INFORMATION

This website uses cookies to store information on your computer. Some of these cookies are essential to make our site work and others help us to improve by giving us some insight into how the site is being used. For further information, see our Privacy Policy. Continuing to use this website is acceptance of these cookies.

What is right and what is wrong?

Enter here to explore ethical issues and discuss the meaning and source of morality.
Message
Author
User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#41 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » May 24th, 2012, 1:19 pm

Latest post of the previous page:

animist wrote:what you [thundril] say is not what I call ethical relativism, and I am not sure that what Emma talks about is ethical relativism either - yet I think both of you have called yourselves ethical relativists, so I am a bit confused
I don't normally call myself an ethical or moral relativist, because the term is so loaded and tends to be used pejoratively. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it, "Moral relativism has the unusual distinction—both within philosophy and outside it—of being attributed to others, almost always as a criticism, far more often than it is explicitly professed by anyone." I am not yet sure how well I fit with the various definitions of moral relativism given by the SEP. I shall have to read the article thoroughly, along with the one on moral skepticism, and perhaps some articles on a few other alternative positions, to work that out.

But at first glance, while not fitting the SEP's definition of metaethical moral relativism perfectly, I can make it fit me by tweaking it a little. I believe that the truth or falsity of moral judgements is not absolute or universal, but is relative to various things, including the traditions, convictions, practices, circumstances, knowledge and abilities of an individual or group. I do think it is reasonable to be tolerant, up to a point, of the different moral judgements of other people. But it is also important, on the basis of my own moral judgements, to help those who suffer as a consequence of those different moral judgements. It can be a bit tricky sometimes to reconcile these two approaches!

Although I value diversity, and the ability of an individual to reach his or her own moral conclusions, at the same time, for pragmatic reasons, I also think it is desirable for human beings to achieve higher levels of agreement on moral judgements [---][/---] not superficial moral uniformity, but a greater degree of agreement between genuinely held individual moral beliefs and conclusions. I wonder whether it might, one day, be feasible to find some basic moral tools that we can all, or nearly all, agree on. Without relying on some kind of moral arbiter, real or imaginary, and without getting into the complexities of high-level moral philosophy, might it be possible, on the basis of our shared humanity, those near-universal characteristics that we do seem to have, to find ways of making moral judgements that don't depend to such a great extent on things like traditions and customs?

It might appear from this that I'm a descriptive moral relativist but a normative moral absolutist, but I'm not. I still believe that the truth or falsity of moral judgements is not absolute or universal, but I think that the things that they're relative to can be more widely shared and closer to universal than they are currently. And I suppose my confidence in humankind is such that I think that development would be a good thing. I guess that's what makes me a humanist.

Emma

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#42 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » May 24th, 2012, 3:41 pm

thundril wrote:
animist wrote: I agree with a lot of this, and the word "absolute" should be banned - absolutely - from ethics :laughter: . But what you say is not what I call ethical relativism, and I am not sure that what Emma talks about is ethical relativism either - yet I think both of you have called yourselves ethical relativists, so I am a bit confused
Er, because I'm not an ethical absolutist?
What else can relativism be different from?
Perhaps some kind of third way? See, for example, Massimo Pigliucci's "'third way' between moral relativism and objective moral truths". But I think Pigliucci's moral relativism is too narrow, and his horribly named "moral reasonism" is not inconsistent with a form of what I would call moral relativism.

Emma

User avatar
animist
Posts: 6522
Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#43 Post by animist » May 24th, 2012, 8:30 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
thundril wrote:
animist wrote: I agree with a lot of this, and the word "absolute" should be banned - absolutely - from ethics :laughter: . But what you say is not what I call ethical relativism, and I am not sure that what Emma talks about is ethical relativism either - yet I think both of you have called yourselves ethical relativists, so I am a bit confused
Er, because I'm not an ethical absolutist?
What else can relativism be different from?
Perhaps some kind of third way? See, for example, Massimo Pigliucci's "'third way' between moral relativism and objective moral truths". But I think Pigliucci's moral relativism is too narrow, and his horribly named "moral reasonism" is not inconsistent with a form of what I would call moral relativism.

Emma
I have only dipped into this Pigliucci article (Massimo often contributes to "PN", BTW) and was put off as soon as he said that we agreed that there are no longer witches - define your terms, MP, you are a professional philosopher!!! Anyway, I will assume FTM that thundril is a relativist - so of what sort, thun? Emma, I don't think you are, and we are not that far apart, though I hate the idea of relativism. You kind of convinced me about 18 months ago that I could not base my utilitarianism on some "objective" thing like suffering, and I do see what you mean about intersubjectivity (though I think pan-subjectivity would be a better term to express some commonality like the near-universal phenomenon of suffering). I suppose that if I have got anywhere it is to believe that there are two moral goods - welfare and fairness - which seem to underlie most moral discourse; of course they are not absolutes or objective, but they seem basic. Welfare, because it is what everyone/thing needs/desires, and fairness because it seems to cater for things that welfare does not - for instance, that one should not promise to do something and then fail to do so. Welfare in some way trumps fairness, but when and how I do not know - that's why I do find the trolleyology thing interesting.

thundril
Posts: 3607
Joined: July 4th, 2008, 5:02 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#44 Post by thundril » May 24th, 2012, 10:05 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
thundril wrote:
animist wrote: I agree with a lot of this, and the word "absolute" should be banned - absolutely - from ethics :laughter: . But what you say is not what I call ethical relativism, and I am not sure that what Emma talks about is ethical relativism either - yet I think both of you have called yourselves ethical relativists, so I am a bit confused
Er, because I'm not an ethical absolutist?
What else can relativism be different from?
Perhaps some kind of third way? See, for example, Massimo Pigliucci's "'third way' between moral relativism and objective moral truths". But I think Pigliucci's moral relativism is too narrow, and his horribly named "moral reasonism" is not inconsistent with a form of what I would call moral relativism.

Emma
Will check this out, Emma. Looks interesting. Must admit I've never read anything at all about moral philosophy. 'bout time I started?

thundril
Posts: 3607
Joined: July 4th, 2008, 5:02 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#45 Post by thundril » May 24th, 2012, 10:24 pm

animist wrote: Anyway, I will assume FTM that thundril is a relativist - so of what sort, thun?
To tell you the truth, I don't think about morality very much. I'm a bit distrustful of the idea. Always thought it relied overmuch on free will, which I'm suspicious of, too.
On a practical level, my equivalent of 'morals' in respect of my own behaviour has for a long time been just to not do things that would make me not like myself; I like myself quite a lot, and don't want to start thinking I'm a little shit!
In respect of other people's behaviour, I don't see that my moral 'judgement' of them can have any weight, since I don't, in fact can't, know their situation completely.
So I engage politically, socially, talking about what is 'fair' and 'just' and so on, sort of along the lines of 'we would all be better off if we behaved like this. . .', even though we have to argue case by case what these ideas, and others like them, actually mean..
So maybe it's time to read up a bit, and I'll start off with Pigliucci.
(Nothing to do with Smokey Robinson, I assume?)
No, that's Pagliacci!

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#46 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » May 25th, 2012, 10:07 am

Damn. Why can't I delete this?

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#47 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » May 25th, 2012, 10:09 am

thundril wrote:On a practical level, my equivalent of 'morals' in respect of my own behaviour has for a long time been just to not do things that would make me not like myself; I like myself quite a lot, and don't want to start thinking I'm a little shit!
Hmmm. Sounds like a pared down version of Aristotelian virtue ethics. Actually, don't most of us practise a form of that? I'm sure I do. I don't want to do anything I'd be ashamed of. But then ... I feel I need to keep checking that I'm not doing things that I'm not ashamed of but ought to be. Perhaps I ought to be ashamed of the very fact that I'm not ashamed of doing them ... :sad2:
thundril wrote:So I engage politically, socially, talking about what is 'fair' and 'just' and so on, sort of along the lines of 'we would all be better off if we behaved like this. . .', even though we have to argue case by case what these ideas, and others like them, actually mean..
That seems to me to be a sensible approach.
thundril wrote:So maybe it's time to read up a bit, and I'll start off with Pigliucci.
Nearly all my books are in storage at the moment, so I can't lend it to you, but I think you might like Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, by J.L. Mackie, published in 1977, which is the book that got me started on all this. It's quite readable, and blessedly slim. He calls himself a moral sceptic, rather than a moral relativist.

Emma

P.S. I now have "Tears of a Clown" as an earworm. Thanks, thundril!

Lord Muck oGentry
Posts: 634
Joined: September 1st, 2007, 3:48 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#48 Post by Lord Muck oGentry » May 26th, 2012, 12:30 am

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:Nearly all my books are in storage at the moment, so I can't lend it to you, but I think you might like Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, by J.L. Mackie, published in 1977, which is the book that got me started on all this. It's quite readable, and blessedly slim. He calls himself a moral sceptic, rather than a moral relativist.
As moral scepticism has come up, this may be worth a look:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/skepticism-moral/

Sadly, I can't work out how to reproduce the diagram. But it's rather natty.
What we can't say, we can't say and we can't whistle it either. — Frank Ramsey

User avatar
animist
Posts: 6522
Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#49 Post by animist » May 26th, 2012, 8:10 am

the OP be interpreted to ask what do we mean by right and wrong, or alternatively, what sorts of things do we call right and wrong. An article in PN asked whether we can have duties (ie can "wrong") dead people, and although the answer was "no", it is possible to argue that we do. For instance, suppose someone near death (not a close family member) asks you to attend their funeral and you promise to attend in order to comfort them, but when the time comes you do something more "fun", I think a lot of us would say you had kind of wronged them?

User avatar
animist
Posts: 6522
Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#50 Post by animist » May 26th, 2012, 8:43 am

Lord Muck oGentry wrote:
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:Nearly all my books are in storage at the moment, so I can't lend it to you, but I think you might like Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, by J.L. Mackie, published in 1977, which is the book that got me started on all this. It's quite readable, and blessedly slim. He calls himself a moral sceptic, rather than a moral relativist.
As moral scepticism has come up, this may be worth a look:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/skepticism-moral/l
Sadly, I can't work out how to reproduce the diagram. But it's rather natty.
reading this makes me sceptical about the contribution of academic philosophy to the practical issues of what is right and wrong

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#51 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » May 26th, 2012, 9:38 am

animist wrote:Emma, I don't think you are [a moral relativist], and we are not that far apart, though I hate the idea of relativism.
I'm not keen on relativism in the broader sense. I'm not a truth relativist. And I've undoubtedly been influenced by pejorative views of moral relativism, so I can't say I'm utterly comfortable with the thought of being a moral relativist. But if I'm uncomfortable with moral relativism, I'm even more uncomfortable with moral absolutism. So if I'm not a moral relativist or a moral absolutist, what am I? Perhaps I'm a ethical subjectivist. According to Wikipedia, "The most common forms of ethical subjectivism are also forms of moral relativism, with moral standards held to be relative to each culture or society (c.f. cultural relativism), or even to every individual. The latter view, as put forward by Protagoras, holds that there are as many distinct scales of good and evil as there are subjects in the world. However there are also universalist forms of subjectivism such as ideal observer theory (which claims that moral propositions are about what attitudes a hypothetical ideal observer would hold) and divine command theory (which claims that moral propositions are about what attitudes God holds)." Well, there at least seems to be room for a little flexibility under that particular term.
animist wrote:You kind of convinced me about 18 months ago that I could not base my utilitarianism on some "objective" thing like suffering, and I do see what you mean about intersubjectivity (though I think pan-subjectivity would be a better term to express some commonality like the near-universal phenomenon of suffering).
I think there might be a word for that already in use: transsubjectivity. It's been around for quite some time (see "Trans-subjective realism and Hegelianism", S.F. McLennan, The Philosophical Review, vol. 10, no. 6, November 1901). But I still prefer "intersubjectivity", and on reflection I think it's apt in this context. So I'm an ethical intersubjectivist, then. (Ooh, that's interesting. Hegel crops up here, too: "Crime and Ethical Life: Hegel’s Intersubjectivist Innovation", Chapter 2 of The Struggle for Recognition, by Axel Honety, Polity Press, 1995. I've always steered clear of Hegel, but I might have to read this ...)
animist wrote:I suppose that if I have got anywhere it is to believe that there are two moral goods - welfare and fairness - which seem to underlie most moral discourse; of course they are not absolutes or objective, but they seem basic. Welfare, because it is what everyone/thing needs/desires, and fairness because it seems to cater for things that welfare does not - for instance, that one should not promise to do something and then fail to do so. Welfare in some way trumps fairness, but when and how I do not know - that's why I do find the trolleyology thing interesting.
Seems a reasonable starting point. But I think there's a bit of a problem with fairness, which someone pointed out to me, perhaps on TH, when I was banging on about fairness, as I'm wont to do. People have completely different understandings of fairness. There are ideas of fairness based on equality. Equal rights, equal distribution of wealth, equal shares of resources. But many people have other notions of fairness, based more on things like "first come, first served". These are intersubjective ideas, but not trans- or pansubjective, I reckon.

Emma

User avatar
Dave B
Posts: 17809
Joined: May 17th, 2010, 9:15 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#52 Post by Dave B » May 26th, 2012, 9:40 am

animist wrote:reading this makes me sceptical about the contribution of academic philosophy to the practical issues of what is right and wrong
I came to this feeling many years ago - bit like pure maths research, up in the wild blue yonder and of no practical use until someone manages to apply a little of it to a real world situation.
"Look forward; yesterday was a lesson, if you did not learn from it you wasted it."
Me, 2015

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#53 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » May 26th, 2012, 9:55 am

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:... I think you might like Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, by J.L. Mackie, published in 1977, which is the book that got me started on all this. It's quite readable, and blessedly slim. He calls himself a moral sceptic, rather than a moral relativist.
The first chapter of this is available online, and is worth reading, I think. Mackie explains what he means by moral scepticism, and why he prefers it to moral subjectivism.

Emma

User avatar
animist
Posts: 6522
Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#54 Post by animist » May 26th, 2012, 11:21 am

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:Emma, I don't think you are [a moral relativist], and we are not that far apart, though I hate the idea of relativism.
I'm not keen on relativism in the broader sense. I'm not a truth relativist. And I've undoubtedly been influenced by pejorative views of moral relativism, so I can't say I'm utterly comfortable with the thought of being a moral relativist. But if I'm uncomfortable with moral relativism, I'm even more uncomfortable with moral absolutism. So if I'm not a moral relativist or a moral absolutist, what am I? Perhaps I'm a ethical subjectivist. According to Wikipedia, "The most common forms of ethical subjectivism are also forms of moral relativism, with moral standards held to be relative to each culture or society (c.f. cultural relativism), or even to every individual. The latter view, as put forward by Protagoras, holds that there are as many distinct scales of good and evil as there are subjects in the world. However there are also universalist forms of subjectivism such as ideal observer theory (which claims that moral propositions are about what attitudes a hypothetical ideal observer would hold) and divine command theory (which claims that moral propositions are about what attitudes God holds)."
the last part is about as clear as mud (no disrespect to you!) I did get involved with DCT some time ago on Theologica, but I cannot see how a theory which says we should simply regard good and God as the same could be called subjectivist; and whatever is this ideal observer? (this is for me to investigate, not a demand on you!) I do kind of see that subjectivism and relativism are complementary, though.
I could spend my life on this forum, specially threads like this - well done, Compo, for starting it as a GENERAL ethics one

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#55 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » May 26th, 2012, 12:07 pm

animist wrote:
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:[quoting Wikipedia]"... However there are also universalist forms of subjectivism such as ideal observer theory (which claims that moral propositions are about what attitudes a hypothetical ideal observer would hold) and divine command theory (which claims that moral propositions are about what attitudes God holds)."
I cannot see how a theory which says we should simply regard good and God as the same could be called subjectivist ...
Surely the idea is simply that the "subject" in this instance is God. God creates moral law, rather than people.
animist wrote:... and whatever is this ideal observer? (this is for me to investigate, not a demand on you!)
Good. I think it might be worth looking into, and Roderick Firth is the key name there, apparently, but ideal observer theory also seems to be the basis of something else, called ideal moral reaction theory, which might be an improvement. That's associated with Jonathan Harrison, who has also critiqued J.L. Mackie. Oh yes, the more you look the more you find.
animist wrote:I do kind of see that subjectivism and relativism are complementary, though.
And then, of course, there's emotivism, also known, rather pleasingly, as the hurrah/boo theory. Marvellous.

Emma

User avatar
animist
Posts: 6522
Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#56 Post by animist » May 27th, 2012, 10:24 am

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:[quoting Wikipedia]"... However there are also universalist forms of subjectivism such as ideal observer theory (which claims that moral propositions are about what attitudes a hypothetical ideal observer would hold) and divine command theory (which claims that moral propositions are about what attitudes God holds)."
I cannot see how a theory which says we should simply regard good and God as the same could be called subjectivist ...
Surely the idea is simply that the "subject" in this instance is God. God creates moral law, rather than people.
I don't see why this makes it subjectivist, and this is an extract from the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy:
"Another possible advaisntage of Divine Command Theory is that it provides an objective metaphysical foundation for morality. For those committed to the existence of objective moral truths, such truths seem to fit well within a theistic framework. That is, if the origin of the universe is a personal moral being, then the existence of objective moral truths are at home, so to speak, in the universe. By contrast, if the origin of the universe is non-moral, then the existence of such truths becomes philosophically perplexing, because it is unclear how moral properties can come into existence via non-moral origins. Given the metaphysical insight that ex nihilo, nihilo fit, the resulting claim is that out of the non-moral, nothing moral comes. Objective moral properties stick out due to a lack of naturalness of fit in an entirely naturalistic universe. This perspective assumes that objective moral properties exist, which is of course highly controversial. Not only does Divine Command Theory provide a metaphisysical basis for morality, but according to many it also gives us a good answer to the question, why be moral? William Lane Craig argues that this is an advantage of a view of ethics that is grounded in God."
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:...
and whatever is this ideal observer? (this is for me to investigate, not a demand on you!)
Good. Emma
:pointlaugh:

User avatar
Kismet
Posts: 171
Joined: May 27th, 2012, 2:29 am

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#57 Post by Kismet » May 27th, 2012, 9:39 pm

Dave B wrote: We "invented" ethics as a way of getting along together - is that natural? There are behaviour patterns in the rest of the animal kingdom designed to reduce conflict, which is surely one of the aims of ethics. But, like in any such system there are those other animals that may take advantage of the rules to get an easy meal. Can we blame them? No, I don't think so.
When it comes to morality and humans I am often reminded of the dream-I-went-to-school-in-my-underwear scenario. It seems that at a certain point we are broken down in such a way as to behave morally, and that this is tantamount to a type of inner humiliation. And that is what society deems "moral." We are hoodwinked into behaving a certain way by denaturing ourselves from a former state that isn't Edenic by any stretch, but isn't at all conducive to our acting in the way others want us to act of our own free will. So, the way we act now won't be the way we acted in the past, nor will it be the way we will act in the future. We will always "value" our actions, but never in the same exact way, because the duresses, the underhanded maneuvers used to oblige us in this or that way, will always be calculated in a pre-ordained, slanted manner. Humanity is contingent and shifting. Value, or at least the state of valuing, is an absolute self-same fact.

User avatar
Tetenterre
Posts: 3244
Joined: March 13th, 2011, 11:36 am

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#58 Post by Tetenterre » May 28th, 2012, 10:07 am

Kismet wrote: Humanity is contingent and shifting. Value, or at least the state of valuing, is an absolute self-same fact.
Sorry to be thick, but I haven't a clue what "Humanity is contingent" means or what "an absolute self-same fact" is. (I know what the individual words mean, but not what the phrases mean) Please can someone enlighten me.
Steve

Quantum Theory: The branch of science with which people who know absolutely sod all about quantum theory can explain anything.

User avatar
Dave B
Posts: 17809
Joined: May 17th, 2010, 9:15 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#59 Post by Dave B » May 28th, 2012, 10:29 am

con·tin·gent/kənˈtinjənt/
Adjective:
Subject to chance.
Noun:
A group of people united by some common feature, forming part of a larger group.
Synonyms:
adjective. incidental - accidental - casual - fortuitous
noun. quota

Blimey, even the definition seems confued.

But I found TH by "chance", which was "fortuitous" for me, and I am happy that it is a "casual" association of those with similar ideas!
"Look forward; yesterday was a lesson, if you did not learn from it you wasted it."
Me, 2015

User avatar
animist
Posts: 6522
Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#60 Post by animist » June 2nd, 2012, 5:55 pm

Tetenterre wrote:
Kismet wrote: Humanity is contingent and shifting. Value, or at least the state of valuing, is an absolute self-same fact.
Sorry to be thick, but I haven't a clue what "Humanity is contingent" means or what "an absolute self-same fact" is. (I know what the individual words mean, but not what the phrases mean) Please can someone enlighten me.
I'll try. Humanity is shifting in lots of ways. Since all of us are born and then die (with not much in between TBH) then the totality of humanity is shifting as regards its composition (it has also shifted in numbers upwards over time, tho' apparently it almost died out at several points in the past). Then, each of us is shifty or shifting in that we go to sleep and wake up having forgotten some of what we knew, changed our minds, and so on; we also shift over time in a more determined way, being young and innocent early on, and older and maybe disillusioned later on. So lots of shifts. A value is a value, whether it's honour, justice, pleasure, sadism, piety, you get the idea - a sort of Platonic ideal, much as a circle is, maybe, and so a semantic constant. Whether that is what Kismet (fate) meant, I have no idea :wink: As regards contingency, each of us has lived (or we would not be part of "us"), but we might not have lived; we are the results of causation, but how exactly so, we don't know. Again, value seems different: a value like justice exists independent of time, even if it is never instantiated in the doings of shifty people.

User avatar
animist
Posts: 6522
Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#61 Post by animist » June 6th, 2012, 6:52 am

Emma Woolgatherer wrote: Oh yes, the more you look the more you find.
quite, and the more I look the less I like what I find; I suppose it is the pseudo-scientific nature of these meta-ethical theories which is annoying, all of them seeming to presuppose that there is some one analysis which applied to all moral judgments, whether considered or not, whether openly prescriptive or reflective. I like universal prescriptivism, though, as I said before. I do not think such an analysis rules out reasoning, though; you have said that you think ethics is a sort of mix of empathy and reasoning, and I don't see how the reasoning element comes in if it is purely subjective (or even intersubjective?)

I suppose that I think it is impossible to show, as Mackie attempts to do, that no values can be true or false. It is not that I am a moral objectivist, whatever that is exactly (and Mackie does not, here anyway, define what he means by this); I don't think that statements about values can be objective in the way that empirical statements can in principle be because they cannot be verified, and I certainly agree with him that we do not have moral "faculties" of intuition which are somehow near-infallible guides to some crystal-clear objective morality. But does he really believe that the statement "it is wrong to break a promise without a strong reason to do so" is not actually true in some sense? How would he react if someone let him down by breaking an important promise they had made to him? Would he just brush it off by saying that a promise had no objective value? Somehow I doubt it. I know that he allows that we all behave as though there were moral facts, and he brings the notion of error theory, whatever that is, to cover this mismatch between theory and practice: but how does that help? Is this some "illusion" reminiscent of the supposed illusion of free will? Mackie, like other meta-ethicists, is IMO ignoring the essentially practical nature of ethics as a guide to behaviour - and I have to say that Nowell-Smith's book "Ethics" does constantly refer back to a person who asks "But what should I do?"

I suppose my approach could be called heuristic: I think we have to examine particular statements and see whether there can be a reasonable consensus on them once all misunderstandings and factual errors have been ironed out - if so, then it is not really fair or realistic to simply continue to deny any truth to them. This is consistent with what I said at the beginning about the unwisdom of theories which attempt to make blanket generalisations about each and every statement of values. I won't go on any more, as this topic was discussed by us months ago:
http://forum.thinkhumanism.com/viewtopi ... =13&t=4729

Post Reply