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Starting with naturalism

Steve Murphy

on 4 May 2016

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Transcript of Meta-Ethics

Is "good" really what is desired?
Closed questions:
Does a triangle have three sides?
Are sisters female?

Open questions:
What are we having for dinner?
Who shot JFK?
A question where the answer is not immediately obvious.
fig. 1
If facts cannot determine values then it should be possible to value anything.
What is the "is-ought gap"?
3. Therefore "good" is not identical with what is in line with our distinctively human capacities.
1. If good is what is in line with our distinctively human capacities it is meaningless to ask "is this distinctively human activity good?"
What is an "open question"?
“Desirable” can mean two things: worthy of being desired, and what is actually desired.
Mill ignores that not everything that is in fact desired is worthy of being desired.
Virtue Ethics
Naturalism - Good is based on natural facts
What further problems are there with moral realism/cognitivism?
2. It is not meaningless to ask "is this distinctively human activity good"? e.g. creating a nuclear war.
Mind the gap!
Arguing from statements of facts to judgements of value is a logical fallacy as they are entirely different things.
Because morals cannot be reduced to statements about facts, they must be treated independently.
(More technically, valid evaluative arguments presuppose evaluative premises.)
Bridging the is-ought gap
However, this is nonsense. We cannot value just anything. "Good" is limited to those things which promote human wellbeing.
Searle believes that you can move from facts to values by considering the case of promises. Consider:
Premise: You promised to pay back that £5
Conclusion: So, you ought to pay it back.
The premise states a fact, but the conclusion is a value judgement. The fact of the institution of promise keeping has implications for how we ought to act.
“Good” refers to emotions or preferences that originate in us, not some fact about the world.
In other words, you can't get an "ought" statement from an "is" one.
Virtues refer to dispositions we can observe which are linked to fulfilling our function as rational creatures.
This is linked to objective human capacities, which are a matter of fact not opinion.
Therefore, the talented but idle slob REALLY lives a worse life than the diligent, generous person.
Facts don't motivate
Moral dispute is not settled by the facts
Occam's Razor
What is a moral fact?
Objections to Moral Realism
There is no object we can point to in the world to denote the "rightness" of an action.
Moore says good is similar to yellow, but I cannot point to any agreed object to say "look, that is what I mean by good" so this doesn't explain anything.
Two people may agree on the facts of a particular ethical case, but still take different sides.
Usually a fact, in and of itself, doesn’t lead to action, I need to care about the fact, and then the motivating force comes from the caring.
Moral judgments express what we care about, not facts.
Objective moral facts are not necessary to a coherent theory of ethics. Meta-ethical theories such as emotivism can account for morality without moral values being interpreted as objective entities.
Ethical disagreements between cultures are disagreements over which social world is better.
But the only resources we have with which to judge are the ethical resources developed within a particular social world.
Therefore the truth or falsity of moral judgments is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions/practices of a culture.
Against Relativism
Nussbaum includes life, health, affiliation and control over one’s environment among things that all individuals need in order to flourish.
This constitutes a “bare minimum of what respect for human dignity requires”, is free of cultural bias and so acts as the basis for objective moral value.
"There are a set of basic human capabilities so there are universal values” does not follow as it still involves the leap from facts to values.
However it's not clear where local custom can override universal rights.
E.g. Nussbaum allows for Germany to restrict free speech given their history of Nazism.
Further Objection
•Moral statements express emotions, rather than describe anything in the world, even how we feel.
•Saying “You were wrong to steal" is just an expression of a negative emotion, like frowning when we are upset.
Emotivism denies a rational basis for moral argument.
Extension -
If we are merely expressing feelings there is no chance of progress in the discussion.
E.g. if we feel strongly about preventing suffering + can show that foetuses feel pain after 24 weeks we could agree abortion after this time is wrong.
In reply the emotivist could appeal to shared feelings in relation to certain facts.
Further on Stevenson - the facts used to appeal to feelings have to be relevant and reasonable.
E.g. I can't just appeal to your hatred of Jews to convince you that immigration is wrong.
But could I call ALL of these moral if I chose to?
Being nice to mum
Clapping my hands every 30 minutes
Dressing as a badger
Shooting pigeons
Helping the needy
Against Relativism
A universal moral norm is one that no one could reasonably reject.
A moral community is one where we owe each other justification for our shared practices and values.
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