Saturday, November 27, 2010

What Is Morality, Anyway? (Pt. 2)

...Part 1

Last time I discussed whether moral judgments include truth claims and, if so, how these could be claims strictly about the attitudes of individuals or groups. Now I'd like to explore ways judgments could make claims about more than attitudes.

What makes a moral judgment true? Answer #2: Brute moral facts.

What makes it true that '1 + 1 = 2'? It's not my own or anyone else's attitude that '1 + 1 = 2'. According to Theists, what makes it true that God exists? Nothing! Both are examples of brute facts. They're true in a "they just are" way, and any further attempt to explain how they're true isn't going to find some underlying, other kind of fact that makes them true. Perhaps basic moral truths work the same way and we grasp them as clearly as we understand that '1 + 1 = 2'. The view that true moral judgments are not based on any other kinds of facts — including facts about the natural world accessible to science — is called non-naturalism. It is also a very strong version of moral realism because moral facts would still exist even if there were no minds in existence at all.

What makes a moral judgment true? Answer #3: Underlying "natural" facts.

You may have already guessed this view is called moral naturalism. The idea is that there are underlying, other kinds of facts which make moral judgments true.1 Does this mean we could do away with moral language entirely and stick to making truth claims about these underlying facts (whatever they are)? Maybe not. For one thing, moral language serves a social function beyond the truth claim component. But even if we limit the question strictly to the truth claim, it's worth noticing the debate about emergent properties in Physics; it may be that even when we can describe a thing in terms of lower level components, we lose something significant by doing so. The whole may be more than the sum of its parts...or at least it's useful to talk about the whole in daily conversation.

Naturalism can be another form of moral realism (depending on how moral realism is defined). The truth of moral judgments don't change just because attitudes change. Given a particular understanding of which non-moral facts underlie moral truth claims, it's often possible — at least in theory — for scientific investigation to improve our moral knowledge. However, the selection of which natural facts we humans have linked up to moral language may be a matter of convention, not something that was true about the world before we discovered it.

What makes a moral judgment true? Answer #4: No moral judgments are true.

This is not really a separate answer. An error theory is what results when a person accepts another answer about what makes moral judgments true, but also believes these truth conditions are never met. Examples of error theories:
  • Person A accepts divine subjectivism, but is an atheist.
  • Person B accepts cultural subjectivism, but considers culture to be an incoherent concept.
  • Person C accepts non-naturalism, but thinks a realm of moral facts independent of actual people's concerns is absurd.
The usual way out of error theory is to change to a metaethical view in which moral judgments have obtainable truth conditions. However, some people don't consider such views to represent genuine morality. This can result in someone denying moral language while affirming what substantially amounts to a view other folks do label "morality."

...Part 3
...Part 4

1. Technically, attitudes could fit in this category, but they are conventionally excluded. Other mental facts — such as the experience of pain — can count. Supernatural facts can also count. Who promised philosophical terms would make sense?

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