What experimentalism means in ethics

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In the past, ethical theories have been presented as self-sufficient and holistic. Philosophers have historically been either deontologists, consequentialists, virtue ethicists, divine command theorists, or some other particular theorist to the exclusion of other points of view. In John Dewey's American Pragmatism we see a shift that has gone underappreciated in moral theory, one that I will defend in this essay. Dewey was an experimentalist. In this essay, I will show what I take experimentalism to mean in moral theory. This is important to do, since the very idea of undertaking moral experiments sounds a bit unnerving. The reason one might have this feeling is due to the history of unethical experimental practices that have become famous, such as in the Tuskegee syphilis experiments or Stanley Milgram's well-known psychological studies. 1 To allay fears about the experimentalist's approach to ethics, I will begin with a description of experimentalism's basis in good scientific practice. Surely there have been scientists who have done wrong, but good science learns from the mistakes that others have made and follows a set of important rules for inquiry. Next, I will discuss some of the ways in which experimentalism is an outlook and

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-115
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Speculative Philosophy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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