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Lecture 13

PHLA11H3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 13: Relativism, Theism, Scientific Theory

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Julia Nefsky

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PHLA11 – Lecture 13 – Continuation of Moral Disagreement & Morality and God
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 differences in observation […] Western slavery
didn’t end because of new scientific observations.” (Prinz, p. 2)
SLs Response:
oOf course we cannot settle ethical debates empirically.
oEthical questions are philosophical questions.
oPhilosophical questions cannot be settled by observation and
oBut this does not mean that there are no objective answers to any
philosophical questions.
Consider the Skeptic’s Claim:
“There are no moral claims that are objectively true.”
oThis is a philosophical claim.
It cannot be established by empirical investigation.
The skeptic cannot – without undermining her own position – say that if a
claim cannot be established empirically, then it cannot be objectively true.
Relativism and Disagreement:
Prinz: appeals to the presence of intractable moral disagreement to argue for
But a problem:
oIt’s not clear that relativism, or subjectivism, can even recognize that
there is a phenomenon of moral disagreement to begin with!
A problem with Subjectivism and Relativism:
oSubjectivism and Relativism internally contradictory
oSubjectivism and Relativism make moral disagreement impossible
Person A: ‘Abortion is morally permissible’
Person B: ‘Abortion is morally impermissible’
It seems that acc. to Subjectivism, abortion is both morally permissible
and impermissible.
So, Subjectivism is internally contradictory, and thus cannot be true.
Culture A: ‘Abortion is morally permissible.’
Culture B: ‘Abortion is morally impermissible.’
oIt seems abortion is both morally permissible and impermissible, acc.
to Relativism.
oSo, Relativism is internally contradictory, and thus cannot be true.
A way out of the problem:
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