This is honoring a request. I introduced myself, and suddenly there was a long thread on ethics.
Here is the outline of a case for moral realism, lifted bodily from the thread ‘Interested Philosopher’. Pardon the outline format and the rather intense abbreviation; changing both would only make the post even longer. Nothing here is excitingly new, but then ‘new and improved’ is for cereals and mini-vans, not necessarily arguments.
There’s another case to be made by taking apart Hume’s argument - his arg makes moral facts irrelevant, it is not a direct attack on their existence. But that’s not in this post. I won’t spend time altering some of the unclear parts, and the abbreviations are pretty obvious in context.
B. Generic arguments mostly con about moral facts (pp118-):
1. The ‘queerness’ of morals as facts:
a. The items and actions in a torture-chamber – unquestionably ‘facts’;
b. vs the wrongness of the actions – a rather different kind of fact:
i. it’s not a thing, it’s not quite measurable
(how heavy is wrong?
Does it make sense to ‘count’ the wrongs in the torture-chamber?)
ii. This is the bad consequence of accepting the idea
that ‘oughts’ cannot be turned into merely a set of ‘izzes’
– See ch IV, pp103ff, ‘The Naturalistic Fallacy’
w/ the args of Hume (18th c.) & G.E. Moore (19/20th c.)
- those args show that moral ‘oughts’ are independent of other facts;
- they are not the usual kind of facts.
- now in V we are asking if that independence rather
prevents them from being really a kind of fact at all.
2. Informal evidence for moral facts:
a. Arg. 1:
i. Morals do seem to be discoverable,
and beliefs about them seem stable, once discovered;
ii. Other fields where things are discoverable and stable
have facts to be discovered, & facts to stabilize beliefs about them;
iii. Therefore, morality is also rests upon a base of facts.
b. Arg. 2:
i. Judging things as good, better than, best of
implies a standard – some facts – by which one can evaluate the things.
ii. We also make reasonable-seeming judgments about morals;
iii. So, there are moral facts, that make such judgments intelligible.
3. Arguments against moral facts:
a. 1st, recall the ‘queerness’ of morals if you think of them as facts, from 1. above.
One way to support moral facts is to claim one can observe morals
–with a non-physical, non-sensed moral intuition.
b. Con Arg. 1:
i. We cannot, and never have, observed such a ‘power’ or ‘faculty’,
Altho’ we can observe our sense-faculties: eyes to see, our ears to hear etc.
ii. So the only way we ‘know’ we have a faculty of moral intuition
is by pro Arg.1 – but there’s no way to independently confirm
the existence of that power apart from that little argument.
iii. possible Reply:
Well, fine, we cannot independently confirm it
But all that means is that
pro Arg.1 is ‘demoted’ from a certain arg. to a probable or likely arg.
Specifically, it’s an arg by analogy.
Another arg by analogy:
I have toothaches, and make certain sounds and motions;
I observe someone doing the exact same sounds and motions;
It’s probable or likely that that someone’s got a toothache –
- but, I can’t independently confirm that, either.
(he might lie, he’s across the hall & I can’t talk to him, etc.)
c. Con Arg. 2:
i. There are many other ways to describe why we moralize
than by claiming there are moral facts;
ii. And given con arg.1, we have no independent evidence they exist:
iii. Therefore, to claim ‘Morals are facts’
is superfluous, extra, and a bit of a bad fix – it’s ad hoc.
(Latin, ‘just for this’ – it was made up just to prove your point,
not b/c it’s reasonable, or the most likely expln)
iv. Possible Reply:
So what if it seems like positing ghosts?
As we shall see later in the chapter, all the other, non-realist theories
have massive problems of their own.
So, the non-realist really has given us a diff kind of problem:
Wh. is worse?
Entities that we have trouble confirming independently?
Or theories with massive metaphysical or logical problems?
Most ordinary people, it seems, allow for unseeable entities;
so moral facts are still plausible, if not yet proven likely.
‘We can’t see moral facts’
begs the question
‘Can we observe them?’
It doesn’t seem weird to just know something’s going wrong
when we look at a torture
(Ex: I’ve never seen a torture before,
yet I’m sure I’d know it’s wrong the minute I saw it taking place)
d. Con Arg. 3:
This will sound like con arg 1, but it’s concentrating
not on (failing to) observe this mysterious ‘power of moral intuition’
But on what would the independent evidence look like
to distinguish fact-based belief from fictional, mere belief?
i. OK, assume there’s this wonderful moral intuition – how could it work?
ii. We cannot observe any moral facts, different from other facts;
iii. And when we do change our minds about some moral belief,
often it’s b/c of some mere fact
(ex: realizing a living man is being hanged, rather than ‘only a thief’
iv. So therefore, just drop the idea of ‘separate’ moral facts.
v. Possible Reply:
This con arg continues to assume that non-physical intuition is absurd;
Well, many, many people do suggest they can observe (im)moral acts,
although that doesn’t prove decisively that there are facts,
It makes moral facts as likely as that we have ‘minds’ and that we’re ‘conscious’ and that 2+2=4 independently of physical things.
Is the moral non-realist just attacking every non-physical object?
That’s not strictly a moral theory position – that’s a metaphysical assumption – and a diff subject – it seems we can talk about moral facts (or not)
w/o having to know if
physicalism, or monistic materialism,
or philosophical naturalism is true.
e. Con Arg. 4:
i. While con arg. 2 complained that positing moral facts seems weird,
this arg says it isn’t needed – it isn’t necessary,
ii. After all, there are other ways to explain your actions.
(Ex: I think Hitler was depraved – but b/c I was brought up to believe it;
I don’t need to posit a moral fact about his depravity.)
iii. Possible Reply:
‘Need’ is a funny term here –
I’m looking for what is so, not for how ‘thin’ my metaphysics can be constructed.
I wasn’t saying that one ‘needs’ morals
because no other explanation might explain actions,
Rather, I was looking for the true explanation,
not the ‘thinnest’ or ‘least metaphysically heavy’
or ‘least committed’ explanation.
That suggests searching for the truth is like
conserving water and food in the desert.
Requiring ‘simplest’ or ‘thinnest’ or ‘metaphysically lightest’ theories
is an absurd requirement.
NB: Your instructor really has a grudge against ‘Ockham’s Razor’
(We shall not study this new twist on reducing moral ‘oughts’ to ‘izzes’. In your instructor’s opinion, none of the arguments about supervenience do much more than tell us about a ‘necessary condition’ for acting morally, which is accepted by many moral realists. Like this analogy: yes, containers are necessary for coffee-drinking, but coffee does not ‘supervene’ on coffee-cups. In fact it’s the other way around; we want coffee, and that requires getting a cup. Coffee isn’t *derived* from cups, even tho’ the coffee must ‘come from’ some cup or other; neither are morals ‘derived’ from scientific facts. Maybe next semester we’ll argue this in detail.)