Rachels, Ch. 3, Subjectivism



                  No facts or objectives truths (about the world) in morality

                  No (unique?) right answers to moral questions

                  Morality is

                    -        Mere matter of personal opinion

                    -        Mere expression or statement of feelings

                    -        Matter of sentiment/emotion/feeling, not truth, fact, or reason

        Subjectivism applied to claims about homosexuality

                  When someone says “Homosexuality is wrong”

                  Facts are

                    -        Some people are homosexual and others heterosexual

                    -        Some people have feelings of approval about homosexuality and others of disapproval

                  No facts about homosexuality being right or wrong


                  When we perceive a gay couple holding hands, we don’t perceive any (fact of) wrongness (or rightness)

                    -        (Assumption is, if it was a fact, we’d perceive it)

                  The wrongness or rightness is something we (the perceiver) add

                    -        It is subjective (from the subject)

                    -        Not objective (from the object)

                    -        It is our own feeling or emotion toward the behavior and is not a property of the behavior

                  So when we think an act is objectively right or wrong, we confuse something in us with something in the object

                  Rightness or wrongness is a mere feeling or attitude we have and not an objective fact about the act we evaluate


        Two specific versions of subjectivism: Simple subjectivism and emotivism



                  X is morally right/wrong means I (the speaker) approve of (or disapprove of) X

                    -        Contrast this account with the one Rachels gives:

                                      According to Rachels, X is morally right means X has the weight of reasons on its side (it has the strongest arguments for it)

                  According to SS, moral language states facts about a speaker’s attitudes and feelings

                    -        This is strange: When you say some act is wrong, it turns out (according to SS) that you are talking about yourself and your attitudes (not about the act)

        Two problems with simple subjectivism

                  Makes people’s moral views infallible (and this is not plausible)

                    -        Makes (sincerely stated) moral statements infallible--since we are only talking about our own attitudes

                    -        But we obviously aren’t infallible about our moral claims, we do make mistakes

                  Makes disagreement impossible:

                    -        Because (according to SS) we are talking about our own feelings toward actions and not the actions themselves,

                    -        When one person says “X is right” and another says “No X is wrong” they are not disagreeing

                                      One is saying “I approve of X” and the other is saying “I disapprove of X”

                                      But both of these can be true at the same time and each can agree that the other has the attitude stated

                    -        But because moral disagreement obviously exists, SS must be mistaken, for it makes such disagreement impossible


        EMOTIVISM (=E)

                  X is morally right/wrong means either

                    -        “Do X”


                    -        “Yuck on X” or “Boo X”

                  For emotivism, moral language is not a fact stating use of language

                  A moral utterance is not an attempt to say something true or false

                  Moral utterances are either

                    -        Commands (which aren’t T or F),


                    -        Expressions of emotions (as opposed to stating or reporting or emotions as SS claims)

                  The point of moral utterances are to influences people’s attitudes or behavior

        Emotivism avoids the two problems identified in SS

                  Moral utterances are not infallible (always correct) as they aren’t attempts to say true or false things

                  Disagreements exist in attitudes

                    -        “Yeah Cougars” versus “Down with the Cougars”

                    -        While there is no disagreement about truth, there is a disagreement about what folks want to happen

        Problem for emotivism: Mistaken view of role of reason giving in ethics

                  If purpose of moral language is to influence behavior or attitude, then what is the purpose of reason giving in morality?

                  Answer: To influence attitudes

                  So a good reason (according to E) is any consideration that has this desired affect (influences the attitude in the right way)

                  For example, I say “President Obama is a bad man”

                    -        According to E this amounts to me trying to get you to take a negative attitude toward him (and not vote for him)

                    -        If a good reason is one that produces this attitude, then when I appeal to your prejudice against Muslims by saying “Obama is a Muslim” and this leads you dislike and not vote for Obama, it follows that I gave a good reason.

                    -        But this is a totally skewed view of that good reasons are and of the point of reason giving

                    -        Good reasons are not simply the ones that have the desired psychological effect

                                      At the very least they must be logically relevant (and true)

                  Rachels concludes that E is mistaken because its view of moral reason giving is unacceptable.



        Subjectivism is appealing because it presents a false dilemma

                  If falsely assumes there are only two possibilities


                  (1) Moral truths/facts/values exist in same way as planets and trees exist

                    -        That is they are physical objects that we can perceive with out senses

                  (2) Or moral truths/facts/values are mere personal feelings or emotions or attitudes (that we take toward behavior)

        The subjectivist argues that since (1) is obviously false, (2) must be true (hence subjectivism is true)

        This is a false dilemma because there is a third option

                  (3) Moral truths are truths of reasons (they exist as truths of reason)

                    -        A moral judgment is true if it is backed by better reasons than its alternatives

                    -        The correct answer to moral questions is the answer that has the weight of reason on its side.

        Moral truths are objective in the sense that

                  They are true independent of what we want to think

                    -        We can’t make the weight of reason lie on one side of an issue by wanting it to lie on that side of the issue

                    -        Reason says what it says regardless of our desires about what it says

                  We can be mistaken in ethics; we can be wrong about what reason recommends (about where the weight of reason lies)



        Many say no

                  Science is our paradigm of objectivity and proof and ethics lacks that sort of objectivity or proof

        Rachels provide examples of what he considers proof in ethics

        One proof in ethics is this:

                  Teacher gives a test that a student judges to be unfair.

                  The test covered in details matters that were quite trivial, while ignoring matters the teacher had stressed as important.

                  It also covered material not in class readings or discussions

                  Test was so long not even best students could complete it in the time allowed (and it was graded on the assumption it should be completed)

                  All these things are true and the teacher has no response when confronted with them

                  Would seem like this is a proof that the test was unfair.

        People (mistakenly) think moral judgments are unprovable

                  Because they use the wrong standard of proof (scientific, empirical standard)

                  Focus on hard cases; there are lots of easy cases people agree upon

                  Falsely believe that proving something means convincing everyone