Directly Plausible Principles

In Christopher Daly (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Philosophical Methods. Palgrave MacMillan. pp. 610-636 (2015)
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In this chapter I defend a methodological view about how we should conduct substantive ethical inquiries in the fields of normative and practical ethics. I maintain that the direct plausibility and implausibility of general ethical principles – once fully clarified and understood – should be foundational in our substantive ethical reasoning. I argue that, in order to expose our ethical intuitions about particular cases to maximal critical scrutiny, we must determine whether they can be justified by directly plausible principles. To expose apparently plausible principles to maximal critical scrutiny, we must determine whether their direct plausibility can survive careful clarification of what they are really saying. This means that intuitions about cases are useful only in (a) suggesting principles that must stand on their own two feet, and (b) illustrating or otherwise helping us clarify what a principle is really saying. We should not reject principles that seem most directly plausible after we have fully clarified their content simply because they conflict with our intuitions about cases, because to do so is to side with uncritical prejudices over the teachings of critical scrutiny.

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Howard Leo Nye
University of Alberta


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