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Lecture 12

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Julia Nefsky

Lecture 12 – Feb. 25 Moral Skepticism Def.: The view that there are no objective moral truths • According to the moral skeptic, “morality is the product of human invention.” (p. 8) Three kinds 1. Moral nihilism 2. Ethical subjectivism 3. Ethical relativism (Prinz’s view) Moral Disagreement Individuals disagree about right and wrong There is much variation across cultures and time periods in views about right and wrong • E.g., cannibalism, killing for pleasure, selective infanticide, forcing children into physical labor or sexual slavery (Prinz, p. 1) The Argument from Disagreement P1) If well-informed, open minded people intractably disagree about some claim, then that claim cannot be objectively true P2) Well-informed, open-minded people intractably disagree about all ethical claims C) Therefore, there are no objective ethical truths (SL, p. 139) SL’s Reply P1 is false – think of disagreements in science P2 seems to false too – “We couldn’t go on as social animals were we not largely agreed on ethical fundamentals.” (SL, pp. 67-68) Revised Argument from Disagreement Disagreement does not entail skepticism But “disagreement does provide excellent evidence for skepticism, especially if the the range of disagreement is very wide and the nature of the disagreement very deep.” (SL, p. 68) • Prinz makes this argument SL’s Reply 1. Explains away much of the variation in moral beliefs 2. Argues that remaining disagreement should not lead us to be moral skeptics Explaining Away Variation a) “Much ethical disagreement can be explained by people’s lacking adequate information, or failing to logically think through the information they have.” (p. 69) a. Example: legalizing marijuana b) “We often fail to imaginatively place ourselves in relevant situations – usually, but not always, the situations of those who stand to suffer at our hands. Were we better on this score, this would cause the scope of moral disagreement to shrink even further.” (SL, p. 69) c) High personal stakes lead to bias and lack of neutrality Prinz The problem is not, or not just, the quantity of disagreement, but whether there are reliable methods that can be used to resolve them “Scientific theory variation can be explained by inadequate observation or poor instruments; improvements in each lead towards convergence […] By contrast, morals do not track difference in observation […] Western slavery didn’t end because of new scientific observations.” (Prinz,
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