Moral Arguments

  • A moral argument is an argument in which the conclusion is a moral statement. A moral statement is a statement asserting that an action is right or wrong (moral or immoral) or that a person or motive is good or bad.
  • In a moral argument, we cannot establish the conclusion without a moral premise. A standard moral argument has at least one premise that asserts a general moral principle, at least one premise that is a nonmoral claim, and a conclusion that is a moral statement.
  • Often a moral premise in a moral argument is implicit. The best approach to identifying the implicit premises is to treat moral arguments as deductive. Your job then is to supply plausible premises that will make the argument valid.

Moral Premises

  • Gauging the truth of moral premises (moral principles) mostly involves examining the support they get from three sources: (1) other moral principles, (2) moral theories, and (3) considered moral judgments.
  • We can assess the truth of a moral premise the same way we might assess any other kind of universal generalization—by trying to think of counterexamples to it.

Moral Theories

  • Theories of morality are attempts to explain what makes an action right or what makes a person good. We test moral theories the same way we test any other theory—by applying criteria of adequacy to a theory and its competitors.
  • The criteria of adequacy for moral theories are (1) consistency with considered moral judgments, (2) consistency with our experience of the moral life, and (3) workability in real-life situations.

Legal Reasoning

  • Arguments and inference are widely used in the law. Inductive reasoning predominates. Courts must determine what the facts are in cases, and that task must involve inductive reasoning. When the question before a court is about causality, inductive arguments must provide answers.
  • Reasoning by analogy is central to judicial decision-making. It is usually applied when judges must decide cases in light of previous settled cases—in accordance with precedent, especially precedent established by higher courts.

A Coherent Worldview

  • Worldviews are composites of theories, including theories of morality. A good worldview must consist of good theories. But it also must have internal consistency—the theories composing our worldview must not conflict.
  • Our worldviews are far too important not to subject them to intelligent, reasoned reflection.
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