Philosophy TV Managing Editors

David Killoren (Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry, Australian Catholic University)

Jonathan Lang (Wisconsin Institute for Sleep and Consciousness, University of Wisconsin-Madison)


Matt Bedke and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

Matt Bedke (left) and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (right) on ethical intuitions.

Bedke and Sinnott-Armstrong consider the extent to which we can justifiably trust our ethical intuitions. They discuss the analogy between ethical intuitions and color perceptions (2:55), a potential difference between ethical intuitions and non-ethical philosophical intuitions (19:45), Sinnott-Armstrong’s work on framing effects (27:11), and Bedke’s critique of non-naturalist ethical intuitionism (60:44), among other topics.

Related works

by Bedke:
“Intuitional Epistemology in Ethics” (2010)
“Intuitive Non-Naturalism Meets Cosmic Coincidence” (2009)
“Ethical Intuitions: What They Are, What They Are Not, and How They Justify” (2008)

by Sinnott-Armstrong:
“Framing Moral Intuitions” (2008)
Moral Psychology: volumes 1-3 (2008)
Moral Skepticisms (2006)
Pyrrhonian Skepticism (2004)


2 comments to Matt Bedke and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

  • Jay Jeffers

    First off, this was so. incredibly. interesting. Thanks so much to Philosophy TV for posting it and to the two participants for their edifying discussion.

    As for the last topic (mentioned under the video as “Bedke’s critique of non-naturalist moral intuitionism” starting at 60:44) I was tantalized by it, but am left wishing the conversation could have gone on a little longer (of course I would probably feel that way whenever the discussion ended).

    My confusion stems from the discussion of naturalism and non-naturalism. I guess I’m in good company as the philosophers also had to chew on this one a bit and didn’t ultimately settle the issue, it seemed.

    So, my understanding of non-naturalism is that the name is a misnomer (in fact the “naturalistic fallacy” was called a misnomer by Bernard Williams in Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy) because G.E. Moore spent so much time explaining how religious justifications of morality so often run afoul of it. What remains is the belief that science can’t reveal what’s morally right and wrong, the way it can reveal, say, how life on earth evolved. Not only that, but actions or states of affairs that strike us as morally good or bad do so in a way that is different from how our everyday sensory inputs strike us. Our ordinary sensory inputs are… analogized (or something) in scientific language.

    Jamie Dreier tells us the key distinction Moore was getting at is between the “descriptive and evaluative” but I can’t help thinking that this wouldn’t escape Sinnott-Armstrong’s (helpful) scrutiny. So where does that leave us? Not sure, but my understanding is that two schools of thought that have interesting overlap with the insights of non-naturalism, but ultimately depart from non-naturalism, are positivism (prescriptivism, emotivism, etc) and naturalism (the non-reductive kind that is).

    When Sinnott-Armstrong raised the possibility of emotivism, prescriptivism, etc Bedke seemed resistant, like he wasn’t trying to go in that direction to locate his critique of non-naturalist moral intuitionism. So I’m left wondering if Bedke’s critique has affinity with non-reductive naturalism, but half of me thinks that can’t be right, because the issue there seems to be whether scientific reasoning is broad enough to house moral assumptions (non-reductive naturalist Sturgeon has offered a yes, while non-naturalist Shafer-Landau says no, which leaves us with a somewhat ironic lump and split). Bedke seems to side with Shafer-Landau here (or at least doesn’t seem as sanguine as Sturgeon on whether science is a place we can include thin moral concepts).

    If we could soften up the connotation of the name “non-naturalism” while retaining all Moore’s central insights, would that relieve Bedke’s concern?

    Is supervenience the hang-up? Cuz I gotta admit, that’s a doozy.

    But from my limited point of view, supervenience seems like an issue for non-reductivism of all stripes, because even if we eschew any explicit dualism between the natural (whatever that is) and the non-natural (whatever *that* is), we’re still looking at a gap between our everyday sensory experience (captured in scientific language) and our moral experience (not able to be fully captured by scientific language, or even physical language… at least not without being debunked).

    True enough, in some sense of the word “describe,” moral statements describe, but they don’t merely describe, which is why the word “evaluate” is helpful…

    Well, anyway, I thought I would formulate my thoughts more precisely/succinctly than I have here, but it’s not that easy, partly because I thought I was aware of the interesting partial deviations from non-naturalism, but now Bedke seems to offer a new one. My previous understanding was that “intuitionism” was synonymous with “non-naturalism” in meta-ethics, and that non-reductive naturalism parted ways by not being intuitionist. But it’s not intuitionism per se that bothers Bedke, but a particular version of it.

    Man, I’m over here cursing the end of this episode like Seinfeld curses Newman. I mean this as a high-compliment. If anyone can offer any guidance, I would be grateful.

  • Jay Jeffers

    To try and summarize, could the non-naturalist be rid of the conflict with Bedke’s intuitionism just by

    *conceding that the name “non-naturalism” is an unfortunate vestige of some loose talk on the part of Moore, and

    *conceding monism?

    And yet still hold fast to the belief that moral properties and merely descriptive properties are different kinds of things? Or would there still be a hang-up? If so, what would it be?