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© Michael Lacewing Metaethics: an overview Michael Lacewing

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1 © Michael Lacewing Metaethics: an overview Michael Lacewing

2 Cognitivism There is moral knowledge. Moral judgments are expressions of belief, and can be true or false. Moral realism: there are moral properties, and moral judgments can ‘fit the facts’. But what kinds of truth are moral truths, and how do we discover them?

3 Naturalistic fallacy G E Moore’s ‘naturalistic fallacy’: moral properties are not natural properties, e.g. goodness is not happiness. Open question argument: –‘Is happiness goodness?’ is open; ‘Is happiness happiness?’ is not. Goodness is a distinct property. Objection: This only shows that the concept ‘goodness’ is not the concept ‘happiness’. –Cp. ‘Is water H2O (in liquid form)?’ is open: ‘Is water water?’ is not. –Two concepts can both refer to one property.

4 Is-ought gap Moore: you cannot deduce a moral value from a natural fact. Hume: a gap between describing and prescribing –‘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’

5 Fact-value distinction According to Moore, there are facts about moral values. But what kinds of ‘facts’ can these be? Aren’t values dependent on valuing? 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.

6 Cognitivism developed But moral reasoning is not silly. Natural facts can be reasons for us to act. Reasons are relational properties. Reasons are readily understandable, e.g. reasons for holding scientific beliefs. –Facts about reasons are normative facts. Cognitivism: There are facts about whether some natural fact is a moral reason.

7 Moral reasoning The judgment ‘X is wrong’ = ‘The moral reasons against doing X outweigh any reasons for doing X.’ It is difficult to establish whether some fact is a moral reason, and how strong it is. When two people disagree morally, they either disagree about natural facts or about normative facts. –At least one is making a mistake.

8 Moral reasoning Moral reasoning is a matter of weighing up what reasons we have to act in particular ways. Moral judgments can’t be deduced from natural facts, but they can be rationally supported by them. Reasons bridge the is-ought gap.

9 Non-cognitivist response Blackburn: our judgments about what reasons we have are a reflection of our attitudes, not a description of independent normative facts. Blackburn and Williams: what is it to judge moral reasons ‘correctly’? –Has someone who judges they have no reason to be moral made a mistake? But then, how is moral reasoning possible?

10 Non-cognitivism developed Charles Stevenson and Simon Blackburn: there is a disagreement in attitude, and attitudes are not held one-by-one. –My attitude of disapproval relates to beliefs about the action (my reasons for disapproving), desires towards it, and to other attitudes of approval and disapproval (similar feelings about similar actions). –Many attitudes can be involved in a single practical ethical issue, e.g. abortion. Blackburn: very few systems of moral attitudes are internally coherent and psychologically possible.

11 Hume’s analogy All human beings have ‘sympathy’. But agreement ≠ truth. –‘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’

12 McDowell’s response There are truths about ‘secondary qualities’ –The colour of an object is the colour it appears to normal perceivers in normal light. –This is no less objective than its size or shape. Values are similarly objective – what is of value merits being valued. It provides an objective reason for us to respond in a particular way.

13 Relativism But there is no universal human set of response. Moral values are relative to cultures. Descriptive v. normative? Is there any objective standard independent of what a culture says is right or wrong? Disagreement is not enough for relativism – some cultures may be wrong.

14 Objections Cultures share many basic values, which stem from human nature. –Differences reflect different conditions of life. –Aristotle’s list of virtues: attempts to deal with common problems Response: there is no one ‘best’ way of living

15 Objections Relativism undermines the authority of morality. –Why obey what is only social convention? Tolerance has its limits. –Relativism does not entail tolerance. If there are no universal moral values, how can we say an intolerant culture is morally wrong?


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