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Title: Problems in Pleasants' Wittgensteinian Idea of Basic Moral Certainties
Author(s): FAIRHURST, Jordi
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 26    Issue: 2   Date: 2019   
Pages: 271-298
DOI: 10.2143/EP.26.2.3286751

Abstract :
Pleasants argues in favour of the idea of basic moral certainties. Analogous to Wittgenstein’s basic empirical certainties, basic moral certainties are universal certainties that cannot be justified, asserted or meaningfully doubted. They are a fundamental condition of morality as such, thus allowing us to carry out other moral operations. Brice and Rummens have criticized Pleasants’ proposal, arguing that basic moral certainties are significantly disanalogous to Wittgenstein’s basic empirical certainties. Brice argues that Pleasants does not differentiate between a bottom-up and a top-down approach to basic certainties nor does he acknowledge the difference that this distinction constitutes in the foundational role of a certainty. Meanwhile, Rummens claims that basic moral certainties are not universal. Conversely, they are moral hinges embedded in certain culturally and historically specific moral language-games. Pleasants has provided a response to these criticisms, while defending the universality and naturalism of basic moral certainties. In this article, I single out the problems in Pleasants’ response to the criticisms introduced by Brice and Rummens. I argue that Pleasants must present further arguments in order to demonstrate that basic moral certainties are analogous to basic empirical certainties. I also argue that the existence of basic moral certainties that coalesce with numerous exceptions and suspensions generates significant problems in Pleasants’ proposal. I advance two cases regarding euthanasia that meaningfully challenge and doubt Pleasants’ central basic moral certainty: the wrongness of killing innocent human beings. Additionally, both cases are employed to meaningfully doubt and challenge Pleasants’ basic moral certainty of the badness of death.

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