5th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Herman

Julia Herman

Moral Justificatory Arguments Reconsidered. The Limits of Moral Justification from a Wittgensteinian Point of View

Today, coherentist accounts based on “wide reflective equilibrium” like John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice appear to be the most promising attempts of justifying moral norms or principles of justice. However, although they are more convincing than the foundationalist postulation of a class of basic beliefs which are intuitively known to be true, they face serious objections. Apart from not being able to tell us which coherent moral conception is the right one, their reluctance to accept the unassailability of some moral beliefs is unconvincing. They do not account for our intuition that a belief like “Intentionally killing an innocent person is bad” could not be rejected without giving up all moral argument. The Wittgenstein-inspired perspective on moral justification I am proposing constitutes a non-foundationalist view of basic beliefs. Being the constitutive rules of the moral language-game, these beliefs are beyond justification. The acquaintance with them in the process of justifying a given moral principle does not count against the justificatory argument. These rules make the practice of justifying morality possible in the first place, just as the mathematical axioms and rules of inference enable the practice of mathematics. They are the standards for ascribing moral rightness and wrongness, thereby themselves being neither morally right nor wrong. The question of whether the claim that intentionally killing an innocent person is bad is justified is meaningless. By applying some of Wittgenstein’s epistemological thoughts in this way to moral theory, I want to make the limits of moral justification intelligible, thereby making the adoption of a coherentist view unnecessary.