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Moral objectivism – Usa Online Essays
Experimental philosophy is an approach to philosophy that explicitlydraws on experimental knowledge established by the sciences to addressphilosophical questions (see the entry on ). There are three significant ways in whichexperimental philosophy has played an important role in discussions ofmoral relativism. These concern the extent to which there is moraldisagreement or moral diversity among people (that is, DMR),the extent to which folk morality is committed to an objectivist orrelativist understanding of moral judgments (that is, the views ofordinary people concerning MMR), and the extent to whichacceptance of moral relativism affects moral attitudes such astolerance (that is, ways in which views concerning MMRcausally influence whether or not people have tolerant attitudes).
A different response would be to say that the standards that areauthoritative for a society are the ones persons have agreed to followas a result of some negotiation or bargaining process (as seen above,Harman has argued that we should understand some moral judgments inthese terms). Once again, this might seem to lend those standards someauthority. Still, it may be asked whether they really have authority orperhaps whether they have the right kind. For example, suppose theagreement had been reached in circumstances in which a few members ofsociety held great power over the others (in the real world, the mostlikely scenario). Those with less power might have been prudent to makethe agreement, but it is not obvious that such an agreement wouldcreate genuine normative authority—a point the dissidentchallenging the standards might well make. Moreover, if all moralvalues are understood in this way, how do we explain the authority ofthe contention that people should follow a set of values because theyagreed to do so? Must there be a prior agreement to do what we agree todo?
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The first of these has a long history in discussions of moralrelativism and in fact may be considered one of the earliest instancesof experimental moral philosophy. As was seen in , for more than a century the work ofanthropologists and other social scientists has contributed to thedevelopment of thought about moral relativism, both by purporting toprovide empirical evidence for extensive cross-cultural disagreementand diversity about morality, and by proposing the notion that moralcodes are true only relative to a culture as the best explanation ofthis. That is, these scientists have provided empirical grounds foraccepting DMR, and they have suggested that some form ofMMR is a reasonable inference from this data (though thesepositions were not always clearly distinguished). More importantly,the work cited in by Brandt (1954) andLadd (1957), involving both empirical investigations into the moralvalues of Native Americans and philosophical reflection on thesignificance of these investigations vis-à-vis moral relativism, aresignificant examples of moral philosophers engaging in empiricalinquiry in support of philosophical aims. Their empirical work did notimmediately inspire other other philosophers to engage in similarresearch. Experimental philosophy in this sense--experiments or otherempirical investigations conducted by philosophers--did not becomeprominent until nearly a half-century later. Nowadays philosophers dosometimes conduct experiments to investigate the extent of moraldisagreement (for example, see the study of Western and East Asianvalues cited in Doris and Plakias 2008). What has been much morecommon in recent decades has been the citation by philosophers ofempirical studies by anthropologists to establish facts about moraldisagreement or diversity (for example, see Prinz 2007, Velleman 2013,and Wong 1984 and 2006). There is more about these issues in .
The second concern, the extent to which ordinary people accept someform of moral objectivism or some form of MMR (or some othernon-objectivist position), has been the subject of considerableexperimental research in recent years. This research has sometimesbeen conducted by psychologists (or other scientists), sometimes byphilosophers, and increasingly sometimes by both working together (foroverviews of this literature, see Quintelier et. al. 2012 andSarkissian Forthcoming). In the past, philosophers with a variety ofmeta-ethical commitments have sometimes claimed that in everyday moralpractices people implicitly suppose that moral objectivism in somesense is correct (for example, see Blackburn 1984: 180 and Jackson1998: 137). By contrast, on occasion some philosophers have maintainedthat ordinary people sometimes have attitudes that conflict withobjectivism. For instance, Wong has argued that in some moraldisagreements people grant that the person with the conflicting moraljudgment is reasonable in accepting the judgment to the extent thatthese people are unsure if their own position is uniquely right--whathe calls “moral ambivalence” (see Wong 2006: ch. 1). So who arecorrect, philosophers who claim that ordinary people accept a form ofobjectivism (folk moral objectivism) or philosophers who think thatordinary people at least sometimes accept something closer toMMR (folk moral relativism)?
Ethical Subjectivism and Objectivism
Some versions of the a priori approach emphasize theconstraints imposed by “thinner” moral concepts such asgoodness, rightness, or morality itself (for example, see Garcia 1988).Once again, a defender of DMR might say that, if theseconcepts have enough content to preclude significant disagreement intheir application, then it is likely that many societies do not applythem at all—a form of moral disagreement in itself. Anotherresponse would be to argue, following R.M. Hare (1981), that a formalanalysis, for example in terms of a kind of prescriptivity, isplausible with respect to some thinner moral concepts, and that this isconsistent with significant moral disagreements. However, the apriori critics question the adequacy of any such analysis. Much ofthis debate concerns the acceptability of formal versus materialdefinitions of morality (see the entry on the ).
The second approach to rejecting DMR focuses on theinterpretation of the empirical evidence that purportedly supports thisthesis. Some objections point to obstacles that face any attempt tounderstand human cultures empirically. For example, it may be said thatthe supposed evidence is incomplete or inaccurate because the observersare biased. In support of this, it may be claimed that anthropologistsoften have had preconceptions rooted in disciplinary paradigms orpolitical ideologies that have led them to misrepresent or misinterpretthe empirical data. Or it may be said that even the most objectiveobservers would have difficulty accurately understanding a society'sactual moral values on account of phenomena such as self-deception andweakness of will. These concerns point to substantial issues in themethodology of the social sciences. However, even if they were valid,they would only cast doubt on whether DMR had beenestablished: They would not necessarily give us reason to think it isfalse. Of course, this would be an important objection to someone whoclaims DMR is established or relies on DMR to arguefor MMR.
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Moral Relativism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
A priori objections maintain that we can know DMR isfalse on the basis of philosophical considerations, without recourseto empirical evidence. One argument, expressed in general form byDonald Davidson (1984), states that disagreement presupposesconsiderable agreement (see the entry on ). According to Davidson,a methodological constraint on the translation of the language ofanother society is that we must think they agree with us on mostmatters. For example, suppose we believed there were numerousdisagreements between us and another society about trees. As thedisagreements piled up, we reasonably would begin to think we hadmistranslated a word in the language of the other society as‘tree’: It is more likely that (what we take to be) theirfalse beliefs about trees are really beliefs about something else. Bygeneralization, it follows that there could not be extensivedisagreements about trees between our society and the other one. Ofcourse, there could be some disagreements. But these disagreementswould presuppose substantial agreements in other respects. Davidson(2004a and 2004b) and others (for example, Cooper 1978 and Myers 2004)have claimed that this argument applies to moral concepts. If they areright, then there cannot be extensive disagreements about morality, and theagreements are more significant than the disagreements. DMRcannot be true.
Objectivism and libertarianism - Wikipedia
Another a priori objection to DMR was suggested byPhilippa Foot (1978a and 1978b) in a response to emotivism. Just asthere are shared criteria of ‘rude’ such that not justanything could be considered rude, she argued, there are sharedcriteria of moral concepts such that not just anything could be a moralvirtue or obligation. For example, there are substantial constraints onwhat could be considered courage. Hence, there are significant limitsto the extent of moral disagreements.
The Virtue of Selfishness - Wikipedia
Most discussions of moral relativism begin with, and are rooted in,DMR. Though this is not sufficient to establish MMR,the most common rationales for MMR would be undermined ifDMR (or some descriptive thesis about significant moraldisagreement or diversity) were incorrect. Moreover, if DMRwere generally rejected, it is likely that MMR would have fewproponents. Hence, it is important to consider whether or notDMR is correct. Defenders of DMR usually take it tobe well-established by cultural anthropology and otherempirically-based disciplines, and many believe it is obvious toanyone with an elementary understanding of the history and cultures ofthe world. Examples of moral practices that appear sharply at oddswith moral outlooks common in the United States are not hard to comeby: polygamy, arranged marriages, suicide as a requirement of honor orwidowhood, severe punishments for blasphemy or adultery, femalecircumcision or genital mutilation (as it is variously called), and soon (for a review of some of the literature, see Prinz 2007:187-95). At a more general level, Wong (1984) has argued that at leasttwo different approaches to morality may be found in the world: avirtue-centered morality that emphasizes the good of the community,and a rights-centered morality that stresses the value of individualfreedom.
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