of the matrix method can be defended as justified  I have noted that reflective equilibrium is embraced by some pragmatists, but have not discussed this option here. Elsewhere I have shown problems with using this option to account for intuitionist balancing judgements  Contextualism in Timmons’ version does not seem to offer any explicit account of how the judgement is justified, - it simply asserts the judgement  Misak’s model of deliberative inquiry accounts for moral justification, and shows how specific judgements and advice can be justified in a deliberative process with affected parties

18 18 References Beauchamp, T and Childress, J (1979) The Principles of Biomedical Ethics. Oxford University Press Forsberg, E-M. 2006a. ‘Value Pluralism and Coherentist Justification of Ethical Advice’. Accepted for publication in Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Special Issue devoted to results from the EU-project Ethical Bio TA Tools. Forsberg, E-M. 2006b. ‘Pluralism, the ethical matrix and coming to conclusions’. In Kaiser, M. and Lien, M. (eds.) Ethics and the politics of food, Wageningen Academic Publishers Habermas, J. (1993): Justification and Application, Polity Press Kaiser, M. and Forsberg, E.M Assessing Fisheries – Using an Ethical Matrix in a Participatory Process. In: Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 14: Mepham, T. B A decade of the ethical matrix: A response to criticisms. In: J. D. Tavernier & S. Aerts (eds) Science, Ethics & Society. 5th Congress of the European Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics. Preprints. Misak, C Truth, Politics, Morality. Pragmatism and deliberation. Routledge. Rawls, J. (1971): A Theory of Justice, Harvard University Press (1999) Rorty, R Truth and Progress. Philosophical Papers. Cambridge University Press Ross, D (1930). The Right and The Good. Clarendon Press, Oxford. Timmons, M. (1996): ‘Outline of a Contextualist Moral Epistemology’, Sinnott-Armstrong, W. and Timmons, M. (eds) Moral Knowledge? New Readings in Moral Epistemology, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp

19 Thanks! The doctorate project was financed by the Norwegian Research Council


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