Elsewhere on the web: metaethics done by a bunch of senior professors… and Paul. In other news, world ends.

Somehow, I got tapped along with a bunch of far more important people to comment on Brian Leiter’s essay for a National Humanities Center cyberspace project, a Nietzschean argument from the fact of deep theoretical disagreement among philosophers about morality to the nonexistence of moral facts. As we all know, I’m not in the least bit afraid of opening my mouth even when I’m the least competent person in the room, ergo I rose to the challenge, with a little help from Plato.


8 Responses to “Elsewhere on the web: metaethics done by a bunch of senior professors… and Paul. In other news, world ends.”

  1. Justin Martyr Says:

    Hiya Paul,

    Do you have any evidence for this platonic world of objective moral facts? If not, then what epistemology do you defend that allows this belief without evidence? (just guessing, the coherence theory) As a Christian I defend faith without evidence on the grounds that a loving and personal God would design us to know Him and that he would reveal Himself to us. But surely this platonic realm does not do something analogous? I am always bemused by the contortions that atheists go through to criticize the rational grounds for faith while defending moral beliefs.

    On a more pragmatic note:
    my opinion about abortion will depend on whether I can imagine myself with an unwanted child.

    What about imagining yourself as the unwanted child? I’ve noticed that everyone who is pro-choice has already been born.

  2. Justin Martyr Says:

    Ok, I am feeling very convicted. The fact of the matter is that atheists do have a knock-down argument for moral realism but cognitive dissonance has prevented me from truly accepting it. The mist is fading so here it is:

    The logician Harry Gensler has a proof in formal logic that the denial of the Golden Rule leads to a logical contradiction. RAA proof of the Golden Rule.

    See Introduction to Logic by Harry Gensler. He has the proof towards the end.

    I’m not sure that it gets you towards objective ethics since everyone’s moral imagination is different. But possibly an Ideal Observer could do it (certainly, on Christianity I hold that God has done it, but I’m not sure that atheists have a similar move that allows them to reach that point). But it certainly means that atheists have a means to honestly seek to do good.

  3. ben Says:

    Followed up by Gil Harman. Nicely done.

  4. Justin Martyr Says:

    Belay the above post. I didn’t look at the proof closely enough. One of the inferences rules relies on a contingent assumption (the impartiality of ethical judgments). Still, between that and the Ideal Observer, atheists actually have two attempts at objective ethics that have come tantalizingly close to success.

  5. Alexa Says:

    I added your blog to bookmarks. And i’ll read your articles more often!

  6. jane Says:

    okay, granted, i am not overly familiar with all the arguments, sur-arguments, and sur-sur-arguments that have been put forth by professional philosophers, but i must ask–what the hell is it supposed to actually _mean_ for a moral fact to exist? is there supposed to be karma? am i going to hell if i push my mother down a flight of stairs? if something is a physical, objective fact, then i expect to see some sort of observable physical consequence attributable to said fact. some people feel guilty about some moral violations, and some people feel guilty about other moral violations. such differences are attributable to other amoral facts (the environment you were nurtured in as a child, railroad spikes, lead in the walls, so on and so forth). i can’t observe anyone going to hell, nor any karmic payback. that doesn’t mean such objective moral consequences don’t exist, of course, but seeing as how i can’t observe them, i might as well say they don’t exist.

    also, this isn’t a really good metaphysical argument, but considering that evolution can favor social creatures that treat each other fairly, i’m heavily, heavily inclined towards what that dude you’re responding to called ‘moral skepticism.’ i’m convinced morality exists only in the same way colors do. kill every human being alive, and neither morality nor colors would exist. they’re both useful constructs for our species’ survival, and have no objective, separate existence from us in the way that the laws of physics do.

  7. jane Says:

    so, i finished reading brian’s piece. in essence, the argument under consideration seems to be, “moral philosophers are smart people, they’ve been disagreeing a long time, but since they are smart people, it must mean that there is no objective measuring stick available to resolve their disagreement.”

    i sort of agree with the argument, but it’s not terribly interesting to me because:
    1. his argument that because a class of people is well-educated and wealthy, they are _not_ prone to systematic irrationality, sounds annoyingly self-congratulatory and implausible to me.
    2. there are plenty of objective issues that many smart people disagree on. e.g. string theory right now. not that i believe in moral facts, but it is conceivable that we simply need better methods of moral experimentation that simply haven’t been invented yet. i imagine a lot of contention among physicists was squashed by the invention of the particle accelerator.

  8. ben Says:

    If that’s right about Leiter’s argument, it scotches pretty much all of philosophy, doesn’t it?

    And yet it’s not really true about ethics, since there are paradigmatic wrong and right actions about which people (aside admittedly from Thrasymachus-types) basically agree.

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