Challenge and Response: Justification in Ethics

Challenge and Response: Justification in Ethics

Challenge and Response: Justification in Ethics

Challenge and Response: Justification in Ethics


Mr. Wellman's highly original contribution to the relatively new field of justification in ethics consists of characterizing the different ways in which ethical statements can be challenged and showing how each sort of challenge can be met by an appropriate response, enabling reasonable men to appropriately discuss or reflect on ethical issues. In developing his unique, systematic, methodology of ethics, Mr. Wellman has, first, rigorously reviewed and refuted the main arguments for the view of the nature of all reasoning as deductive and, second, convincingly presented arguments for the existence of nondeductive evidences in ethics.

Mr. Wellman's broad definition of reasoning and his rejection of the identification of justification with reasoning reveals new dimensions of justification which will have wide implications in other areas of human speculation.


I began work on this book at s during the winter and spring terms of 1961. in addition to reading widely in the libraries, I enjoyed philosophical discussions with Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Warnock, Gilbert Ryle, William Kneale, H. L. A. Hart, James Urmson, and especially Richard Hare. At that time I was trying to collect and organize my thoughts on justification in ethics. No matter how hard I tried I could find no neat classification of ethical theories (such as ethical naturalism, intuitionism, and noncognitivism) which would reveal the main alternatives among which one must choose. Gradually I came to realize that this was because any theory of justification must solve several relatively independent problems, so that any classification of answers to one question tends to be misleading with respect to other equally important questions.

One problem is "what makes some consideration a good reason in ethics?" John Wisdom and Jonathan Bennett stimulated my thinking on this question at Cambridge during the summer of 1961. It is not easy to determine, much less to explain, exactly what it is that distinguishes relevant from irrelevant considerations in ethics or in any other subject. Reflection on what we do when we give reasons for our ethical statements led me to believe that reasoning is somehow connected with persuading, but my conviction that ethical statements are objectively valid forced me to admit that it cannot be mere persuasion. My compromise has been to define validity in terms of what would be persuasive after criticism.

How many kinds of reasoning are there in ethics? I discussed this and other problems with Henry Aiken, Rogers Albritton, Raphael Demos, Abraham Edel, Paul Edwards, Roderick Firth, John Ladd, Morton White, and Donald Williams while spending a summer reading in Widener Library. My conclusion is that ethical statements can be established by three distinct kinds of logical arguments--deductive, inductive, and what I call conductive.

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