Volume 10, 2008
Susan T. Gardner
Moving Beyond Universalizability
The use of Kant’s universalizability principle as a method of determining the warrantability of an ethical claim has two fundamental flaws. On the one hand, it renders the universalizing moralizer mute in the face of fanaticism, and, on the other, it too easily dissolves into irrational rule worship. In the face of such flaws,
many have argued that this “rational” approach to ethics ought to be abandoned in favor of fanning the flames of sentiment. Such a proposal suggests that we have trapped ourselves into a false dilemma. While there is no doubt that the employment of the universalizability principle is more “reflective” than simply following what springs from the heart, nonetheless, it is no where near the pinnacle of rationality to which we can aspire. Ethicists, like their natural and social scientific colleagues, can adopt a form of scientific ethicism that demands that the legitimacy of any ethical claim depends upon the degree to which the reasons that back it are subjected to the formal demands of both local and global sufficiency, and as well, that the legitimacy of the entire procedure survive scrutiny in a public forum of objective inquirers. Paradoxically, since this process is inter- rather than intra-subjective, and since the surviving claims will be maximally unbiased, the widespread adoption of scientific ethicism has the potential to proportionally expand “the circle of we”—which is precisely what critics of rationality, who advocate non-rational sentiment expansion, would have us do.