He there discusses an objection to moral realism involving moral disagreement. Consider a case in which two agents are embroiled in a moral dispute that seems intractable--neither can convince the other to change her mind. Shafer-Landau contends that one agent could be justified in believing that X is wrong even if her defense of the view that X is wrong begs the question. As he put it, "...one's belief might continue to be justified, even if defending it to others has one begging questions."
This is only part of his reply to the objection and I don't consider the point I'm about to make to be much of a criticism of Shafer-Landau's response. Indeed, I think he successfully shows that the objection is extremely weak. I'm here simply expressing my confusion and hoping that others will weigh in on the issues that I'm about to raise.
Suppose that an agent believes that slavery is wrong and she believes this for various reasons (e.g., that people have a right not to be enslaved, that slavery is not conducive to overall utility, that it violates the categorical imperative, etc.). Suppose that her opponent does not believe that slavery is wrong and she believes this for various other reasons (e.g., that some groups of individuals are morally inferior to others, that there's no such thing as a right not to be enslaved, that both utilitarianism and deontology are false, etc.). So we have a moral disagreement about slavery. And we might imagine that neither party will budge.
Of course, this case is distinct form the one which Shafer-Landau apparently has in mind. His case (it seems from his very brief discussion) is one in which one of the agents is only able to offer question-begging arguments when trying to convince her opponent. His claim is that such an agent can nevertheless be justified in thinking that, say, slavery is wrong.
Now, what would justify her belief that slavery is wrong? Is it these question-begging arguments? How can a question-begging argument confer justification? One of my students suggested that such arguments are only question-begging when presented to the other agent. And when "presented" to the agent herself, they are not question-begging. I'm not sure what to make of this suggestion. It seems to me that arguments are question-begging in virtue of their structure, not in virtue of the audience. (Well, maybe that's not quite right, since begging the question is taken to be an informal fallacy---But one way to think about arguments that beg the question is as a type of circular argument where an explicit or implicit premise of the argument entails the conclusion and so the argument should be seen as entirely unsatisfactory.) So, again, why think that the agent is justified in believing that slavery is wrong if she isn't able to offer anything but question-begging arguments? Perhaps she could be justified because, on one way of thinking about them, question-begging arguments are valid. Here's an example of a question-begging argument:
(1) Y.It's valid, but is it the sort of argument that could confer justification (even when you "offer" the argument to yourself)? I suppose you might be confident of the truth of Y and you could think that you are justified in believing Y on the basis of such an argument. But the question is whether you could actually be justified in believing Y on the basis of this question-begging argument.
(2) Therefore, Y.
The case I gave seems like a paradigm case of moral disagreement. I take it that what usually happens in such cases is that agent A finds agent B's arguments unpersuasive because she thinks B's arguments are not sound (and vice versa). Of course, an agent might be justified in believing that slavery is wrong even if she cannot provide reasons that her opponent finds compelling. Her reasons might be good ones even if her opponent doesn't agree that they are good. Of course, the reasons the agents in my case have for their beliefs don't involve arguments that beg the question.
But Shafer-Landau's point is about a different kinds of case than the one I've offered. It's a peculiar instance of moral disagreement and I'm having trouble making sense of how an agent can be justified in believing something when she is stuck with only question-begging arguments.
Our conversation in class got cut short and I found it really interesting, so I thought I'd open it up to folks reading this blog. Comments on these issues are most welcome.