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Again with the Four-Part Question

Susan Haack.JPG

Another candidate.

As some of you may remember, I've been wondering aloud for some time whether there are any prominent ethical/meta-ethical philosophers active today who fit each of four labels in those fields that seem to me to go together rather naturally.

Maybe Susan Haack would qualify. I recently reviewed a work of hers on the philosophy of the law of evidence, and in the process I expounded on her epistemology, "foundherentism." The idea is that learning about the world is like filling in a crossword puzzle. There is the foundational matter of satisfying the clues that come in from your senses (from outside the grid of the puzzle) and there is the coherentist matter of maintaining consistency within the grid, because of course the words cross each other.

What occurred to me only after my review was published was that it is in principle possible that certain crossword puzzles will have more than one perfectly correct answer.

Indeed, this is sometimes done. I remember that for the morning of election day, 1996, someone cleverly devised a puzzle that included the clue, "tomorrow's headline." The puzzle was so arranged that either "BobDoleWins" or "ClintonWins" could fit into that spot.   This required ambivalence as to each of seven crossing words.

For example, one clue for a crossing word asked for the name of an "animal associated with recent holiday." The recent holiday was Halloween. The animal could be either "cat" or "bat," consistent with one or the other of the two possible results of the as-yet-undecided election.

Anyway, the thing can be done. And THIS got me to thinking about what Haack might say about ethical pluralism.

As a reminder, I've asked before whether any contemporary philosophers adhere to the following four positions in ethics/meta-ethics:

1) cognitivist -- we do have knowledge of the good and the right;
2) intuitionist -- some components of this knowledge are both non-sensory and non-inferential (i.e. Moore's notion of the good);
3) teleological -- we infer the right rationally, learning its consequences for the good, but;
4) pluralist -- there may be more than one equally fundamental right. I have in mind Isaiah Berlin's thoughts on crooked timber, tragedy, etc.

Haack's image of a crossword puzzle seems consistent with this combination. Consider pluralism especially. There is no a priori reason to believe that there is only one way of completely filling out the pertinent crossword puzzle. We can get to Berlin's notion of the tragic side of life if we acknowledge 1 - 3, plus this founherentist indeterminacy.


After I wrote this I decided to solicit Dr. Haack's opinion directly. she kindly replied. She does not meet this test. She is "probably" on board with cognitivism in ethics and a pluralism, but wouldn't sign on to (2) or (3).

She also writes, "please be aware that the crossword is only an analogy: the theory must stand on its own feet, and there are bound to be elements of disanalogy (e.g., sadly, no solution in tomorrow's paper!)"


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