Dairy Cows and Professional Republicans

I see quite a lot in common between those two. Both of them create a whole lot of product every day, and there’s a great deal of people in the US who find the products of both quite appealing.

But it is sure as heck true that there are a great many people that find those products hard to digest, and although you might not like the fact, it’s not a sampling error nor mere vagaries of individual preference when studies show that both go down easier with some ethnic groups and not others.

Moral Flexibility: TLDR

In my immediately previous post, I set out the basics necessary to understand the concept of metaethical flexibility. In short, this is a term to describe how the same person might appeal to consequences when considering one ethical question but god’s commands when considering another and in still others use a different form of moral reasoning altogether.

[Read more…]

Moral Flexibility: Why Ethicists Are Wrong About Why Things Are Wrong

It is hard to say that I work as a professional ethicist as their are few jobs that are framed in just this way. To the extent “professional ethicist” jobs are known as such, they are largely professorial positions. I’ve never held such a position, even when I was teaching in a university. However, many jobs include making ethical recommendations as an important part of the total role. Though some lobbyists would not want their jobs to be connected with ethics in any way (typically for fear of scrutiny), those who craft public policy proposals are actually in the business of morality and ethics. Implementations of a proposal might depend on a host of practical questions, but the motivation for a public policy proposal is very often moral or ethical in nature. Also moral or ethical in nature are many of the arguments for a legislator to vote on a proposal, or submit a bill, or act to move a bill forward procedurally. The same is no less true when lobbying an administrative official for regulatory or enforcement action (or inaction). Understood in this way, it’s quite clear that I (and many, many others) have experience working as a professional ethicist. The full number of people working professionally on questions of ethics dwarf the subset whose job titles explicitly include ethics. It is this larger set of ethicists to which I indisputably belong that imposes a moral responsibility upon me to question and critique ethics as a profession and ethicists as a group.

But even this larger group does not sum up all people who think seriously about ethical questions. In our non-professional lives, too, we must frequently engage quite explicitly with questions of ethics. Anyone with a child in the “Why?” phase of conversational development certainly spends more than 40 hours a week on ethical questions.*1 Anyone who takes the responsibility of voting seriously must also engage in questions of ethics. It is precisely the ubiquity of ethical reasoning in human life that inspires me to write today about an important shortcoming in the field of ethics.

[Read more…]

The Metaphor is not the Concept

Over the course of this blog, we’ll be talking quite a bit about social theories and theory making. These theories have some similarities to scientific theories, but also some differences, so it’s worth stepping back for a moment and contemplating them. In particular, I think it’s productive to reinforce the idea that the theory is not the concept.

What is a theory? In these circles, in these uses, a theory is similar to scientific theory. It is a model used to discuss a concept or body of facts. Unlike scientific theories, social and critical theories reach their best when they explain a large body of observations and are contradicted by no repeatable, empirical observations, but they remain “theories” when they have not yet reached this pinnacle. Science has a separate category, hypotheses, for unconfirmed but educated speculations whose merits are debated in an academic community. Social critics? Not so much.

[Read more…]