Academic Philosophy can be a breeding ground for people with nonsense ideas. Hell, where else are they going go? If you know of other departments that produce as much nonsense in terms of quality and quantity, let me know! With that being said, let’s get into a branch of philosophy known as ethics.
One idea that gets under my skin is ‘objective morality’. My frustration is primarily due to the fact that the term is vague and can be interpreted in at least 20 different ways. Ethicists sometimes define objective morality in terms of tying it to moral realism. What is moral realism? And are there multiple definitions of moral realism? Good questions.
Yes, there are multiple definitions of moral realism. One definition affirms that moral claims are capable of being true in a mind-independent way, and in fact some moral claims are actually true in a mind-independent way; this is merely a semantic thesis, whereas many moral realists want to add on to the semantic thesis. Many moral realists want to add a metaphysical thesis, which is the further idea that moral claims are true in virtue of corresponding to some mind-independent object or thing.
The metaphysics thesis endorsed by moral realists strikes me as non-parsimonious and bizarre. I don’t see any reason as to why we need to posit a grand metaphysical object for things like mathematics/numbers. So why would we need to do that with morality? Not only do I not see a reason to posit morality and numbers as mind-independent facts, but I most definitely do not see a good reason to think that they correspond to some grand metaphysical object-whether that object correspond to God, a platonic object, Spock, etc. What predictions does moral realism make that allows me to go out and test/confirm moral realism as being true? And what difference would it make to my life and my preferences (and our lives and our preferences) if moral realism were true?
If I’m going to accept that there are moral facts, and if I am going to accept that there are mind-independent moral facts, and if I’m going to accept that mind-independent moral facts are ontologically ‘robust’, then I’m going to need to hear some serious arguments. Though, it’s important to note that we can still have a high view of morality, even if our meta-ethical view of morality isn’t comforting at an ultimate level. For example, a utilitarian could still think it’s morally wrong to kill 8 billion people in order to save one person, but that’s still the case whether or not moral realism (in any sense) is true.
4 thoughts on “Crank Ethicists”
You mean, as a thinking person … they seem not to be. Morals exist only in our minds, so how the heck could they be min independent. This is bizarre. The only way I would accept such a thing was as part of a gedanken experiment. Suppose such a condition and see what the consequences are. Apparently the consequences are publishable papers.
Peer review only works when the peers are not also in the business of publishing nonsense papers, because then it becomes a game of “I won’t criticize your ideas if you don’t criticize mine.” The problem in philosophy is there is no outside arbitrator of ideas as there is in the natural sciences. Interestingly “natural philosophy” was where science started but then it broke off and is no longer considered as a branch of philosophy any more. (Philosophers even caved to the point of creating a branch called “philosophy of science.”)
I am a philosophy buff (minored in it in college) but also a scientists. I can’t imagine what science would be like if nature didn’t bitch-slap most of our ideas clean out of our heads. I guess it would be like philosophy is now.
“For example, a utilitarian could still think it’s morally wrong to kill 8 billion people in order to save one person, but that’s still the case whether or not moral realism (in any sense) is true.”
Your dismissal of moral realism (and of moral facts) strikes me as too fast. In the above quote, you claim that a utilitarian can believe the claim,
(E) it is morally wrong to kill 8 billion people in order to save one person.
But to believe a claim is just to believe that the claim is true. Thus, any person who believes (E) will believe that (E) is true. But if we think that (E) is true, we will want to know what the truth-maker of (E) is. That is, what is it that makes (E) true? One intuitive response to questions about truth-makers is to say that statements are made true by the facts. Well, if that general picture is correct, and (E) is true, then (E) has a fact that is its truth-maker. But now we have a reason to accept the existence of moral facts.
Perhaps there is something wrong with the above reasoning, but if so, you have not yet identified it.
I’m a moral realist, but I appreciate your post. 🙂
I agree that moral realists have a burden of proof.
Are you familiar with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism at all?