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David Bagget on Ethical Dilemmas and Intuitions

Sartre employs … examples like a young soldier deciding whether to go to war or to stay home and be his mother’s consolation … to show the difficulty of making certain ethical determinations, and writing like this in conjunction with the widespread use of what Christian Hoff-Sommers has called “dilemma ethics” — moral dialogue focused on trying to decide the “hard cases” — have contributed to the notion that the whole field of ethics is colored grey. The old certainties are gone; ambiguity wins the day. Everything is up for grabs when it comes to questions of morality. ¶ Despite the common nature of such views, most decisions in ethics are not fraught with ambiguity and tensions between commensurate competing commitments. As is obvious from clear examples of moral behavior, the vast majority of people’s moral intuitions remain intact and quite strong. Perhaps ethics are too often thought about in terms of the peripheral dilemmas and occasional ambiguities, overlooking and thereby skewing our perception of the vast intuitive area of agreement that actually obtains both across diverse cultures and throughout the centuries of human history. Perhaps morality has to be seen at its best, or at its worst, for it is then our intuitions are felt the strongest and distinctive features of moral facts most clearly apprehended, with no ambiguities or heart-wrenching dilemmas to cloud our vision. Eventually those dilemmas have to be accounted for as well, but the suggestion here is that they are not the proper place to begin.


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