A strategy for defending a method of moral inquiry
As in the old movie serials, things are not really as hopeless as they appear. A way out of danger lies in a direction we have overlooked. Our hero can reach safety by challenging the assumption that a method of moral inquiry can be adequate only if it can be shown that those who employ the method will attain the truth, or at least, that they are likely to attain the truth. If this assumption can be overturned, the possibility of defending the method opens up. To bolster our morale, prior to confronting this widely shared assumption, I might note that it holds moral methods to a standard that few, if any, methods outside of mathematics and logic can meet. For surely, we cannot say it has been shown even that “the scientific method” is likely to lead to the truth. Nor has the reliability of the common-sense methods by which we form beliefs about the world around us been demonstrated. And I think we must admit that the obstacles blocking arguments for the reliability of these methods are not going to be surmounted with time. In the future, science might produce theories with greater predictive power, affording explanations of a broader range of phenomena, and perhaps even perfect consensus regarding these theories, but this would not enable us to show that the scientific method had led us to the truth. For an argument to this conclusion would have to assume that something, e.g., explanatory coherence,2 predictive power, fruitfulness, or consensus, is truth-conducive, and no such assumption is beyond question. We should not be surprised by this result. Within their own ranges of application, the “methods” by which we form beliefs about middle-sized perceptible objects have led us to nearly perfect consensus, and have allowed for accurate prediction, and these methods have done so for thousands of years. Yet we cannot demonstrate that careful skeptical arguments are mistaken.