Saturday, April 12, 2008

Maybe a Little Meta-ethics Wouldn't be Such a Bad Thing. . .

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

That was nice of Alan, and I too recommend Brad Wendel's post on the subject it most precisely dissects - when does a piece of legal advice stray so far from a description of what the law could be so as to reflect on the advice giver's competence as a lawyer, apart from her political views?

American patience with "meta" anything went out the window when, in his half-drunken stupor, Humphrey Bogart mocked Ingrid Bergman's explanation why she stood him up at the train in Paris, beginning with the slurred words "I meta man once..." But Brad's assessment is exactly the kind of thinking about thinking that, in its process rather than its conclusion, as far as I can tell, is the only common denominator among all those reasonably ethical people who aren't at the far ends of the bell curve.

I've been writing about this for a long time. In many ways, it's the hardest question out there because it hasn't been resolved in the several thousand years people have been thinking about the source of ethics. Every resolution depends ultimately, whether the thinker believes it or not, on a kind of faith, whether at one extreme, that the idea of the right comes from some transcendental source, or at the other, a la Joshua Greene, that it is only a matter of time until we discover that every moral choice is really just a naturalistic pre-determined operation of our biological wiring.

Maybe I'm just a glass-half-full kinda guy, but a good dose of reflective equilibrium about the source of the good and the right, taken with a couple vitamin C pills and some chicken soup, in the midst of moral decision-making that goes on for more than a couple seconds, couldn't hurt. Even if it doesn't change the outcome, it provides time for either the patient or the doctor to supply a courage enema.

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Thanks for mentioning Brad's post. I made some comments there in a different direction from (but not necessarily incompatible with) a "meta-ethical" approach.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Apr 12, 2008 4:56:27 PM

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