There is an intuitionistic view in Metaethics that is often ridiculed (Mackie is a good laugh at this point, so is Blackburn). Already for that reason I have recently become fascinated by the view. Roger Crisp names the view the ‘Radar View’ in his ‘Sidgwick and the Boundaries of Intuitionism’ paper in Stratton-Lake’s Ethical Intuitionism: Re-Evaluations book. The view is simple. Human’s have a special, distinct, sense-like moral faculty – ‘the intuition’ or ‘the radar’. This radar is impinged by the moral reality and enables subjects to reliably form true moral beliefs. It explains the moral knowledge we have about how the world is morally speaking like in the same way as our ears and the hearing faculty can explain the knowledge we have about the auditory features of the world. This is a truly fascinating picture and I’d like to know more about it.
Now, as I’ve become intrigied by the view I’ve tried to look for how someone who has held the view formulates
it. This has turn out to be rather difficult. I’m starting to think that the whole view is a myth as it was something too good to be true from the start. The situation reminds me of cannibalism. There is a hypothesis in anthropology that no-one has ever been a cannibal. If you go ask ‘the tribes’ what they tell you is that, sure, their grandfathers, the savages, ate people, but they, the civilised people, don’t. Or, that it’s the other tribes that eat people but they are evil, we are good. If you think about it, this is rather weak evidence. They have a motive to make themselves look good and this can be done by making others look bad. They also give what the anthropoligist wants – talk about cannibalism. No-one ever says that, yeah, I eat people. Of course, the physical evidence probably falsifies this sceptical hypothesis…
Anyway, someone must have held ‘the radar view’ you probably think. Crisp says that ‘This was clearly the position of the moral sense theorists’. So, they must have. You would think. The only person he refers to is Hutcheson who, ‘for example, suggests that ‘The Author of Nature…has given us a moral sense to direct our actions… a determination of our minds to receive simple ideas of approbation or condemnation from actions observed antecedent to any opininion of advantage or loss to rebound to ourselves from them”.
So, I went to investigate Hutcheson. Turns out that he did not hold anything like the radar view, and, if you read the quote Crisp gives, it doesn’t commit Hutcheson to such a view either. The first problem is that I have hard time locating a passage where Hutcheson talks about a moral sense organ that would correspond other sense-organs. The textual support is rather for the claim ‘For Hutcheson, the moral counterpart of the sensory organ would seem to be the whole person’ that is made by Bernard Peach, the editor of Hutcheson’s ‘Illustrations of the Moral Sense’. In the quote, Hutcheson talks about ‘the mind’ which is too loose to refer to a distinct organ. This makes me think that the correct way to understand the talk of the moral sense is to ‘translate’ the sense to a moral ‘sensitivity’. Hutcheson’s view is the platitude that people are morally sensitive to their environment.
The next problem is that the outcomes of the people’s moral sensitivies are non-cognitive states for Hutcheson, appropations and disapprobations (see the quote above). These are in modern terms pro- and con-attitudes, desires for and against. If there was a radar that was perceiving the moral reality it would have to create perceptual *beliefs* like radars create representations of the environment. A radar doesn’t bleep ‘Hurraah for ice-cream!’. So, all in all, rather than having an obscure intuitionistic view Hutcheson comes out as a plausible modern day expressivist. On a side note, he has a modern view about justifying and motivating reasons too.
So, if Hutcheson didn’t hold the radar view, maybe some of the other intuitionists did. But, who? Crisp goes on to great lengths to argue that even though Sidgwick talked about the moral sense he didn’t not hold the the radar view with a distinct faculty. Many of the other intuitionists he lists under the ‘hotline view’ which is a rationalistic view opposed to the perception like ‘radar view’.
It could be all a myth then. No-one has been a cannibal. Or has anyone seen any textual evidence to the contrary?