Volume 2, Issue 3, September 2015
Ralph D. Ellis
Moral Hermeneutics, Coherence Epistemology, and the Role of Emotion
Coherence requires more than logical consistency. Self-consistent viewpoints notoriously conflict with each other. Besides avoid logical selfcontradiction, coherent viewpoints must of course be consistent with empirical facts, including any social and interpersonal emotional facts that may be shared by all humans. But since these sets of facts are inherently probabilistic, they again lend themselves to motivated hermeneutical tweaking to make them fit one’s initial prejudices and presuppositions, trapping us again in the “hermeneutic circle” – the fact that we cannot know how much our previously-existing worldview motivates selective facts, proliferation of ad hoc hypotheses, choice of “moral intuitions,” etc. The problem of ad hoc hypotheses thus becomes crucial. Proliferation of ungrounded assumptions is motivated emotionally in the same way that believing a “conspiracy” theory requires positing unproven assumptions. Moral theory requires studying the way our emotions play into these moral “conspiracy theories.” Contemporary neuropsychology of emotion suggests that a certain kind of inner conflict model – one that grants autonomy to the exploratory drive, but in conflict with other hermeneutically relevant emotions – is especially useful in addressing the complexities of incoherence in ethical thinking.