Re-Thinking The Ethics Of Parsimony, Part One: On Not Cheating Contingency -- By: Michael W. Payne
WTJ 67:1 (Spring 2005) p. 23
Re-Thinking The Ethics Of Parsimony, Part One:
On Not Cheating Contingency
Michael Payne is Professor of Theology and Ethics at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss.
There is a growing interest in and reflection upon the relationship between epistemology and ethics in recent scholarship. In many ways, each discipline is wrestling with similar concerns. Unfortunately, these concerns are largely centered upon “getting it right,” that is, procedural questions which can insure correct belief in the former and correct acts in the latter. The question that begs to be answered is “are we even asking the correct questions”—whether they are epistemological or ethical?
Commenting on the apparent confusion of contemporary ethical reflection, Cora Diamond notes that “our habits of classification of ethical theories and modes of ethical thought.. . [often] impede our understanding and distort our perception.” According to Diamond, this is due to our “false and over-simple notions of the aim of ethics.”1 The frequent abstraction of ethics into categories of “obligation” (deontology/Kantian formalism) or its opposing reduction to “ends-means” (teleology/utilitarianism) questions, flows from what Bernard Williams describes as the characteristically Western, post-Enlightenment tug-of-war between a broadening conceptualization of the “ethical” or a narrowing toward the “moral” (subject-centered).2 Each trajectory generates its own picture and criteria of the ethical.3
Epistemologists likewise have begun to wonder about their own discipline’s emphases and the tendency toward polarization reflected, for example, in the internalist/externalist debates.4 Recently, Linda Zagzebski has focused on the relationship between our theories of ethics and corresponding epistemological
WTJ 67:1 (Spring 2005) p. 24
methodologies. Zagzebski argues that most theories of knowledge (which are belief-based) are analogous to act-based moral theories rather than virtue-based theories.5 Thus, according to Zagzebski, “it is no surprise that the type of moral theory from which these approaches borrow moral concepts is almost always an act-based theory, either deontological or consequentalist.”6 Zagzebski notes, as a result, that epistemologists, like ethicists, tend to focus their questions in one of ...
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