A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory

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It should also be noted that such a constraint does not entail a collapse into noncognitivism. Though this is an injustice to its overall complexity, I feel that we can adequately capture the gist of the argument. Their salience to the issue of morality will be revealed in due course, but for now let us assess the nature of practical rationality by means of a familiar example. I would have the reader consider the ethical vegetarian. If raised on a standard omnivorous diet — one she thoroughly enjoyed — we might conclude that at some point her desire to prevent harm to sentient creatures outweighed the desire for temporary sensuous pleasure.

Desires are agent-relative.

Reasons are always agent-relative. Moral discourse is committed to objectivity. Moral discourse implies the existence of reasons which are not agent-relative. Moral discourse is in error. But it is the metaphysical strand which does the heavy lifting. The queerness of moral knowledge depends on the alleged oddness of moral properties. They stand or lapse together. Selby-Bigge and P. Nidditch Oxford: Clarendon Press, [] , Rather, his aim is to show that any instrumentalist account of reasons, Humean or not, leads to a moral error theory. Let us now reimagine our potential vegetarian.

She remains as she was: sensitive to suffering to a degree that would eclipse any enjoyment derived from her palate. However, let us add, bizarrely, that she was raised by a family of avid Cartesians. She was taught, and believes, that Descartes was correct in his mechanism; that non-human animals in fact have no internal phenomenological lives of any kind. All we witness is mere clockwork, a machine set in motion, and there is no room in this picture for the presence of pain.

The crucial point is that the agent has no current desire to abandon her carnivorous ways. Under these new parameters, does she possess a reason to refrain from eating? The Humean judges not. Where he differs with the moral rationalist — Michael Smith in particular — is in the belief that such a view nonetheless leads to an anti- realist conclusion. Clearly, if the non-Humean view is correct, then the fledgling pre-idealised vegetarian has a reason not to eat, despite lacking any prevalent desire to that end.

In either case, value-relativism beckons. To learn that this is so, consider again our example. Upon learning that a friend regularly enjoys meat-based cuisine the vegetarian is very likely to remark that such behaviour is bad, or reprehensible, or that it ought not to be done, all of which is to say that there is a moral reason to refrain from doing so. The friend will quite rightly enquire as to what that reason is, and the reply, with all probability, will reference the widespread suffering and mass slaughter facilitated by the meat industry.

He is an ideal agent, both in that he possesses all and only true beliefs and that he is perfectly rational. Consequently, the claim that he should hold a peculiar desiderative set cannot be an appeal to something he is forgetting, or ignorant 14 Joyce, , Accordingly, rationality is a means of evaluating a deliberative process, not that of its content. The claim is that the deliberative process of an ideal agent yields relative values and therefore relative reasons. Tom L. Beauchamp Oxford: Oxford University Press, [] , It is rare to find someone so unmoved by suffering, so utterly lacking in empathy.

To persist with moral condemnation in face of this seems nonsensical, and leaves a philosophically bad taste in the mouth. What Smith overlooks is that values are not produced ex nihilo. Joyce is surely right in doubting that the fully informed, fully rational, and wholly disinterested agent desires anything at all. Smith avoids this problem, but in the process runs aground on another. In order to win the day for moral realism it need be the case that normative reasons not only converge, but converge on what we commonly take as the dictates of morality: kindness, selflessness, pro- sociality etc.

The idealised agent, in virtue of being derivative of the normal agent, comes equipped with end-related baggage. Moral convergence would have to be the result of acute moral perception, not rhetorical or cultural forces, in order for such things to be vindicated. Simply put, if one were to attack the error theorist from the non-instrumentalist angle, the battle-lines would be drawn along whether external reasons — or at least those purporting to hold independent of any contingent framework — can plausibly be considered normative reasons.

Here Joyce heralds an externalist defeat, content in the belief that a Humean theory of action holds the intuitive high-ground.

Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory

The rationalist, one who would position moral reasons as a sub-set of normative reasons, faces a dilemma. At one horn looms alienation, at the other lies moral relativism. The instrumentalist, on the other hand, be they Humean or non-Humean, is impaled on the second. One might object that this is too narrow, that moral intuitionism remains a potential saviour of morality. But this, of course, holds true only in the event that moral language aims at precisely that. The remainder of this project deals with this important conceptual question. For instance, my use of phlogiston above made the sentence no less correct.

It most certainly was a concept in wide use amongst seventeenth-century natural scientists. Crucially, this is not the manner in which phlogiston discourse is deployed by its advocates; it is their existential claims about the concept which leaves them in error, e. Some discourses will be salvageable upon discovery of a false-hood, some will not. What this means requires some fleshing out. Imagine the three descriptions mentioned are such elements; that phlogiston, if it exists, must be stored in bodies, must be released during combustion, and must be the primary constituent of soot. Now pretend that, by the wonders of time travel, our chemist is transported to the present and subsequently encounters our concept of oxygen.

This, however, will not do, as oxygen is something that is consumed during combustion, not released. A non- negotiable element will be such as to prevent the translation of a concept from one language set to another. It is worth now assessing where we stand. Joyce has given us a translation scheme wherein we may test the centrality of a concept to a given discourse, and Mackie, in the context of moral discourse, has supplied a number of contenders he deems metaphysically queer.

I 29 Joyce, , All that remains is to position categoricity as a non-negotiable element of moral discourse, and in so doing complete an argument for a moral error theory. It is trivially true that we expect our answer to in some way engage the immoralist, and exactly what form it takes has long been a major concern of moral philosophy. He asks his readers to reflect on Gyges, the Lydian shepherd-cum-criminal who 31 Joyce, , If Gyges can lead his debaucherous life of crime free of consequence, what is to stop him from doing so? One tactic might be to convert him by an appeal to self-harm; that in demonstrating Gyges to be harming himself with his transgressions this presents a reason for his cooperation.

This vein of argument is brushed aside, for murder, say, is not judged morally wrong on the basis of injury, either physical or spiritual, to the murderer. Moreover, what is the rationale of punishing those who have already come to harm?

The implication is a self-regulating system, a kind of karmic universe which smacks of wish-thinking. We use them all the time. This is not so for moral discourse. The imperatives of etiquette, while categorical, are unmistakably escapable. When one enters into a moral obligation, a strong or non-institutional categorical imperative, there is no comparable means of escape. It provides the best means of accounting for non-institutional ought-statements — to question practical reasons, i. So construed, moral discourse seems to be in trouble, but the error theorist is not yet home.

It is at this point we might wonder on whose authority the commitments of a discourse are set. This is quite true, but it misses the point. Neither can those resisting the error theory make such a hypocritical proclamation. So, we are brought back to the question of whether non-institutional categorical imperatives are a central, non-negotiable commitment of everyday moral discourse.

Human history is littered with discourses of both kinds discussed in 2. On the one hand are those which suffered severe metaphysical setbacks and swift elimination from common usage, and on the other are those which continued on as though nothing had happened. Today, we have a relative conception of motion, something denied by pre-Einsteinian thinkers. The function of a motion discourse, however, is to chart the position of objects in space over time, where no reference need be made to their movement being relative or absolute.

It would be incorrect, he contends, to insist upon an analogue between morality and motion. For one, ethics neither is nor ever has been neutral to the status of moral value. A mere glance at the history of Western moral philosophy yields two points of interest. But what of the layperson?

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What evidence lends credence to the view that the dominant majority of moral practices are pregnant with problematic categorical ought-statements? For any x: 1. But there is no sense to be made of such reasons. Therefore, x is never under a moral obligation. In the proceeding chapters we will assess whether the conceptual claims of the Mackian error theorist stand up to recent and nuanced objections in the metaethical literature. The Evidential Question 3.

Correspondingly, there are two points of potential failure, and two types of opponent the error theorist must contend with. Christine Korsgaard, leading the charge for present-day Kantians, approaches from the non- instrumentalist flank by disputing the necessary connection between normativity and internal reasons for action. Therefore, for all their ontological misgivings, they, along with the error theorist, are conceptual companions. As such, they are not our concern. The present challenger, rather, is one who concedes to Mackie and Joyce the subjectivity of value.

Oxford: Oxford University Press, , His objection has two barbs, and as arguments against a Mackian error theory they can operate quite well independently of one another. At the outset, Joyce and Finlay find themselves allied on a large number of metaethical issues. A messy and confusing back-and-forth ensues, one that needs clearing up. In the following section I attempt this very thing, and this serves as a necessary prologue to an assessment of the relevant evidence.

In this Finlay too is a cognitivist. In his attack on the error theory Finlay gives primacy to terms which play a curiously minor role in The Myth of Morality. Where 1. I wish to settle here a question which occupies a great deal of territory in this exchange: the question of whether our philosophers are alighting on the same subject-matter, whether the technical terms at use are compatible with each other, or even if Joyce has failed to see a conceptual implication of his arguments in chapter two.

This is mistaken, as noted in 1. However, this does not undermine his arguments herein. Finlay, he insists, launches his attack against a straw-man: 1. Moral concepts are absolutist i. But absolutist moral concepts are indefensible. Therefore, moral discourse is bankrupt. Conceptually, morality requires non-institutional categorical imperatives.

The Argument from Relativity - J.L Mackie (Extract from "Moral Skepticism: Error Theory")

But such things are indefensible. Every kind of value is relative to some standard or end, and the authority of such value for any person is contingent upon his attitudinal orientation towards those relata. Likewise, if a value is seen as relative — something we would forgive our fellows for not joining us in holding — then an imperative for them to do so would be at best institutionally categorical, if not simply hypothetical a piece of friendly advice. At its most elementary: NICI iff absolute value.

Absolute moral authority, in the narrow sense laid down by Joyce, need presumably be something in the Kantian mould, a law-conception of ethics which legislates for everyone regardless of context. Where Finlay errs, if I read Joyce correctly, is in the ambiguity of his target. Joyce interprets Finlay as undertaking the former task. Both peoples know this of the other and accept it as the proper state of things…Moreover, they accept that different obligations attend these different natures: A mountain person has 20 Joyce, , These obligations are taken to be non-hypothetical and non-institutional…They see these obligations as utterly authoritative, inescapable, reason-bringing, and binding.

Yet they also see them as relativistic. The kind standing opposed to absolutism. Does the authority of NICIs involve absolute value after all? Joyce has already expressed agreement with this, but Finlay thinks this is conceding too much. Echoing Mackie, Finlay states that their authority must derive from things which are simply there, in the fabric of the world. The only way such prescriptions can avoid absolutism is for the values themselves to be, culturally or otherwise, relativistic.

It relies on the acceptance of a metaphysic few would endorse. In other words, they will be absolute. Consider the paradigm examples one encounters time after time in metaethical texts. Moral sceptics will often, as an argumentative strategy, choose examples which are strong intuition-pumps for their own conclusions. However, many philosophers have disputed this. However, such a reply seems to concede quite a lot to error theorists.

Thus, some philosophers Cuneo ; Rowlands choose instead to attack the substantive thesis, arguing that categorical reasons are not problematic after all.

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A favorite strategy here is to argue that other sorts of reasons are also categorical, namely, epistemic reasons. So, for instance, they argue that the fact that the Earth orbits the Sun is a reason for anyone, regardless of her desires, interests, or inclinations, to believe in the heliocentric theory of the solar system. There are a number of ways around this worry: see Sinnott-Armstrong and Olson for details.

This commits the moral realist to a very strong version of motivational internalism, the thesis that moral facts are intrinsically motivating. Brink, David. Cuneo, Terence. Ethical Naturalism: Current Debates. New York: Cambridge University Press. New York: Oxford University Press.

Morality: The Final Delusion?

Garner, Richard. New York: Routledge. Joyce, Richard. Kelly, D.

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  • Haley, K. Mackie, John L. New York: Penguin Books. Olson, Jonas. Rowland, Richard. According to Garner, the fictionalist alternative is 'dangerous because it undermines our integrity by forcing us to find ways to defend things we know to be false' Much better, he thinks, to get rid of the whole thing altogether. Indeed, he suggests that doing so could be a necessary means to ends that fictionalists and 'well-meaning moralists' have in common, such as preventing misery, strife and war. With moral belief comes moral fanaticism. In response to this danger, abolition is liberation.

    One might be tempted to draw a similar conclusion from Oddie and Demetriou's paper, at least on the assumption that the error theory is true. Oddie and Demetriou, however, do not make this assumption. Instead, they confine their argument to one specific development of the fictionalist programme recently developed by Mark Kalderon. On this view, moral claims have genuine representational content factualism but to accept a moral claim is to express a non-cognitive attitude non-cognitivism. Oddie and Demetriou argue that this kind of 'noncognitivist factualism' fails to account for why it is rational to transfer acceptance to the logical consequences of propositions we have good reasons to accept.

    The source of this problem is the fictionalist commitment to a multi-attitude account of acceptance.

    Mackie's Arguments for the Moral Error Theory

    Its broad outlines will be familiar to those versed in the 'mixed inference' versions of the 'Frege-Geach' problem for expressivism. Kalderon's fictionalism is apparently faced with a similar 'attitude problem'. At this point the reader may ask if things have gone too far.

    Perhaps we should retrace our steps.

    A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory

    The second group of papers do just that by offering alternative ways to avoid the error-theory. Smith's contribution consists in a partial defense of his 'constitutivist' approach to moral objectivity. According to this view, Mackie is right that morality presents us with 'absolute' requirements of reason.

    Yet all this means is that having a set of moral commitments is constitutive of being fully rational, as given by the desires we would have if we knew the relevant facts and made our attitudes coherent. Thus understood, moral objectivity does not require the existence of metaphysically mysterious moral facts.

    As Smith is fully aware, however, it might require a degree of convergence among the desires of fully rational agents that is hard to guarantee a priori. Copp's contribution suggests a more pluralistic approach to what is essentially the same problem. On his view, there are self-grounded reasons that are instrumentally authoritative and moral reasons that are morally authoritative.

    Yet there is no basis for thinking that only one of these could be 'genuinely' normative. To think that moral authority is dubious unless it is reducible to rational authority is to accord excessive respect to 'rationality'. Another way of retracing our steps is to question our handle on exactly what it is that moral claims commit us to.

    Dreier's contribution begins to do just that. Dreier argues for the prima facie preposterous claim that Mackie was a moral realist. On closer reading, however, Dreier's argument brings out an illuminating insight about two conflicting conceptions of the order of philosophical explanation. As Dreier uses the term, 'realists' look for an account of the puzzling features of moral claims in the subject matter of that discourse, namely a realm of moral facts.

    It is in this sense that Mackie is a realist, claiming that such an account is needed to vindicate the objective aspirations of moral claims but also that no such account exists. Expressivists, on the other hand, look for an account of the puzzling features of moral claims in moral concepts, moral language or the psychology of moral agents. The subtext is that Mackie and his doubly 'realist' competitors may both have got things the wrong way round.

    A similar kind of challenge is offered in Loeb's contribution. Loeb's paper is partly an attack on the claim that the objective-seeming nature of our moral experience creates a presumption in favour of realism. Loeb denies this claim, arguing that even if morality did present us with a realist appearance, this would not constitute even presumptive evidence in its favour.

    To this extent, his aims are sympathetic to those of the error theorist. However, on his way to this conclusion Loeb also asks if we should accept the realist description of the appearances. His answer is that we should not. Our experience of moral objectivity is a messy, inconclusive and theory-laden affair.

    A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory
    A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory
    A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory
    A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory
    A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory
    A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory
    A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackies Moral Error Theory

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