1. Types of Intuitionism
Mr. Edwards tells us he believes that intuionism "is an untenable theory" though "intuitionists have contributed much that is of great importance", and then defines his subject thus:
"Intuitionists make the claim that in addition to the senses and introspection human beings possess a further faculty which discloses to them certain objectively existing qualities or relations. The ethical predicates designate these or certain of these qualities and relations. Most intuitionists would say, I think, that this faculty of moral intuition is possessed by men in general and not only by intuitionists, though some men may have it more fully developed than others. I am sure that most intuitionists would maintain that even the philosophers who deny the existence of such a faculty possess it nonetheless." (p. 85)
Here at least six remarks should be made.
First, there are many kinds of intuitionists, though their common core was fairly indicated by Mr. Edwards, and indeed many moralists who were intuitionists also had some strong religious faith or political convictions. Also, as I pointed out before, for such people, who believe that ethical predicates refer to objectively existing qualities or relations, evidently their views of morals are or may easily be related to their views about what the natural facts are and how these are to be explained.
Second, there is a connection to the statements of reason I distinguished, which in the case of mathematics and logic are widely supposed to correspond to a faculty or ability or talent all (sane) people have to some slight extent, but some to a much higher extent. This is one reason to speak of (moral) "intuition", though as I remarked before, the term "conscience" makes sense if one speaks of morals.
Third, if being moral to some extent is a talent, there is a parallel to other kinds of things people have talents for, like music or mathematics, which to some come easy and fast, and to most others only slowly and with difficulty. (And perhaps it is to this that Jezus' last saying refers: "Lord forgive them - for they don't know what they do".)
Fourth, and to some extent apart from intuitionism as defined, there is the fact that all human beings are physically - anatomically, medically, structurally, chemically - much the same and seem to work according the same sorts of principles and causes, known or not, and are cured by the same medicines, harmed by the same poisons, and pleased and displeased by many similar kinds of things, while whatever the individual differences between human beings may be, there are far more similarities than there are differences wherever you have two living human beings. And this is related to an assumption nearly all human beings make: That other human beings experience in the same ways, and have, concerning very many objects and situations, similar reactions, similar experiences, and similar feelings.
Concerning the last remark it should be clear that indeed an assumption is involved about the experiences of other people, since no person has the experiences of any other person (apart from ESP, which if it exists is too rare and to hard to prove to be considered here), and all experiences are private even if you and I experience the same events and believe and agree we do. There is excellent and wide evidence for this assumption of a common human nature, that consists in the great physical similarities between all human beings, but it remains an assumption that - e.g. - certain kinds of aristocrats and all racists and ethnicists would presumably reject, in spite of all the evidence for it, e.g. of a medical nature.
Fifth, one of my main criticisms of Mr. Edwards is going to be that he misjudged what fundamental moral statements and assumptions are, and that he was too critical of this assumption of a common human nature, since presumably he mistook it for a kind of intuitionism, which I suppose he rejected because he felt it was too close to religious superstitions he also rejected.
Now it so happens that I am an atheist, like I believe Mr. Edwards was, so for me as well there is little fundamental sense in trying to base one's moral beliefs on the assumption of some divinity that is supposed to have made the world and prescribed how men and women should behave in it. But it seems to me
(1) there is excellent scientific evidence that all human beings are far more similar than they are different, and not only look and react the same ways in many circumstances, but also experience, feel and desire in highly similar ways and
(2) there is excellent evidence that all human beings who are not insane assume other human beings feel, think, desire and have needs much like them, and can be understood and explained quite easily in many respects by analogy to themselves. Finally, as I earlier remarked
(3) all human beings are social animals and have been raised and educated in society, and learned to cooperate with other human beings, where, from a very young age onwards, such cooperations were based on mutual understanding, and quite often on mutual agreement. (And indeed, this education is and has been widely and for ages in many societies assumed to be so complicated that it takes about 21 years before a human being may be left independently to his own devices, as long as he remains within the law - and the law, incidentally, also presumes some sort of common human nature, shared experiences, beliefs and desires.)
Sixth, taken together, these points provide excellent evidence for presuming there is a shared common human nature both in real medical, natural, physical, biochemical fact and in the presumed similarity of experiences and needs of human beings in many similar circumstances, while I think it makes sense to state this assumption of a common human nature when discussing intuitionism, first because it is similar to some of the thinking many intuitionists did, and second because it seems to have motivated some of their assumptions.
But it also makes sense to stress that though it involves an assumption, it is both an assumption based on natural evidence and an assumption most men and women - as it were - naturally make, like the assumption of an objective world in which all live, that all share experiences of, and that all represent in their own ways and have their own desires about. Therefore it is not right to claim the assumption of a common human nature belongs to intuitionism, since it is quite conceivable - and indeed I maintain and assume - that it exists as a natural fact, in the same sort of way as the presumed common experiences of apes or ants, insofar as these are based on the natural properties that characterize apes or ants, that enable them to cooperate and understand each other.
At this point it seems helpful to me to give a short exposition of some ideas which may be taken in an intuitionist sense or in the sense of a supposed common human nature, that also sound, perhaps, quite Western, yet are Chinese and are quite old. I refer to ideas of the Chinese philosopher Mencius, who lived in the third century B.C.
Intermezzo: Mencius on human qualities and human goodness
I quote from "The Concept of Man" - Ed. Radhakrishnan and Raju, p. 168-9, article "The Concept of Man in Chinese Thought" by Wing-tsit Chan:
"There is more oratory than logic in Mencius' utterances, but his position is perfectly clear. It is that man's nature is originally good. To support his own position, he pointed to the fact that 'When men suddenly see a child about to fall into a well, they all have the feeling of alarm and distress, not in order to gain friendship with the child's parents, nor to seek the praise of their neighbours and friends, nor because they dislike the reputation (for being unvirtuous).' From this he concluded that 'a man without the feeling of mercy is not a man; a man without the feeling of deference and complaisance is not a man, and a man without the feeling of right and wrong is not a man. The feeling of commiseration is the beginning of the feeling of love; the feeling of shame and dislike is the beginning of righteousness; the feeling of deference and complaisance is the beginning of wisdom. Men have these four beginnings just as they have four limbs.' 'These four, love, righteousness, propriety and wisdom,' he added, 'are not drilled into us from ourside. We are originally provided with them.'
Note that Mencius in effect is arguing here against those who what to insist that man's nature is not originally good, either because it is bad or indifferent (as several of Mencius's contemporaries had argued) or because the whole notions of "good" and "bad" are merely subjective, merely relative, and mostly useless or delusive - what is "good" for one human is "bad" for another, and there is no rationally arguable agreement possible or existing between humans about "good" and "bad" other than mere agreement of feeling.
Next, Mencius argues his thesis that human beings are basically altruistic and agree widely on what they hold to be good and bad, by drawing attention to a number of admitted facts about "men" and their feelings and desires about other "men" (or women or children), that all contradict the notion that the feelings and desires of men about other men, women or children, are unpredictable or random, or can be truly explained by their egoistic interests, such as "making friends and influencing people", preserving a good reputation or getting personal praise.
And in fact, Mencius insists that all men at least share feelings and notions of commiseration, shame, deference and right and wrong, and indeed agree widely on what or whom they commiserate with (children in distress); feel ashamed for (dishonesty, egoism); have deference for (elder people, one's parents); and consider right and wrong.
One may draw up another - and more complete - list of human feelings, human needs, and human ways of thinking that most or all men (unless emotionally disturbed) in most human societies share, but the key notions here are (1) there is broad agreement between all human beings about many feelings and needs of humans in given circumstances, which is the same for all men and is what enables them to understand each other (2) there can be a human society and human cooperation only if there are agreements between cooperating humans, both as regards their presupposed abilities and as regards their specific ends they want to realize by cooperating.
He went even further and said that not only is goodness inherent in man's nature, but also man does not require any learning to practise it or any thought to know it, for man does so intuitively. In his own words, 'the ability possessed by man without the necessity of thought is native knowledge. Chiildren carried in the arms all know to love their parents. As they grow, they all know to respect their brothers. To have filial affection for parents is love, and to respect elders is righteousness. Their feelings are universal in the world, that is all. They are universal because innate goodness and intuitive ability to know and do good are common to the human species. 'All things of the same kind are similar to one another', he observed, 'and why should there be any doubt about men? The sage and we are the same in kind ... Men's mouths like the same relishes; their ears like the same sounds; and their eyes like the same beauty. Can it be that their minds do not like the same thing? What is this that their minds all like? I say, the principle or reason and righteousness.'
Here the common human nature of all men is insisted upon, and the point is made that human beings naturally know what it is to be altruistic as well as what it is to be egoistic. It should be noted here that what is said by Mencius about human beings also holds for other social animals: These too can cooperate only by having some sort of mutual understanding of each other and by making some sort of agreements that mediate between altruism and egoism and involve mutual understanding and the goal of cooperating for each others' benefit. Indeed, one needs only point to animals that take care of their young to notice that there too often the parents cooperate in the interest of their children and at the cost of their own egoistic needs and feelings.
This means that it is highly probable that part of the ethical and moral nature of human beings derives from the animal nature of humans - it is inherited with their zoological ancestry, which makes them social animals with whatever mutual understanding, cooperation and ability to compromise this entails.
And this means the shared animal nature of human beings cannot be the full explanation for their ethical or unethical behavior, especially since human beings can foresee and understand far more than other animals, and can speak with one another to convey their beliefs and desires.
Now we come to the problem of evil:
If man's nature is originally good, why does he practise evil? Mencius answer to this question is both simple and direct. He said, 'If we follow our essential character, we will be able to do good. This is what I mean in saying that man's nature is good. If man does evil, it is not the fault of original endowment ... Therefore it is said: Seek and you will find them (love, righteousness, propriety and wisdom), neglect and you will loose them. Men differ from one another by twice as much, or five times, or an incalculable amount, because they have not fully developed their original endowment. As to why man does not fully develop their original endowment, Mencius again turned to man himself. The failure is due to one's 'losing the originally good mind', 'self-destruction and self abandoment', 'lack of nourishment', 'failure to develop the noble and great elements in oneself', 'failure to preserve one's mind', 'lack of effort', or simply lack of thought. It is clear that man is the cause of his own downfall. Not that Mencius ignored the influence of environment. In explaining why water could be forced uphill, he said that it is not the nature of water, but the force applied from outside that made it. And to explain the inequality of products, he recognized the difference of the soil and the unequal nourishment afforded by the rains and dews. Nevertheless, his emphasis on man's own responsibility is unmistakable. This, in brief outline, is the doctrine of the original goodness of human nature that eventually came to dominate Chinese thought and became accepted in Confucian orthodoxy."
Indeed, if human beings were on average altruistic and rational, human history would be quite different from what it is.
And here it makes sense to finish our intermezzo on Mencius - which I copied from my "On a fundamental problem in ethics and morals - and to return to Mr. Edwards' discussion of intuitionism.
"Most intuitionists in the present century (the 20th - MM) express their view by saying that one or more of the ethical predicates designate a simple, unanalyzable quality or else a simple, unanalyzable relation. These predicates are said to be indefinable in the same sense in which, e.g., "yellow" or "hard" or "pleasure" or "being angry" are indefinable: no genus-differentia are obtainable for them." (p. 86)
This is in fact an argument we have met before. It is interesting that while all intuitionists agreed such ethical predicates are given by or derive from a universal human intuition of a non-natural quality, they are not agreed, at least, in what to call it:
"According to Moore, the indefinable ethical predicate is the word "good"; according to Ross there are two indefinable terms, namely "good" and "right"; according to Ewing, the indefinable term is "ought"; and according to Raphael it is "obligation". (p. 86)
This is not a refutation of intuitionism, but it is a difficulty. This can be seen by comparing other examples of what seems to be given by intuition, for example the understanding of numbers or the ability to hear whether a note is pure. About these intuitions - if they are intuitions - there are hardly any disagreements, and it also mostly quite clear what it is that is understood by those intuitions.
"Many of the recent intuitionists have emphasized the importance of the relation designated by the word "fitting," which they regard as a simple non-natural relation. They have claimed that many if not all ethical terms can at least be partially defined in terms of fittingness. I shall cite a passage from Broad who has defended a view of this type:
When I speak of anything as "right," I am always thinking of it as a factor in a certain wider total situation and I mean that it is "appropriately" or "fittingly" related to the rest of the situation. When I speak of anything as "wrong," I am thinking of it as "inappropriately" or "unfittingly" related to the rest of the situation. This is quite explicit when we say that love is the right emotion to feel that one's parents, or that pity and help are the right kinds of emotion and action in presence of underserved suffering... Fittingness or unfittingness is a direct ethical relation between an action or emotion and the total course of events in which it takes place." (p. 86)
Note that this goes considerable way in the same direction as Mr. Edwards has been arguing in previous chapters. But the account of Mr. Edwards is based on natural qualities and relations. By contrast:
"Most intuitionists would deny that the special faculty of moral intuition is closely analogous to a sense like sight or hearing. But they frequently write as if it were just another sense and some of them have explicitly maintained such a position." (p. 86)
"The faculty of moral intuition is said to resemble closely or in fact to be an instance of "intellectual intuition" or "apriori insight." It is the same faculty by whose means we apprehend (in their view) the principles of logic and mathematics. In Raphael's words:
"The first principles of morals must be acknowledged to be perceived by the understanding.
In the situation 'A is aware that B is in pain' there is a moral relation between A and B which can be expressed by saying 'It is fitting for A to help B' or by saying 'A is under an obligation to help B'. (..) This relation arises from elements in the existing situation, that is from the fact that B is in pain and that A knows it. It does not arise from a possible future situation which does not now exist. Means and ends, causes and probable effects, have nothing to do with this relation; it is logically entailed by the existing situation." (p. 87-8)
The last italiced words should be understood in the sense "logically entailed in a sense declared by the intuitionists to be highly similar as also intuited logical entailments in mathematics". Indeed:
"To quote Ross:
"If we turn to ask how we come to know these fundamental moral principles, the answer seems to be that it is the same way in which we come to know the axioms of mathematics. (..) And as in mathematics, it is by intuitive induction that we grasp the general truths. We see first, for instance, that a particular imagined act, as being productive of pleasure to another, has a claim on us, and it is a very short and inevitable step from this to seeing that any act, as possessing the same constitutive character, must have the same resultant character of prima facie rightness." " (p. 88)
In this passage occur the two technical terms "intuitive induction" and "prima facie". Briefly, by "intuitive induction" is meant the sort of inference by which one arrives at axioms, and by "prima facie" or "at first sight" Ross means that especially ethical predicates come with characteristics that at the first impression appear thus and so, and this first impression is sufficient to base a first rational judgment on.
2. Is it Possible to "Refute" Intuitionism?
The question Mr. Edwards poses in the title of this section is motivated by him as follows:
"There must be something profoundly inconclusive about all disputes where one party claims, for itself as well as its opponents, the existence of a faculty which is denied by the other side." (p. 89)
This depends much on the faculty supposed, I would say. But suppose it applies here.
"In a sense, then, intuitionism cannot be refuted - in the sense, that is, in which many specific empirical statements can be refuted. However, in another very important sense, intuitionism can be refuted. For intuitionists are never satisfied simply to claim the existence of this faculty of moral intuition. They also invariably (1) liken it to or identify it with other faculties by whose means we admittedly or allegedly come to know certain truths; and (2) they claim that certain facts can be accounted for by intuitionism but by no other metaethical theory." (p. 89-90)
The first point we have seen already, and the second is an interesting claim that should help to evaluate intuitionism. Mr. Edwards says this:
"In this connection two admissions by well-known intuitionists are of great significance. The first of these comes from Broad. He warns that
rules which really rest on custom and the opinion of society in which we have been brought up (and nothing more) may gain the appearance of moral axioms. (..)
The second admission comes from J.D. Mabbott who first quotes a statement by Richard Robinson:
A great reason in favor of the emotive theory of ethics is economy. The occurence of emotive language, and of human feelings of approval and disapproval, is a fact in any case. If this fact by itself will explain human behavior and speech in matters of morals and valuation, it is unreasonable to hypothesize any further fact consisting in the appearance from time to time of the non-natural qualities wrongness and badness and the rest.
To this Mabbot adds:
I agree entirely with this statement. All I would add is that the last sentence is an unfulfilled conditional." (p. 90)
So it would seem there is a real disagreement.
3. The Arguments for Intuitionism
Mr. Edwards says:
"I now propose to enumerate the facts or alleged facts which are said to be explicable only by intuitionism and not by another moral philosophy." (p. 91)
He starts as follows:
"(i) Firstly, there is a certain fact which was already discussed in Chapter II in connection with the arguments against naive subjectivism. When a person makes a statement like, "the F.E.P.C. is a just bill" he does not mean anything which implies that the F.E.P.C. would cease to be a just bill if he or any of his supporters would cease to support it." (p. 91)
It doesn't matter what the bill is (and you can find out by reading Mr. Edwards' book). The basic logical point is that things do not cease to be just or unjust as one changes one's mind on whether they are just or not.
My reply is that this doesn't prove intuitionism (namely: that this would prove the existence of an intuited moral quality, say) but only that moral judgments are not merely fleeting subjective feelings or states of mind, but also refer to facts, and often to legal or moral principles.
"(ii) People constantly make judgments to the effect that a certain person is "morally blind" or "morally insane". They also frequently say things as that one man has a finer moral sensibility than another." (p. 91)
It is good to have examples when one makes such claims. Mr. Edwards gives examples:
"The most obvious examples of people who, on certain topics are morally insane, are political and religious fanatics. There are countless people in the world who protest against the persecution of minorities and the suppression of civil liberties by their political or religious opponents but who condone and in fact favor persecution and suppression when perpetrated by their political or religious associates."
Personally, I think this is so common - Our Group Good, Their Group Bad: See social relativism - that it makes a lot of sense to conclude that it is quite human to be totalitarian and a social relativist. Furthermore, there are better examples of "morally insane" than "political and religious fanatics", namely serial killers, torturers of small children and the like, that also seem to occur in every society in sufficient measures to be recognized in the law as "criminally insane".
But here also there is a problem I raised before: Political and religious regimes, especially when explicitly totalitarian, have a tendency to declare their opponents bad and mad. In actual cases one can only judge by the evidence: What are the accused supposed to have done, and what is the evidence for this accusation?
And in any case, this point is difficult to combine with intuitionism when one considers e.g. the moral intuitions of Catholic and Protestant inquisitors: Both types felt strongly supported by something much like intuitions about their gods, but both could not possibly be right, in that each thought it very good indeed to torture to death opponents of faith, on the basis of the argument that they only used finite pain to help convert a sinner from a mistaken faith that would make him go to hell for infinity of time if unconverted. If God exists he cannot be both as the Catholics and the Protestants say, and indeed if He (She? It?) exists, the divinity may very well be quite unlike either believes and claims.
"(iii) There is a certain quality of "immediacy" about the way in which we hold moral views, especially when a recognition of our duties and obligations is concerned.
"When we consider a particular act as a lie, or as the breaking of a promise, or as a gratuitous infliction of pain, we do not need to, and do not fall back on a remembered general principle; we see the individual act to be by its very nature wrong." " (p. 93, with Ross's "Foundations of Ethics" quoted.)
It may be well to remark here that lying, breaking promises and gratuitous infliction of pain doesn't help people to cooperate easily or at all, which is one general principle; and also that many people in cases like these appeal to a general principle like "do not do unto others as you would not be done unto"; while also there is a the fundamental problem well phrased by Ovid: Video meliora proboque, detereriora sequor. That is: All too often the human heart sees, understands and approves the better, yet nevertheless proceeds to do the worse - because that is less dangerous, easier, socially more desired, is an order of the boss, or is simply personally pleasant or profitable if also not quite moral according to one's own publicly professed moral ideals.
And in any case, the facts the intuitionists suppose in (iii) can be explained by reference to ordinary learning in ordinary society, perhaps motivated by an assumption of a common human nature.
"(iv) When people engage in moral dispute, their disagreement is often genuine. Occasionally they disagree even though they agree about the consequences, the causes, and the empirical qualities of the subject of their judgments. The former fact is incompatible with subjectivism, the latter with subjectivism as well as with all forms of objective naturalism." (p. 93)
I fail to see the last point, since I would say that in such cases the disputants agree about the relevant facts, but disagree in moral desires or ends.
Indeed, the existence of such fundamentally opposed moral desires - as with Catholicism and Protestantism, or Christianity and Islam, or Liberalism and Marxism - that must be based on moral intuition according to intuitionists, is in fact a strong argument against intuitionism.
More precisely: It is quite conceivable that there is a common human nature all share and refer to in many of their judgments about people and about morals, while yet it remains quite possible to have honestly divergent or opposed views about the type of society or human being one would desire to see and bring about, and yet for most members of both the opposing parties to be sane and honest.
"(v) No anti-intuitionist theory can
explain the fact of moral obligation... Moral obligation is neither habit or fear, neither custom nor obedience, neither fashion nor deference, and it is not the obscure feeling of these. For what do we say when we say that we ought to do certain things, and ought not to do certain other things? Clearly we do not mean that we are forced to do the one and forced not to do the other." (p. 93)
The reason is that not only must one have the appropriate intuition and a fitting feeling and impulse to act - one must also do this of one's own free will, or so the intuitionists wish to claim. All of this may be so, but at this point it should also be pointed out that, then, chances are that what seems like moral obligation is in many cases acted upon out of fear, habit, custom, obedience, fashion, deference or whim, and chances are that much of what passes for moral acting is conformism or hypocrisy. (Indeed, the last true Christian might have been Christ, also in view of how easily his apostles betrayed him, and the last true Marxist might have been Marx or Engels, seeing the nominally marxist dictatorships that arose after their deaths.)
And indeed I believe non-intuitionist theories are quite capable of explaining moral obligation of some kinds, such as the keeping of agreements and promises, and indeed may do so quite plausibly in various ways, by reference to human nature, to self-interest, to the wish to please others, to the desire to keep a good reputation, to the expectation to be rewarded a.s.o.
"(vi) Finally, there is the fact that ethical terms cannot be analyzed into non-ethical terms, whether the latter refer to natural qualities or relations like pleasure or aid in the struggle for survival or being approved by a human being, or to "metaphysical" properties like harmony with the Absolute or obedience to the will of God. This, it has been claimed, shows that the referents of ethical terms are sui generis and knowable only by a special cognitive instrument which is distinct from sense-observation and introspection." (p. 94)
Of course, personally I would reply to the claimed conclusion that what is claimed to be sui generis is so by reference to the human nature we all share, though not by reference to a divine spark or divinely inspired or created conscience or intuition, and is "knowable only by a special cognitive instrument" - which happens to be a sane human brain in a sound human body, educated in a human society.
Besides, the initial statement is a dogmatical claim, and good evidence against it is that most men who have researched the actual moral facts agree that there have been noble, honest and courageous men of all faiths, including men who had no religious faith at all, even though such men tend to be a quite small minority amidst many apparently more dishonest, less courageous, less intelligent or simply less moral or more conforming and more hypocritical majorities.
Mr. Edwards sums up this section as follows:
"the facts referred to under (i) and (ii) are incompatible with subjectivism and the emotive theory, (iii) with objective naturalism, (iv) with subjectuvism and objective naturalism, and (v) and (vi) with all theories other than intuitionism.
As against this, I shall try to show later in this volume that some of these alleged "facts" are not really facts and that those which are can be accounted for without invoking a special faculty of moral intuition." (p. 94)
I think I have given good reasons when, where and why I disagree, but it will help to see what Mr. Edwards argues.
4. Arguments against Moral Intuition Conceived as a "Sixth Sense"
Mr. Edwards starts this section as follows:
"In this and the next section I shall try to show that both of the usual descriptions of the faculty of moral intuition are untenable. In this section I shall deal with the description of moral intuition as a kind of "sixth sense." In the next section I shall discuss the view that the moral faculty is identical with a priori insight.
It should be noted that I have given arguments which tend towards a sort of "sixth sense", namely whatever consequences we draw from the assumption that you and I, and he and she, in so far as we are human, experience, believe, desire, feel and need much of the same sorts of things for the same sorts of reasons in the same sorts of circumstances.
And it should be noted that I have already explicitly insisted that this assumption of a common human nature is not, by me, intended in a non-natural sense, while I also have already insisted that there seems to be excellent empirical evidence of many kinds for this assumption, namely - at least - anatomically, medically, physically, bio-chemically, psychologically, philosophically and culturally, and the last two notably so since we find similar ideas e.g. in the Chinese philosopher Mencius.
(i) There is a well-known objection to the view that the moral intuition resembles a sense like the sense of sight or hearing. Mackie has stated this objection in the following words:
Although at any one time, in a particular social group there is a fairly complete agreement about what is right, in other classes, in other countries, and above all in other periods of history and other cultures, the actual moral judgments or feelings are almost completely different, though perhaps there are a few feelings so natural to man that they are found everywhere. Now feelings may well change with changing conditions, but a judgment about objective fact should be everywhere the same: If we have a faculty of moral perception, it must be an extremely faulty one, liable not only to temporary illusions, as sight is, but to great and lasting error." (p. 95)
For me, Mackie's words are not at all convincing. The first part is a blanket statement with little precision, and does not enter at all into e.g. the medical and anatomical evidence that all human beings are quite similarly built; the middle part misses the fact that it must be a matter of course for the same kinds of individuals to feel and act differently in different circumstances; and the last part misses the fact that moral judgments depend in a complicated way on both human desires and human beliefs about facts, and also the fact that being possibly mistaken is - so to speak - part of the rules of the game of morals: Moral ideals, desires, plans and proposals can be cogently seen as ideas about how to cooperate socially to further the realizing of individual needs, ends and desires, all based on evidence about the situations people live in and evidence about the situations people would like to live in. And it may be expected these ideas may be mistaken in all sorts of ways and these desires impracticable for all manner of reasons, especially in situations which are very normal in human history, namely where there is less factual evidence and knowledge and also more fanaticism and egoism than one would like, in those who are supposed to cooperate to bring about some sort of society that satisfies the needs and desires of many.
But Mr. Edwards has two more arguments here against intuitionism.
"Furthermore, according to intuitionism, moral judgments are objective claims. If one man says "A is good" and another says "A is bad" and if they are really talking about the same A then they cannot both be speaking the truth. One of them is the victim of a pseudo-intuition." (p. 97)
This is a good point. Put otherwise: Since there is so much moral disagreement, the supposed faculty of moral intuition must be often blind and mistaken - which is odd for a faculty of intuition.
"Secondly, even if it were the case that people never disagree in their "basic" or "fundamental" moral judgments, there seems to be no doubt that they quite often disagree - and not merely as regards means - on other moral questions." (p. 98)
This too is a good point against the assumption of a faculty of intuition at the basis of morals - for if it is there, it seems to be often so weak, so blind, so mistaken, or so easily misled that it just as well might be not there at all.
Next, Mr. Edwards considers the supposed simplicity of ethical predicates:
"(ii) If any of the ethical predicates really designated simple and directly apprehended qualities like "yellow" or "hard" or "being angry" or simply relations like "being larger than" or "being to the right of" it would be a mystery how there could be any or many non-intuitionists. It would also then be quite inexplicable how intuitionist philosophers could occasionally have doubts about the existence of such a faculty, as Moore, for instance, has openly confessed."
Indeed - but that is mostly an argument against the claim that ethical predicates represent simple qualities or relations.
5. Arguments against Moral Intuition Conceived as A Priori Insight
First, there is this.
"(i) Against the view that moral truths, like the propositions of mathematics and logic, are known by a priori insight, there is the following standard objection: No moral truth is a universal proposition in the sense in which, to be a priori, a proposition must be a universal proposition. Thus it is wrong to lie, but not in all conceivable circumstances. (..) It is wrong to break one's promise but not in all circumstances." (p. 100-101)
This should be a difficulty for intuitionists, since it shows that supposed moral intuitions that are supposedly accessible to all are not like mathematical truths, which are - especially by moral intuitionists - supposed to be accessible by a faculty of intuition.
Mr. Edwards continues thus:
"Recent intuitionists, especially Ross and Raphael, claim to have taken care of this objection by moderating the form of the moral truths which, according to them, are known by a priori intuition. We do not, by a priori intuition, see that any act which produces pleasure in another, to use one of Ross's examples, must be right. What we see by a priori intuition is that any such act has prima facie rightness, or what is the same thing, that it has a tendency to be right." (p. 101)
He tries to dispose of this as follows:
"This revised version of intuitionism has been criticized by P.F. Strawson in one of the most brilliant articles on ethics published in recent years. The change from "is right" to "tends to be right," Strawson writes
is incompatible with the account you gave of the way in which we come to know both the moral characteristics of individual actions and states, and the moral generalizations themselves. (..)
In other words, and to take your instance, if it ever follows from the fact that an act has the empirically ascertainable features described by the phrase "being an act of promise keeping," then it always follows, from the fact that an act is of this kind, that it has this moral quality. If, then, it is true that we intuit moral characteristics as thus "following from" the others, it is false that the implied generalizations require the "trifling amendments"; and if it is true that they require the amendment, it is false that we so intuit moral characteristics. (..)
When we say of swans that they tend to be white, we are not ascribing aw certain quality, namely "tending to be white," to each individual swan. We are saying that the number of swans which are white exceeds the number of swans which are not, that if anything is a swan, the chances are that it will be white." (p. 101-102)
This I find not convincing, for a moral intuitionist may cogently reply that he is not as stupid as Mr. Strawson depicts him, and that he quite agrees with his logical point. Indeed, the moral intuitionist will continue, I think, that his point is that moral judgments are often difficult and may regularly later turn out to have been mistaken precisely because they are often difficult to make in a rational way, and that one needs some sort of way to account for and reckon with this, whether or not one is an intuitionist.
So I'd rather insist on the argument I gave before against moral intuitionism: The faculty they assume, appeal to, and call by the name "intuition" is quite unlike the faculty called intuition when speaking of mathematics or music.
And indeed, this is much like Mr. Edwards' second point:
"(ii) The objections from the fact of widespread disagreement on moral topics is I think no less fatal to the view that there is an a priori moral intuition than to the sixth-sense theory. For, in all other domains which, according to these philosophers, we know by a priori intuition, no such widespread disagreements exist." (p. 103)
Moreover, from my own point of view I can agree to a considerable extent with intuitionist arguments and indeed with 'a sixth sense' on the assumption that there is a shared human nature and a shared assumption among humans that all humans experience similarly in many similar circumstances, because they are made in similar ways and have similar natural needs.
But my disagreement with the moral intuitionists is precisely that I insist that this presumed shared human nature is a natural faculty, and not a non-natural faculty (like a divine immortal soul), and that the presumption that it exists has a lot of objective evidence in its favor.
Hence there is no need to postulate an a priori intuition of a non-natural kind, since a good part of what this is supposed to do and explain can be done and can be explained by a natural assumption of a shared human nature, and there also are good reasons not to postulate an a priori intuition of a non-natural kind, namely
(1) it is not needed to explain what needs explanation
(2) the supposed faculty of moral intuition is quite unlike other supposed faculties of intuition
(3) moral intuitionism often is part of philosophies or religions that base their morals on assumptions of divinities or strange processes like 'the class-struggle' or 'Darwinian evolution' all of which are both very questionable and problematic and seem quite unneeded to account for morals.