Philosophy 2800

Roughly, philosophy can be divided up into four areas.

1. Logic
2. Metaphysics/Ontology - investigates what there is
3. Epistemology/Theory of Knowledge - ingestigates how (and what) we know about what there is
4. Value Theory  - e.g., ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, etc.

Moral Objectivism & Moral Relativism

Two Ways of Thinking About Morality

1. Moral Relativism: What is morally right or wrong depends on what the prevailing view is in the society or culture we happen to be dealing with.

2. Moral Objectivism: What is morally right or wrong doesn't depend on what anyone thinks is right or wrong.

'Moral facts' are like 'physical facts'. They simply have to be discovered just like the laws of physics.
Moral Relativism has been an increasingly popular view since the late 20th century.
Which view seems most plausible?

Some Bad Arguments for Moral Relativism

1.  'If God doesn't exist, everything is permissible.'
P1:  Objective moral facts could only exist if God existed.
P2:  God doesn't exist.
C:  There are no objective moral facts.
But why should we believe P1?

The Euthyphro Problem (from Plato) - Does God approve of the things he approves of because they're good or are they good because he approves of them?

If they're good just because God approves of them, then whatever God approved of would have been good.
E.g., if he liked incest or wife beating, those things would have been good.

Most people find this option implausible.

OK, then maybe God approves of certain things because they're good.

But, if that's right, then moral goodness and badness are independent of God.

2. The 'Cultural Differences' Argument

P1:  There are huge differences in moral beliefs from culture to culture and era to era.
E.g., Some cultures endorse the killing of elderly members of the tribe, we condemn such actions.
C:  There is no objective fact as to which of these beliefs is correct, morality is relative.

Two Problems:

(i) How much fundamental disagreement about morality is there?
Perhaps what we have here is not a disagreement about moral principles, but about their application in particular circumstances.
(ii) It is a mistake to conclude based only upon differing opinions about some issue, that there are no facts about that issue.
Consider this argument:
P1: There is widespread disagreement about the shape of the earth. Some people say it's flat, others say it's spherical.
C: There is no objective fact about what the shape of the earth is. It's all just a matter of opinion.
The previous arguments clearly fail to establish moral relativism. Are there any others?

What does all this show?

It doesn't show that moral objectivism is true, but it does show that the most common reasons people give for believing in moral relativism aren't good reasons.

A Last Attempt - Shifting the Burden of Proof

We've been acting as though it's the job of the relativist to give us reasons to believe his theory.

Why not say, instead, that the burden should be on the objectivist to show us what the objective moral facts are?

We'll come back to this point in the third class of the term.

[Philosophy 2800]