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Proving A Moral Principle

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Proving A Moral Principle

Once one has examined an ethical theory and knows what its fundamental concepts are — what kinds of factors are to be used in making moral judgments, whether its principles apply directly to acts or rules, and what concepts of the good life is proposed — one is certainly in a better position to judge which of all the competitive principles comes closest to fulfilling the task of giving a complete account of moral phenomena. Unfortunately this may not be enough to enable us to choose among them. Most of the classical principles do a reasonably good job of supplying a rationale for most if not all of our moral judgments. Yet the principles are often incompatible with one another. Must we then decide among them not simply on the basis of their adequacy to explain and justify moral judgments but on the basis of simple preference, i.e. because we "like" one better than another? We are more likely to believe a moral theory that says that most of our moral beliefs are correct, then one that says that most of our moral beliefs are inconsistent. Of course no theory will make them all come out true.

We have to balance the question of our philosophical grounds for believing that the moral theory is in fact true — that it corresponds to the demands that actually exist for us in reality — rather than merely being an accurate codification of what we happen to believe. It could still turn out that the 'true' moral theory, the theory that comes closest to capturing the things one actually ought or ought not to do, coheres less well with our ordinary moral beliefs than another theory which is less revisionary in its consequences.

The issue I'm addressing is the proof of a set of moral principles, the proof of the validity of a moral outlook or theory. Various attempts have been made to avoid this seemingly irrational consequence by supplying what often have been referred to as "proofs" of' moral principles. The term "proof" as so used had a widely variable meaning but in general what is intended is a set of considerations, other than the internal consistency and adequacy of the theory, which are particularly persuasive in making a choice of one theory or principle over another.

There have been several different kinds of such proofs.
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