Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The Dialectical Necessity of Morality: Introduction
And so it begins.
Today marks the launch what will either be the longest or shortest series in the history of this blog: my attempt to go through Derek Beyleveld's book The Dialectical Necessity of Morality. It will be long-lived if I have the patience and perseverance to get to through all of it; it will be short-lived if, as is too often the case, I run out of interest after a few entries. Still, something will be learned no matter what the duration.
What's this About?
Beyleveld's book is a meticulous and pain-staking effort to defend the legitimacy of Alan Gewirth's Principle of Generic Consistency (PGC). The PGC is, supposedly, the supreme moral principle that must guide the actions of all potentially purposive agents (PPAs -- incidentally, there are a lot of acronyms to get to grips with).
The derivation of the PGC is perhaps the exemplar of the Kantian constructivist position in metaethics (a topic I have covered before). It is constructivist because it tries to construct moral values out of the attitudes of practically rational agents. It is metaethical because it does not presuppose the existence of any moral values but instead tries to show how moral values can come into being and how they can be known. Finally, it is Kantian (as opposed to Humean) because it argues that, when properly understood, practical rationality is consistent with the existence of one, absolute and universal, set of moral values.
If successful, the derivation of the PGC would be a major achievement. Indeed, it would be the Holy Grail of moral philosophy. This should make us suspicious: the PGC has been around since the 1970s and Beyleveld's book itself dates from 1991, surely it would be more widely known if it was actually successful? Interestingly, Beyleveld acknowledges this suspicion in his introduction. Nevertheless, he thinks the derivation of the PGC is ultimately successful and he wants to show us why.
I'm certainly willing to admire Beyleveld's efforts. Although I have only read about 100 pages so far, I can say with some surety that his book is nothing if not an extremely impressive exercise in analytical philosophy. It consists of two parts. In the first part, he presents what he thinks is the strongest argument to the PGC. In the second part, he proceeds to identify and rebut 66 objections to this argument. The objections having been collected from various scholarly articles written in the period 1971-1990.
I begin this series with no real preconceptions. I am neither committed nor closed to the possible success of the argument to the PGC. I am somewhat sceptical, and in what I have read so far I think I have managed to identify one major lacunae in the argument, but I am conscious of the fact that somewhere within the 66 objections and rebuttals there may be one directed at my concerns. I can only wait, read and see.
This post will serve as an index to the series.