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Lecture 11

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Julia Nefsky

Lecture 11 – Feb. 13 Moral Skepticism Def.: the view that there are no objective moral truths Objective moral truths: moral claims that are true independently of what anyone thinks or feels • According to the moral skeptic, “morality is the product of human invention.” (p. 8) Problems with Moral Skepticism SL argues that without objectivism, we cannot make sense Moral Error or Moral Progress Moral Error Subjectivism: you cannot be mistaken in your moral views Relativism: your culture cannot be mistaken about its moral views More accurately: the only kind of error that is possible according to Subjectivism or Relativism is internal inconsistency Moral Error and Error Theory According to Error Theorists, the moral views of the racist or the misogynist are indeed mistaken But the opposite views are mistaken as well • All moral views (whether those of the racist or those of the humanitarian aid worker) are equally mistaken and mistaken in the same way Moral Progress or Regress Apparent examples of Moral Progress: • The US after the abolition of slavery • A former KKK member turned equality-advocate The skeptical views cannot make sense of the idea that individuals, or societies, can improve morally • Same goes for regress Nihilism: • There is no such thing as morality • So, there is no such thing as becoming morally better or morally worse Moral Progress and Subjectivism Whatever you believe is right is right Example: • When Bob used to be a Ku Klux Klan member, his behaviour as a KKK member was morally right • Now that Bob denounced the KKK, what is morally right for him has changed. But he has not become morally better Moral Progress and Relativism Whatever your society says is right is right When a society says that slavery is right it is right, and when a society says slavery is wrong it is wrong So, a society that abolishes slavery does not count as having progressed morally Why be a Moral Skeptic? Argument 1: the Appeal to Dogmatism “If moral truths are not of our own making, then this gives objectivists license to criticize or belittle the moral views of everyone else. Those who are arrogant or overly self- assured about their moral views are almost always ethical objectivists. They believe in an objective morality, and believe, too, that they know exactly what it contains.” (p. 27) SL’s Response: Part 1 Objectivism says that there are objective moral truths It does not say that it is easy to come to know these truths So objectivism does not license being self-confident in our moral views It’s the opposite: “If we don’t make it all up, then there’s greater room for error.” (p. 29) SL’s Response: Part 2 Even if you are confident that you know something (whether about morality, science, or anything else), this doesn’t mean it is okay to be dogmatic about it If objectivism is true, a plausible candidate for an objective moral truth is: ‘one should refrain from being dogmatic.” SL’s Response: Part 3 Not only is Dogmatism not a problem for Objectivism; skeptical views have trouble with Dogmatism Nihilism • Since there is no such thing as right and wrong, there is nothing wrong with being dogmatic Subjectivism and Relativism • Each of us can be highly confident that our own views about morality are correct • Morever: we are morally right to be dogmatic as long as our personal outlook or culture approves of dogmatism Argument 2: the Appeal to Tolerance “Suppose that ethical objectivism were true. Then some personal and social ethical codes would be morally inferior to others. And so it would be ok to treat them as such. But that is intolerant. So ethical objectivism leads to intolerance.” (p. 31) SL’s Response
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