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Arts & Letters Daily


Moral Principle Tests

An application of principle value tests illustrates what is entailed in evaluative reasoning.

Reasoning about values is important because the principle role of values resides in the rationalization of action. This is implicit in the following ordinary questions:

What am I to do? (1st person). What are you to do? (2nd person). What are the merits of what John is doing? (3rd person). Implicit in asking these kinds of questions, which are characteristically asked by everyone concerning the conferring of ‘worth’ upon action, is the assumption that action should be conducted upon the basis of good reasons. If that is the case, the role of reason is fundamental to value issues.

The most fundamental question is: ‘What is entailed in evaluative reasoning assuming that the purpose of evaluative reasoning is the development of rational justifications. Implicit in a value judgment are two things: (1) moral value principles and (2) a set of facts which show that the value principles apply.

It is logically inconsistent to assert the judgment but deny the principle because the value principles relate the supporting facts to the evaluative terms. The facts must meet two conditions to be relevant: (1) they must be facts about the value object and (2) they must be facts to which the evaluator ascribes some value rating. Value criteria must be introduced to rate the facts.

An application of the moral principle value tests probably illustrates most clearly what is entailed in evaluative reasoning. They are:

  • New cases test

  • Role exchange test

  • Subsumption test

  • Universal consequences test

It is important to emphasize again that the moral-value principle tests are not designed to resolve issues (guarantee right answers!) but to assess the ‘justification’ for moral value decisions. They can assist in argument evaluation. Nor is there any assurance that they will help to clarify issues because they can stimulate various kinds of dissonance–logical, cultural, experiential, and moral. Only moral dissonance can help to clarify moral issues. A logical dissonance can help indirectly if the discussion is caught in a logical inconsistency. However, if a cultural or experiential dissonance has been created, the issue might have become more confused than ever. Then it might be necessary to try any and all rational operations to help a person to shift from a cultural or experiential dissonance to a logical or moral dissonance. Whether the person will make the shift is not at all certain.

The challenge is to recognize straight and crooked thinking whenever people apply the moral-value principles tests.

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