February 17, 2006
Gerald Dworkin: February 17, 2006
A recent New York Times has a quote from Steven Levitt, the freakonomics professor.
The latter part is certainly correct. And its corollaries are important to keep in mind for work in applied moral philosophy. Over the years I have made predictions in philosophical work about 1) the dangers of research into genetic differences between racial groups, 2) how likely it is that there will be a slippery slope from voluntary euthanasia to non-or-in voluntary euthanasia, 3) the consequences of allowing Universities to enforce campus speech codes.
But it is the first part that is more important and more difficult to think about. Are we, qua moral philosophers, better than the average person in coming to correct answers about first-order moral matters? Well, we have been reading, thinking and writing about these issues for all of our professional lives. We are trained to evaluate and criticize arguments. Our views have been exposed to critical examination and refutation by other philosophers. Some of us serve on IRB’s and consult with physicians about what to do in difficult ethical cases. How could we not be better than the average person at figuring out these things?
About 25% of Americans over the age of 25 have a college degree. About 60% of those read a newspaper at least once a week. Therefore, roughly 15% of the population falls into the intersection of the two classes—about 45 million people.
Is a randomly picked moral philosopher better at figuring out a normative issue than the average person ,as defined above? How would we test this? If we knew the correct answers to the moral issues facing us we could do a survey. But, unless the question is very narrowly framed, we might find as much disagreement with the “correct” answers among philosophers as among average people. And do we simply count correct answers, or the quality of argument given to support the answers. It’s likely that philosophers score higher on that dimension but what would that show? Perhaps that philosophers are better at framing discussion and making distinctions. But does that (tend) to show that they get things right more often? Isn’t there a plausible reason to suppose the philosophers have a tendency to accord more weight to argument than to sympathetic feelings, experience with the subject matter, intuitive insight, etc.? If you wanted someone to aid you in making a difficult ethical decision about medical treatment for your child would you be better off consulting a moral philosopher, or a physician who has dealt with similar cases for 30 years. I know whom I would choose.
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Tracked on Feb 17, 2006 10:31:16 AM
» Experts from BlogWatch
Gerald Dworkin at Left2Right considers expertise and the virtue of being shy of straying too far from what you know. On the other hand, he does make a fallacious assumption at the end, in my view. He thinks a moral... [Read More]
Tracked on Feb 17, 2006 11:24:19 AM
Tracked on Feb 20, 2006 6:52:05 PM
» Doctors, Death, and the Public Square from Pseudo-Polymath
Recently I noted that right and left have taken issues with the medical profession, which while underlying reasons are different both come down to the same point That of a conflict between the right of individual medical professionals to treat ... [Read More]
Tracked on Feb 26, 2006 4:20:59 PM
» another view of moral expertise from Left2Right
I agree with Gerald Dworkin (and Jason Stanley) that moral philosophers are not better than the average person in coming to correct answers about first-order moral matters. I have sometimes consulted moral philosophers about ethically complex decisions... [Read More]
Tracked on Feb 28, 2006 4:18:47 PM