The idea of moral certainties is venerable, highly contentious, and nevertheless alive. What I call “hinge ethics” (in analogy to hinge epistemology) combines three currents – meta-ethical concerns about the scope and limits of moral knowledge and objectivity, the idea of limits of doubt as articulated in On Certainty, and sympathies for Wittgensteinian ideas about ethics. This essay critically assesses hinge ethics, focusing on Nigel Pleasants’ work. My main objection is not that Wittgensteinian ideas about certainty cannot be transferred from the domain of physical phenomena to the moral domain. Nor shall I nail my colours to the mast of moral relativism. Instead my main tack will be as follows:
Several of the views hinge ethicists detect in or derive from On Certainty are intriguing and ingenious, yet either unwarranted and/or not echt Wittgensteinian. Purported moral certainties like the wrongness of killing are neither ineffable, nor non-propositional, nor quasi-transcendental preconditions of moral thought and action.
In so far as morality has scaffolding foundations, it is not certainties but capacities.
At least some of these capacities are cognitive, a matter of social cognition.