A moral argument is an argument in which the conclusion is a
moral statement. A moral statement is a statement asserting that an action
is right or wrong (moral or immoral) or that a person or motive is good or
In a moral argument, we cannot establish the conclusion without
a moral premise. A standard moral argument has at least one premise that
asserts a general moral principle, at least one premise that is a nonmoral
claim, and a conclusion that is a moral statement.
Often a moral premise in a moral argument is implicit. The best
approach to identifying the implicit premises is to treat moral arguments
as deductive. Your job then is to supply plausible premises that will make
the argument valid.
Gauging the truth of moral premises (moral principles) mostly
involves examining the support they get from three sources: (1) other
moral principles, (2) moral theories, and (3) considered moral judgments.
We can assess the truth of a moral premise the same way we
might assess any other kind of universal generalizationby trying to think
of counterexamples to it.
Theories of morality are attempts to explain what makes an
action right or what makes a person good. We test moral theories the same
way we test any other theoryby applying criteria of adequacy to a theory
and its competitors.
The criteria of adequacy for moral theories are (1) consistency
with considered moral judgments, (2) consistency with our experience of
the moral life, and (3) workability in real-life situations.
Arguments and inference are widely used in the law. Inductive
reasoning predominates. Courts must determine what the facts are in cases,
and that task must involve inductive reasoning. When the question before a
court is about causality, inductive arguments must provide answers.
Reasoning by analogy is central to judicial decision-making. It
is usually applied when judges must decide cases in light of previous
settled casesin accordance with precedent, especially precedent
established by higher courts.
A Coherent Worldview
Worldviews are composites of theories, including theories of
morality. A good worldview must consist of good theories. But it also must
have internal consistencythe theories composing our worldview must not
Our worldviews are far too important not to subject them to
intelligent, reasoned reflection.