Moral objectivism Mike Huemer
Nel saggio si difende l’oggettivismo morale contro le teorie soggettiviste e relativiste
“Objectivism” and “relativism”
“Objectivism” denotes the thesis that morality is objective. Subjectivism holds that morality is subjective. Relativism holds that morality is relative.
“Values are subjective” = “All values are subjective”
It may be asked, what shall we say if it turns out that some values are objective and some are not? The answer I give, by stipulation, is that in that case objectivism is true and subjectivism is false
CONDIZIONI PER ESSERE OGGETTIVISTI
Three ways of being non-‘objective’
Suppose I offer the opinion, “Colors are objective.” What then is it that I am saying about colors? What I am saying, I think, is that colors are ‘in the object.’ In what object? In colored objects. What does “in” mean here? It means that a color – redness, say – is a property of the objects
PROPRIETA’ DEGLI OGGETTI
to say that morality is objective is to say that whether an action is right depends on the nature of that action;
So far as I can see, there are three and only three ways for some thing, x, to fail to be objective, for instance for values or colors to not be objective: 1. If everything is non-x; e.g., nothing has value or nothing is red. Goodness is not in the object if there isn’t anything good.
some things are x, but whether a thing is x depends not just on that thing’s intrinsic nature but on facts about the subject, i.e., the person who says or observes that the thing is x, as well. Redness is not objective if whether a thing is red ‘for some observer’ (if that makes sense) depends on the nature of the observer and not just on the nature of the object.
If it is neither true nor false that something is x. Someone who thinks values are subjective in this sense would say that value judgements can be neither true nor false. Well, that sounds almost incoherent: how is it possible for a statement to be neither true nor false? Doesn’t that violate basic logic? So far as I can see there are just two ways this is possible. First, if saying something is x is not a genuine assertion, then it is neither true nor false… Second, if an assertion involves a false presupposition, then it may be said to be neither true nor false. For instance, “The king of France is bald” is neither true nor false because it contains a false presupposition that there is a king of France. Some people at any rate have argued that….
Several relativist theories
1. Moral judgements are simply universally in error; i.e., contrary to appearances, nothing is good, right, evil, just, etc. These are concepts without any application… 2. Moral ‘judgements’ are not genuine assertions. They don’t actually claim anything about the world. Instead, they are mere expressions of emotion, as “Hurray” is an expression of emotion… 3. “x is good” means “I like x.”… 4. “x is good” means “x is ordained by my society.”… 5. What people do when they make a moral judgement is to project their subjective mental state out into the world. They confuse their emotions with some object in the world and mistakenly take the feeling in them to be some property of the object. This is the most psychologically sophisticated version of relativism. An analogous theory might be held about colors: that when people see one of the objects we call “red,” we have a certain characteristic sensation, which sensation we confuse with some property of the object that causes it and call the property of being red… 6. Morals (in the objective sense) are established by convention; i.e., in the same sense in which a society may establish a convention such that certain kinds of pieces of paper are money, or establish conventions such that certain activities constitute marriage, and so on, just so, a society may establish conventions such that certain things are good. Things become good or bad in virtue of conventions
The consequences of relativism
Since rational judgement presupposes some ground apart from the judgement on which for it to be based, the denial of objectivism implies the intrinsic impossibility of rational moral judgement, since said denial means that moral values cannot have any independent existence apart from the mind
TUTTO NELLA MENTE
Every action and every moral judgement is, if subjectivism is true, arbitrary – that is, groundless – because any ground for some thing must by definition be prior to that thing and, since (a) the notion of a ground or reason is normative (it implies ‘justification’) and further (b) in this case the ground in question has to be the truth of the proposition judged, relativism states that no such things as grounds can exist prior to the making of moral judgements
If your ‘meta-theory’ consists in the denial of the existence of any subject matter for your theory, how can you continue to have a theory?
Arguments for subjectivism
Cultural variance of moral codes
it is pointed out that there is wide variation in moral codes from one society to another and from one time period to another. Even people in the same place and time, as in our society, seem to have great difficulty in agreeing on moral issues
LA CULTURA E’ TUTTO
I think the level of disagreement is exaggerated. I think it would be widely agreed that courage, honesty, and kindness are virtues; that life and happiness are good; &c. The argument basically takes the most extreme and atypical examples to make its point.
it has been argued from time to time that moral relativism presents a simpler picture of the universe than objectivism. Objectivism postulates these entities, objective moral values, that we could explain the world just as easily if not more easily without
SEMPLICITA’ DEL RELATIVISMO
I think this argument is insincere; that is, nobody ever became a relativist because of this. It was invented after the fact to confuse objectivists.
Where does moral knowledge come from?
the relativist asks, by what faculty does one come to know about moral truths? If one cannot explain how one knows about something, then it is not plausible for one to make claims about it. Is there some special faculty comparable to perception?
NON ESISTE FONDAMENTO
The answer is that one figures out prescriptions on the basis of descriptive facts.
DESCRIVERE E’ SUFFICIENTE
you cannot derive most theorems solely on the basis of definitions. You must also have some intuitive judgements, usually made explicit in the form of axioms. Likewise, you cannot derive substantive moral judgements solely on the basis of definitions
ANALOGIA CON LA MATEMATICA E SCOGLIO ESSERE/DOVER ESSERE
moral intuition is just the general faculty of reason applied to a particular subject matter, viz., values, just as mathematical intuition is not a separate quasi-perceptual faculty but rather the faculty of reason applied to numbers.
INTUIZIONISMO: SENSO MORALE
it may be argued that communism is a bad system of government on the basis that it has caused tens of millions of deaths, that it impoverishes the country in which it is adopted, and that it greatly restricts people’s freedom. I think that is a good argument. It certainly is not some kind of simple logical fallacy, as the concept of ‘the naturalistic fallacy’ would presumably imply, since I am deriving a moral judgement from other, non-moral judgements.
ESEMPIO DI GIUDIZIO MORALE DAVANTI ALLO SCOGLIO ESSERE/DOVER ESSERE
The political argument
Perhaps the main motivation for relativism among contemporary intellectuals is the appeal to the virtue of tolerance. In essence, the argument is this: objectivism leads to intolerance because it makes us think that we are right and other people who disagree with us are wrong
RELATIVISMO E TOLLERANZA
The first obvious reply to this political argument is that it is a non sequitur – that is, even if true, all it shows is that it would be advantageous to somehow convince people to believe relativism
ESOTERISMO E RELATIVISMO
since this kind of argument would only move people who believe in the value of toleration anyway, it would seem at least as reasonable to simply postulate tolerance as an objective value, as to postulate general subjectivism, if we are interested in promoting tolerance.
there are both theoretical and empirical grounds for believing that the opposite relation between objectivism and toleration from the one urged would exist – that is to say, it is objectivism that leads to toleration and subjectivism that leads to intolerance – for my view encourages an objective and rational attitude towards public policy and other moral questions (Cf. above, section 3.3), whereas subjectivism naturally tends towards an unreasoned and arbitrary approach
TOLLERANZA CON FONDAMENTO
Several versions of relativism refuted
Value judgements as universally false
This theory is really quite outrageous. It implies, among other things, that it is not the case that people generally ought to eat when hungry; that Hitler was not a bad person… that happiness is not good; and so on…
This discussion makes me feel like G.E. Moore, who refuted skepticism about the existence of external objects by making a certain gesture and observing, “Here is one hand,” and, making another gesture, “and here is another.”
I doubt that anybody actually holds this view
Moral judgements as expressions of sentiment
Sometimes Hume talks as if he thought moral statements were expressions not of judgements but of emotions. On this view, “x is good” is comparable to “Congratulations,” “Hurray,” “Ouch,” and other non-assertive utterances.
LA MORALE E’ UN SENTIMENTO
The making of a normative judgement is experienced as just that – making a judgement: i.e., as a matter of good phenomenology, when one considers a moral issue, it seems clear, one is engaged in that mental process known as judgement; one is not primarily engaged in imagination or memory or perception or feeling
moral judgements can properly be called “true” or “false”. If somebody says something that is not an assertion – such as “Ouch!”, then you cannot ‘disagree’ – that makes no sense
ARGOMENTO DEL VERO E DEL FALSO
it’s pretty obvious that, linguistically, prescriptions take the form of statements, and we all recognize them as such. They use the indicative mood, containing a subject and predicate
normative judgements can stand in logical relations to other propositions. For instance, the statement, “I should return this book to the library” straightforwardly entails the admittedly objective statements… I can return this book to the library.
I borrowed this book from the library.
This book exists.
I have not returned this book to the library.
“x is good” as synonymous with “I like x” – CONFUTAZIONE
It makes sense to say, “I like it, but is it really good?” but it does not make sense to say “I like it, but do I like it?” nor “It’s good, but is it really good?”
“x is good” as a synonym for “x is ordained by my society”
to call something good is to express a value judgement, but to say something is ordained by society is to offer a descriptive judgement of anthropology which could be confirmed or refuted purely by observation. This is another case of the naturalistic fallacy.
Moral judgements as projection – ARGOMENTI A CONFUTAZIONE
it could always be asserted that we are projecting our subjective mental state out into the world, and it would be difficult or impossible to refute the assertion. It could, for example, be claimed that colors don’t really exist and we merely confuse our subjective sensations with external objects. Arguably, Bishop Berkeley proposed this theory for all physical objects.
LA TEORIA DELLA PROIEZIONE NON SEMBRA FUNZIONARE ALTROVE
if this theory is true, then why doesn’t everybody wind up with a moral code that says he may do whatever he feels like and other people may only do things that he likes – or rather, at least, one that picks out the same things as being good as happen to be liked by that individual?
PERCHE’ COSI’ POCO ARBITRIO?
it is usual for a person to have a positive sentiment towards something because he believes it to be right or to have a negative sentiment because he thinks it is wrong. That is the way we normally seem to experience the connection between evaluations and emotions.
LA REALTA’ PRECEDE L’EMOZIONE… DI SOLITO
the acceptance of this theory would presumably cause us to lose the inclination to moralize, for once we see the truth of it, we would see that all moral statements are intrinsically confused and, therefore, false or unintelligible. But I have said above (section 4.1) that the denial of all moral judgements is absurd and that I do not see how any philosophical premises that could be used to justify the theory in question could be more evident than certain value judgements (indeed, more probable than the disjunction of all possible value judgements)
ESTINZIONE DELLA MORALE
Morals as a matter of convention – ARGOMENTI A CONFUTAZIONE
I think it is perfectly possible for morals in the subjective sense to be established by convention.
CONVENZIONI SEMPRE POSSIBILI
Suppose Americans were to decide that the communists were right after all and start electing socialists to government offices. Suppose that we adopt new laws and change the Constitution. The government turns socialist and, of course, becomes repressive, executes dissenters, and starts to drive us into poverty. But most everybody goes along with it. Suppose that there is a general consensus on the desirability of the new form of government. Now what I want to ask about this situation is, would communism be a good form of government, or would it still be bad?
L’ESEMPIO DEL COMUNISMO
a change of how we behave will not make what is wrong cease to be wrong. Therefore, what is wrong cannot be established by convention
IL COMPORTAMENTO CAMBIA LA MORALE?
The argument generalized
ubjectivism must say (1) that moral judgements are not judgements at all and do not have propositional contents (that is, don’t represent genuine claims) or, if they do, (2) what they claim is always false, or, if it is true, (3) it represents something about the subject making the statement rather than the object the statement purports to be about.
I TRE SOGGETTIVISMI AFFRONTATI – RIEPILOGO
recall that I argued that the acceptance of relativism would undermine all morality. Although the apparent undesirability of this consequence does not prove the theory to be false, if our initial, intuitive confidence in our moral theories is greater than the prima facie plausibility of the arguments offered on behalf of relativism, as certainly seems to be the case, then it would be irrational to reject to former in deference to the latter…
NON CONFUTAZIONE MA RESPINGIMENTO