Ethical Intuitionism is a book (hardcover release: , paperback release: ) by University of Colorado philosophy professor Michael Huemer. Michael Huemer. University of Colorado, Boulder. Abstract. This book defends a form of ethical intuitionism, according to which (i) there are objective moral. In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in Ethical Intuitionism, ( ), Bedke (), Huemer (), Shafer-Landau (), Stratton-lake.

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Michael Huemer’s book is a vigorous defense of ethical huener. Since different folks mean different things by this term, I should say that Huemer’s conception can be briefly summarized as the view that there are irreducibly normative or evaluative properties which things states of affairs, events, people, etc. Some moral truths are known intuitively; that is, non-inferentially, but not through sense-experience. Huemer’s book is, in parts, polemical: In delivering that verdict, it is only fair to warn the reader that I needed no persuading, being already a convinced ethical intuitionist.

It is thus hard for me to judge how it might strike the more skeptical reader who should, of course, read this book for herself. Huemer’s taxonomy of metaethical views bifurcates them into Realism and Anti-Realism. The first category has two subdivisions: Naturalism and Intuitionism; the second has three: These are, he argues, the only five possibilities.

Huemer’s strategy is to argue against Intuitionism’s main rivals in the first part, and then to expound his favored theory in the second, before meeting possible objections. But if Intuitionism is such a plausible theory, as he and I agree, why has it until recently had such a bad press?

The book ends with a rousing diatribe against what he regards as the intellectually disreputable reasons for its rejection. I personally found efhical polemic refreshingly direct. Let me begin critical evaluation by discussing Huemer’s taxonomy. Huemer himself makes the important hiemer that he does not regard the classification with which he starts as the most metaphysically illuminating. The crucial divide is between Dualists, who hold “that there are two fundamentally different kinds of facts or properties in the world: On this picture, which seems to me wholly right, all the meta-ethical views other than Intuitionism that Huemer considers, including Cornell realism, are fundamentally alike in embracing a Monist worldview.

Monists, in this area as in others, can be reductivist or eliminativist. This has the satisfying result that Intuitionism alone is right about the most important issue, intuitionsm everyone else is wrong.

Or, at least, that will be so if Huemer’s classification is exhaustive; but is it? The elephant in the room huemed Kantian constructivism. Kant himself gets one mention in a etbical, and there is no discussion of modern Kantianism. Since this is such a striking omission, it is worth asking where Kantian theories would fit in Huuemer taxonomy.

I suspect that he would classify them as subjectivist, which is a fairly broad category for him. Subjectivists “think that for an object to be good is for some person or group to have or be disposed to have some psychological attitude or reaction towards it” p.

This category thus embraces, on his view, cultural relativism, ideal observer theory, and divine command theory. I ehhical that Kantians would like these bedfellows, but they intuuitionism speak for themselves.

Huemer devotes one chapter ethicql to disposing of non-cognitivism, subjectivism, and reductivist views, including Naturalist moral realism in the Cornell style.

Ethical Intuitionism // Reviews // Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // University of Notre Dame

His discussion is usually clear and cogent, and the points are generally well known, so I will not critique it, but it is worth bringing up at this point an issue about the intended audience of this book. Huemer aims to make his book accessible to the well-informed philosophical amateur — a laudable aim, given the general importance of these issues. However, much of the contemporary discussion in the literature is complex and technical.

In order to show that he really has seen off the opposition, Huemer feels obliged to engage with such sophisticated antagonists as Gibbard, Timmons, and Blackburn. These short vignettes are clear, and often illuminating, but necessarily opaque to the general reader.

Huemer’s solution is to asterisk difficult sections, so that the tyro can skip them. These shifts in level can be disconcerting, though they may be unavoidable. In some cases there might have been better integration between the levels: This method of exposition does have one advantage, however, which Huemer employs to good effect. Ethival his view, and in mine, many of the sophisticated variants of these theories are, at bottom, vulnerable to versions of the rather obvious objections that one might raise against simpler statements of the theories.


So it is worth having the short sharp refutation on the table even if proponents of the theory might protest that he is attacking a straw person, since the objection that seems too obvious may yet go to the heart of the matter. The feeling that Huemer may occasionally be giving short shrift to a view about hkemer more might be said could be reinforced by the fact that Huemer covers a great many complex issues — in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophical psychology — in a comparatively brief compass.

Some etnical might have been inclined to make the book more exhaustive, and exhausting, but — given his intended audience — I think Huemer was wise to keep it fairly huuemer. The book would have been better, however, if he had sometimes resisted the temptation to open up difficult topics that he did not have space to explain properly. Huemer’s own positive view is moderately iintuitionism. In a lengthy chapter on practical reasons he considers a well-known argument in support of non-cognitivism which appeals to a broadly Humean conception of motivation.

Huemer’s solution, as I understand it, is to reject the Humean account of normative reasons, and to abandon the claim that only desires can motivate, while retaining moral belief internalism — huemerr view that moral beliefs can be inherently motivational. The discussion is rather convoluted and sometimes a little hard to follow, but these are muddy waters indeed. I turn now to his moral epistemology. Many intuitionists, of whom I am one, prefer like Ross to eschew the term ‘intuition’ in expounding the theory, since it can be so misleading.

Huemer, however, embraces sthical terminology, which he introduces via his Principle of Phenomenal Conservatism PPC which states, briefly, that “it is reasonable to assume that things are the way they appear” p.

When people say things like ‘it seems that p ‘ they are reporting what Huemer calls ‘appearances’. These have propositional contents, but they are not beliefs, since — as in the Muller-Lyer illusion, or the apparent increase of the size of the moon near the horizon — one can continue to say that things seem to be thus and so even after one knows that they are not.

For Huemer, ‘appearance’ “is a broad category that includes mental states involved in perception, memory, introspection, and intellection” p. Appearances can deceive, and we may cease to believe that things are as they initially appeared, prior to reasoning, but only on the basis of other appearances, e.

An initial, intellectual appearance is an ‘intuition’. That is, an intuition that p is a state of its seeming to one that p that is not dependent on inference from other beliefs and that results from thinking about pas opposed to perceiving, remembering, or introspecting. I note two things about this account.

5 Moral Knowledge

Ibtuitionism first is that, on Huemer’s view, the class of intuitions covers two disparate groups. The first group consists of general evaluative remarks to which one might appeal in argument, such as ‘enjoyment is better than suffering’ or ‘it is unjust to punish an innocent person’.

The second consists of our initial moral responses to particular moral scenarios, such as the trolley cases. Huemer does not, I think, see any difference in the epistemic status of each group. Each can be rejected if reasoning, drawing on further ‘appearances’, suggests the initial appearance is misleading. Huemer’s methodology would thus seem to be that of reflective equilibrium, an approach in ethics that is widely endorsed. He describes this approach as ‘foundationalism’ because “we are justified in some beliefs without the need for supporting evidence” p.

He does qualify this in a note, saying that his view more closely resembles Haack’s ‘foundherentism’. This terminology could mislead the careless reader. The term foundationalism is, as the name implies, often used to describe theories that have at their base a class of privileged self-evident truths, from which all else is inferred. In ethics, the assumption would be that the base truths would be very general. This is not Huemer’s position, as he makes plain on p.

Indeed, ethucal his ethlcal, perhaps no belief is evidentially unchallenged. I agree with him that our beliefs should be deemed innocent until proved guilty, but, as Hufmer am sure he would agree, that view does not entail that any belief will be wholly exonerated because no evidence can be found against it.


Huemer’s view is thus quite unlike, say, Ross’s theory, and it might have been helpful to emphasize that fact more. Indeed, I am not sure whether Huemer appreciates the distance between his view and Ross’s. There is a brief but laudatory discussion of Ross on pp. The second thing worthy of note is Huemer’s claim that we can extend the range of PPC to intuitinism intellectual intuition.

It has been a commonplace, since Chisholm’s seminal work, to distinguish two senses of the word ‘seems’ or ‘looks’. In sense-perception, things can seem or look a certain way, in virtue of their hueemr appearance. We might call this the phenomenal sense. Intuiitonism when the optician asks the patient to say whether the red spot is above or below the green line she is asking how things look to the patient; she is not asking the patient to judge how things are.

And in such cases things can continue to look a certain way even when we know they are not Muller-Lyer illusion; moon near horizon.

So that to say that the moon looks bigger need not imply anything about one’s being inclined to believe that it is bigger. But there is also a sense guemer ‘seems’, which we might call its doxastic sense, in which to say that, for example, a certain arithmetical result seems to be correct, is to be inclined to believe or judge that it is correct. There does not seem anything especially phenomenal about this experience; there is no way that nituitionism correct mathematical judgments look.

Note also that, were I to come to believe that the answer to the arithmetical problem was incorrect, I would kntuitionism the claim that it seems correct, since I would no longer be inclined to believe it.

Huemer’s Principle of Phenomenal Conservatism is spelled out, as the name suggests, entirely in terms of the phenomenal understanding of ‘seems’ statements. Now ethicall perceptual report of how things seem — such as “The lower line looks longer than the upper one” — may be open, in some contexts, to being interpreted in either way.

It might mean that this is how things look perceptually, or it might mean ethival is what I am inclined to judge; any ambiguity can be dispelled by further questioning. However, in the case of what Huemer calls intellectual intuitions — such as “It seems that any two points can be joined by a single straight line” p. Yet that is just what Huemer does, claiming that we can extend the phenomenal sense to the intellectual realm, so that ‘seems’ is being used in its phenomenal sense in such statements.

One reason for doubting Huemer’s interpretation is that, as we have seen, we would withdraw this statement if we came to believe that there were intuitiomism of which it was false that they could be joined by a straight line.

It would seem better, and simpler, in the intellectual case, to interpret ‘seems’ statements doxastically. Huemer’s insistence that intellectual intuitions are not beliefs forces him into the unnecessary complication of explaining how intuitions are related to beliefs.

Huemer draws an implausible analogy between direct realism in sense-perception and awareness of moral truths. I do not infer from my sensory experiences that there is a desk in front of me; rather experience is transparent, so that I ‘look through’ it to the real objects. The sensory experience partly constitutes our awareness of external things.

He should not say that intuition functions as a kind of evidence from which we … infer moral conclusions.

He should say that for some moral truths, we need no evidence, since we are directly aware of them, and that awareness eethical the form of intuitions; that is, intuitions just partly constitute our awareness of moral facts.

Intuitions are not the objects of our awareness when we do moral philosophy; they are just the vehicles of our awareness, which we ‘see through’ to the moral reality. Apart from the unnecessary complexity of this view, taking the perceptual model seriously in this buemer simply encourages those critics of intuitionism who think that it claims that we can detect some strange kind of objects.