...turn, turn, turn. Tell us the lesson that we should learn.
So I gather a lot of you are wondering about where we get our morals and stuff, right?
I was looking at a couple other threads, and let's just say I was a bit disappointed.
Does anyone here even know what philosophy is? Seriously now... I can't believe what passes for good arguments here.
I am going to present a story. As far as I know, it is the work of Stephen Law. Before you read this, you must realize that I am independent of any theories presented and will try to be as objective as possible.
How do we detect wrongness?
Let's take a closer look at the view that moral value is objective, that it's 'out there' independently of us. This position is known as moral realism. As we're about to discover, moral realism faces a notorious difficulty: it seems to make knowledge of right and wrong impossible. This is because it appears unable to explain how we detect these moral properties. To see why, consider the following story.
One morning, while Virtue is hanging out the washing, an alien spacecraft lands in her back garden. The alien crew suggests that she takes a flight with them over the city. Virtue accepts their offer, and they are soon swooping above the rooftops. The aliens render their spacecraft invisible so that they don't disturb anyone in the streets below.
Then, as they pass low over a dark alley, Virtue spots a young man trying to steal a woman's purse. She points this out to the aliens. 'Look!' she says. 'We should help that woman. What that man is doing is wrong!'
The aliens are mystified.
'Ah. Wrong. We find your earthling talk of things being morally "wrong" deeply baffling. Most of your language we understand. But this property wrongness remains a mystery to us. We can find no trace of it. We want a complete theory of the universe. We don't want to miss anything out. Please point out the wrongness to us.'
Virtue is confused. She points out of the window and says: 'But can't you just see that what that man is doing is wrong?'
The aliens peer intently out of the window. Then they look back at Virtue.
'No, we can't. In fact, we find your talk of "seeing wrongness" very odd. We have five senses just like yours: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. But we can't find this property you call wrongness. Where is it? By which of your five senses do you detect it? You say you can see it?'
Virtue begins to understand why the aliens are confused. After all, it seems that our five human senses provide our only window on to the world around us. So if wrongness is an objective property - if it's part of the world 'out there' - then how do we get to know about it? How do we detect wrongness?
Virtue thinks she's spotted the confusion.
Inferring that Something Is Wrong
'Ah. I see your problem,' says Virtue. 'Wrongness isn't a property that you can directly observe, as you can, say, roundness. But that doesn't mean that there's a problem about establishing its existence. After all, the same is true of magnetism, isn't it? We can't see, hear, taste, touch or smell magnetism, can we?
'Yet we still know that magnetism is out there, don't we? For we can legitimately infer the existence of magnetism from what we can directly observe: the effect it has on iron fillings, for example.'
The aliens seem to be catching on. 'So you infer the wrongness of stealing from those features of stealing that you can observe?'
Is and Ought
To Virtue's surprise, the aliens remain baffled.
'You're mistaken. The inference you say you make cannot legitimately be made.'
'Why not?' asks Virtue.
'To say that something is wrong is to say we ought not to do it. Correct?'
Virtue nods in agreement.
'Well, the facts about what we ought or ought not to do are an entirely different sort of fact to the facts about what is the case.'
Virtue is confused. 'I'm not sure I follow.'
'Well, to say that something ought not to happen is not to say anything about what is happening. To say that this man ought not to steal that purse is not yet to say that he is or isn't stealing it, is it?'
Virtue has to agree.
'Conversely, to say that something is the case is not yet to say that it ought or ought not to happen.'
Virtue is not so sure. But what about the "is" fact that stealing causes suffering and makes people unhappy? Doesn't that immediately provide us with a rational case for not doing it?'
The aliens shake their green heads. 'No, it doesn't. Look, suppose someone delights in causing suffering and steals to make others unhappy. They actually think that it's something they ought to do. It won't do you one jot of good to point out to this person that stealing causes suffering and unhappiness. They will happily agree with you about that. They just disagree with you about whether stealing is something they ought to go in for.'
The aliens continue. 'Now there's nothing remotely irrational about this cruel person's position, is there? You might think it immoral. But there's nothing you can point to by way of "is" facts that supports your contention that causing suffering is not something one ought to do over this person's contention that it is something one ought to do. You can't, simply by pointing to the "is" facts, provide any grounds for supposing that you're correct and they're mistaken.'
'So you see? You cannot directly observe wrongness, as you can, say, redness.'
'I already agreed to that.' replies Virtue.
'But neither can you infer the wrongness of stealing from what you can directly observe.'
Again, Virtue has to agree. 'I guess you are right. That would require that I infer an "ought" from an "is", and that cannot legitimately be done.'
'Correct.' say the aliens. 'As you just admitted, the "is" facts are morally neutral.'
Virtue looks puzzled.
'I have to admit, that is a bit of mystery.' she says.
'You don't say.' reply the aliens, somewhat peevishly.
The aliens sum up their bewilderment about this property - wrongness - that Virtue thinks is out there on the other side of the glass. 'But then how do you establish the existence of this strange property? You can't directly see it, smell it, touch it, taste it or hear it. But neither can you infer its presence from what you can observe as you can, say, magnetism. Yet you say you know it's there?'
The aliens look out of the window and raise their eyebrows. 'So how do you earthlings detect this "wrongness"? If it really is out there, please point it out to us.'
Virtue scratches her heads and peers intently at the man still struggling to take the woman's purse. 'To be honest, I don't know. I feel sure it's out there. I feel sure that what that man is doing has the property of being wrong. But I just don't know how I detect this property.'
The aliens appear to be right: we can't directly observe wrongness. But neither can we legitimately infer its presence from what we can observe. So if the property for which the aliens are looking really is 'out there' on the other side of the glass porthole, how does Virtue detect it?
“Take any action allowed to be vicious: Wilful murder, for instance. Examine it in all its lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice… You can never find it, till you turn your reflexion to your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you towards this action.” David Hume (1711-76)
Subjectivism: To say something is wrong is to claim that you personally disapprove of it. Similarly, to claim something is right is to claim that you approve.
Intersubjecivism: To say something is wrong is to claim that your community disapproves of it. Similarly, to claim something is right is to claim that your community approves.
Emotivism: To say something is wrong is not a claim at all. Rather, it is to express disapproval of it. Similarly, to say that something is right is to express approval. Suppose I go to a football match. My team, Charleton, scores, so I say ‘hoorah for Charleton’. Do I make a claim when I say this? No, my statement involves no claim. It is neither true nor false. Notice that I’m not even making a claim about how I feel. Rather, I am expressing how I feel. To say ‘killing is wrong’ is to, in effect, say ‘boo to killing’. So ‘killing is wrong’ is neither true nor false. But then, no fact is required to make ‘killing is wrong’ true.
None of these solve the problem of how we define moral values. They are simple subjective views on it. It’s what we feel, regardless of rationality.
This is intended primarily for atheistic individuals, but there is something for everyone to gain.
Tell me what you think, leave a rec, whatever.