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Ethical Theory Is Ethics Objective or Subjective?.

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Presentation on theme: "Ethical Theory Is Ethics Objective or Subjective?."— Presentation transcript:

1 Ethical Theory Is Ethics Objective or Subjective?

2 Fact and Value Facts are (mostly) empirical; values are not.  “empirical” = relying on or derived from observation or experience (American Heritage Dictionary, 3 rd Ed) You cannot logically derive an “ought” from an “is” – or a value from an empirical fact

3 “Is” and “Ought” Empirical Reality: Descriptive Claim: This artifact has the overall shape of an elongated triangle Prescriptive (Normative) Claim: The Eiffel Tower is the most beautiful structure in Europe, and every effort should be made to preserve it.

4 “Is” and “Ought” Empirical Reality: Abortion Descriptive Claim: This is the termination of a pregnancy prior to term Prescriptive (Normative) Claim: This is murder (that is, the unjustified killing of an innocent human being).

5 Fact and Value Again The natural world, as accessed through experiment and observation, is aesthetically and morally neutral. The world of value seems to exist in our relation to the natural world, or in what we find worthy of valuing  That which is beautiful  That which makes life worth living  That which seems “right” or “wrong”

6 So Why Think Ethical Values are Objective? Intuitive reasons  Some actions just seem wrong no matter what Public rape of a woman in the name of justice Stoning of a woman for having “out of wedlock” sex  Logical reasons  Difference does not entail that no one is right (someone could simply be mistaken)  We do reason about our ethical decisions

7 The Metaphysical Status of Values Still, it seems that values are “in here” and not “out there” Our questions then:  Can ethical values/principles be objective, without being empirical?  If possible, is ethical objectivism compatible with mutual respect and tolerance of the differing views of others?

8 A Hypothetical Moral Dilemma You have told a dying friend, in private, that you will see that her bequest will be given to her nephew You discover that this nephew is wasting away his life with drugs and gambling You discover that a local hospital is sponsoring research that will cure a serious and widespread childhood disease. What do you do?

9 Ethical Objectivism Defense and Critique

10 Arguments for Objectivism Reasoning in support of values or principles can have objective weight  Example: If human nature includes reason and some degree of liberty, then respect for individual autonomy is a value that promotes the flourishing of human nature  Example: If humans recoil from cruel behavior, then prohibitions against untoward suffering support our natural inclinations

11 Arguments for Objectivism - 2 Fundamental values or principles are widely if not universally shared Basic principles can be differently implemented in different contexts or cultures Ethical decisions are reasoned decisions

12 Facts and Objectivity Factual/Objective issues are those which can be decided by reference to accepted methods of investigation or accepted practices  Mathematical facts  Theoretical entities (gravity, atoms, etc) Objective issues are those which can be decided by considerations beyond personal emotion or prejudice

13 Arguments against Ethical Objectivism There are no genuinely self-evident ethical truths The multiple facts of cultural or individual disagreement provides empirical evidence for ethical relativism (inductive argument)

14 Ethical Subjectivism Why Be a Relativist?

15 Logically Poor Reasons Everybody else is a relativist  This is one version of the claim that we should be tolerant of other’s views  Everybody has different ethical views  A factual claim; you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”

16 Empirical Reasons Cultural Values/Ways of Life are different There is a clear connection between individual preferences and cultural/social contexts Because values are non-empirical, they cannot be subject to empirical verification

17 Arguments against Relativism The Cultural Connection  The fact of difference does not justify difference  Intra-cultural debate suggests a non-cultural origin of ethics/morals The Metaphysical Connection  With no morals, everything is permitted (Dostoevsky)  Relativism is self-refuting: no claim – even the relativist claim – is universally applicable

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