Our moral convictions, principles and deeds

The issue of how to justify right and wrong is a recurring methodological problem in ethics. We can, somewhat simplified, distinguish between people who argue that right and wrong must be confirmed by our moral convictions and people who maintain that morality must be justified by principles independent from these convictions. The issue hinges on arriving at a standard or criterion for when something is right or wrong. The author discusses this issue in light of the distinction between perfect procedural justice and pure procedural justice, drawing on the works of John Rawls and Peter Singer. One shortcoming affecting both these approaches is how they are unable to account for our basic beliefs. Using Ludwig Wittgenstein’s On Certainty as a point of departure, the author attempts to demonstrate that some of our basic beliefs cannot be formulated in propositions, but rather are expressed by our actions. The author concludes that we, in light of this, must distinguish between our ethical propositions and our basic beliefs. The former may be subject to doubt and may, consequently, be expressed in the form of propositions, whereas the latter is only expressed by what we say and what we do.

Keywords: Ethical method, reflective equilibrium, utilitarianism, basic beliefs, certainty, knowledge