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Moral truth: relational properties Michael Lacewing

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1 Moral truth: relational properties Michael Lacewing

2 The ‘is-ought gap’ (Natural) facts do not entail moral judgments: –Hume: ‘this ought…expresses some new relation [of which it] seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it’. Explanation: morality is not a matter of fact, but of attitude

3 Emotivism and disagreement A J Ayer: when two people disagree over a fact, the matter can be resolved (or at least, we know what would resolve it); when two people disagree over a value judgment, either they disagree over a (natural) fact, or there is no further way to resolve the disagreement. Moral judgments express feelings of approval/disapproval.

4 Moral reasoning But when justifying a moral claim… –E.g. Eating meat is wrong …we appeal to natural facts –E.g. Animals suffer. Moral reason: a reason for someone to do something –E.g. That animals suffer is a reason for you to not eat meat. That some fact is a moral reason is a relational property.

5 Moral truth Whether some fact is a reason is objectively true or false. –Epistemic reasons: Radiometric decay indicates that the some dinosaur bones are 65 million years old. This is (objectively) a reason to believe that dinosaurs lived on Earth 65 million years ago. Facts about reasons are normative facts.

6 Moral truth To say that something is wrong is to say that the moral reasons against doing it are stronger than any moral reason in favour of doing it. The judgment, ‘x is wrong’, is objectively true or false. Hume is right that natural facts do not establish moral truths. We must also consider the normative facts.

7 Are moral reasons objective? How can something that is relational be objective? –Many facts depend on us and how we are, e.g. whether a piece of music is baroque or classical. –Aristotle: There are also facts about what we need in order to flourish. But moral reasons are relative to individuals – whether the fact that animals suffer is a reason for me not to eat meat depends on whether I care

8 Two views of attitudes Blackburn: our judgments about what reasons we have are a reflection of our attitudes, not a description of independent normative facts. Scanlon: our attitudes are reflections of our judgments about reasons, they are ‘judgment-sensitive’.

9 Primary and secondary qualities Primary qualities: properties of an object that are not related by definition to perceivers, e.g. size, mass, and shape (scientific account of the world) Secondary qualities: properties that are related to perceivers, e.g. colour and smell (commonsense account) Hume: secondary qualities are ‘mind- dependent’

10 The analogy with secondary qualities Hume: ‘when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that… you have a feeling… of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compar’d to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which… are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind’ Moral judgments (and talk about moral reasons) are, ultimately, expressions of our feelings and what we care about

11 A cognitivist response McDowell: secondary qualities are properties of the object that enable it to cause certain experiences in us. –Colour is relational, but objective: To be brown is to look brown to normal perceivers under normal conditions. Moral judgments are relative to human responses, but are not subjective.


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