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Title: Basic moral certainty and the foundations of morality
Author: O'Hara, Neil Martin
ISNI:       0000 0004 6347 844X
Awarding Body: University of Hertfordshire
Current Institution: University of Hertfordshire
Date of Award: 2017
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I aim to show in this thesis that human beings are morally concerned to the core; that a concern for moral goodness is a necessary part of our humanity. Central to my account of the foundations of morality is what I call 'primary recognition', which I argue is the source of our moral thinking. By primary recognition, I mean our basic apprehension of other human beings as objects of some moral concern. I take this to be a 'basic moral certainty', in accord with the notion recently introduced by Nigel Pleasants in the debate on moral foundations, which he drew from the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein on the notion of basic empirical certainty, found in On Certainty (1969). Building on Pleasants' notion of 'basic moral certainty' I bring to bear Danièle Moyal-Sharrock's distinction between universal and local forms of basic certainty in an effort to make sense of the co-existence of universal moral beliefs and local, often conflicting, moral beliefs. I offer and defend two examples of universal basic moral certainties: 'At least some killings are wrong' and 'Some wrongs are more serious, more wrong, than others', which I take to be necessarily indubitable for any moral agent. I then examine examples of local moral certainties: the wrongness of pig sacrifice in ancient Judaism, the goodness of hospitality among the modern Pashtun, and the wrongness of cannibalism for the ancient Greeks. These examinations lead me to conclude that basic moral certainties come in both local and universal varieties in just the same way as basic empirical certainties, and that holding certain local moral beliefs is definitional for membership in certain epistemic communities. I go on to consider some challenges to the view that morality has its foundations in basic moral certainty, in particular that made by G.E.M Anscombe and Alasdair MacIntyre that modern moral thought lacks any foundations. I reply by reiterating the nonrational nature of the foundations of morality, modern or otherwise. I conclude the thesis by outlining some of the outcomes of this account of moral certainty for contemporary moral philosophy.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: moral philosophy ; metaethics ; moral certainty ; basic moral certainty ; universal moral certainty ; local moral certainty ; moral foundationalism ; Wittgenstein ; Løgstrup ; primary recognition