Are Moral Values Objective?

5 May 2017

The Subjectivity of Values, chapter 1 of John Leslie Mackie’s “Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong”, addresses the question: are moral values objective? Mackie opens with the simple statement that there are no objective values, a standpoint to which he gives the name moral scepticism. He goes on to clarify what he means by objective values, and distinguishing his moral scepticism from similar views. And finally Mackie presents the arguments in support of moral scepticism, in his error theory and the so called arguments from rationality and queerness.

To Justify why it is important to ddress the question of whether moral values are objective, Mackie quotes three possible reactions to that very question: some may see it as an attack on morality and all that we value as humans, others that it is a question too obvious or trivial to Justify exploring, or actually that it is Just an empty question where no issue is raised at all. It is, according to Mackie, by the very fact these multiple reactions can be raised, reason in itself for the question to be explored further.

Are Moral Values Objective? Essay Example

Moral Scepticism What it is, and what it isn’t Objective values do not exist, that is the thesis Mackie argues. And by values, not only is he referring to familiar moral values such as the moral good, rightness and wrongness, but also non-moral values such as aesthetics. He is careful to outline exactly what is meant by moral scepticism, where he is not concerned with first-order views on morality, first-order being views about what we ought to do morally, e. g. “torture is bad”.

The 2nd order view which Mackie is concerned with and believes does not exist, refers to the nature of morality itself, whether it is part of the fabric of our universe, and how it relates to us. First and second order views are completely ndependent, and one can hold that second order views are false and still believe that first order views are true, and vice versa. This does not mean to say that we cannot make distinctions between situations in our day to day life, such as the moral difference between stealing a loaf of bread, and earning to the money and buying it.

Mackie states that there are clear differences in morality between situations like these, and we can easily describe how the two situations differ factually. What he denies is that there are objective differences in value, not that there are objective actual differences between the two situations. Another potential area for confusion is the similarity between Mackie’s moral scepticism and another moral anti-realist viewpoint, moral subjectivism. Subjectivists support one of two views: 1.

That the morally correct course of action for a person is to do what he/she thinks is best for them. 2. That moral Judgements are essentially expressions of approval or disapproval of behaviour, based on that particular individuals own feelings, e. g. “stealing bread is wrong” actually means “l disapprove of people who steal bread”. The so called boo/hurrah theory, or Emotivism. Mackie immediately dismisses the first subjectivist view, as it is a first-order view not relevant to second-order thesis he is trying to clarify.

And the second subjectivist view, itself a second-order viewpoint, he believes is different from his moral scepticism in two ways: 1. Moral scepticism is a negative view, stating what there isn’t and not what there is, unlike those in subjectivism. 2 Moral scepticism also is at its core an ontological argument, concerning what does not exist. Whereas subjectivism is concerned with linguistics, with the meanings of moral statements. Mackie recognises that those who consider hemselves subjectivists will usually share his view of scepticism.

As if all moral views were subjective statements, then there would be no objective values, because if there were objective values, the subjectivist would be able to say something about them. Although the converse is not true, as starting by saying that there are no objective values has no impact on the meaning of moral statements. Error Theory Believing that there are objective values is what Mackie calls the claim to objectivity, and it is a belief that is deeply embedded within western culture and philosophy. He elieves that we everyday make moral Judgements that suggest towards an objective moral truth.

He also gives examples of multiple influential philosophers (Aristotle, Kant, and Hume to name a few) who do the same in their philosophical works, in taking for granted that there are objective values. As Mackie believes that there are no objective truths, his view of moral scepticism is put forward as an error theory, which states that whilst we make moral claims about the world which reference values such as goodness or rightness, we are making that reference in error, as those objective truths do not exist.

The Argument From Relativity At the heart of this argument is the observation that there is such wide difference in moral codes of conduct between different cultures and countries around the world, with much discussion about which is the correct, the right way to live. Mackie believes that if there are objective values, then humans would be able to settle these disagreements simply by referring to the true objective value to determine what is right and wrong. Seeing as these differences and disagreements continue to exist, there according to Mackie, objective values cannot exist.

Mackie argues that ifferences in moral codes between people reflect how they live their lives. For example, it is not that I Jump red lights on my way to work because I believe that it is the right thing to do, rather I believe it is right to Jump red lights because I Jump red lights on my way to work. There is no overarching, objective, moral gold standard that we refer to when making choices in our day-to-day lives, rather we create our own moral code based on our decisions and actions previously.

Mackie believes that it is much more likely that humans create their own moral codes based on how they live ather than the view that some cultures are somehow privvy to the correct moral standards held in objectives values, and other cultures are ignorant of them and therefore behave wrong. A possible objection that Mackie addresses suggests that a better explanation for the variety of different moral codes is that there exist some basic values held by all societies.

When these are combined with the distinct characteristics of each culture, what are produced are the moral codes as we understand them. However, Mackie says that his argument from relativity still stands. He says that morality differs between cultures not because of some process of easoning from the underlying values all cultures share, but because how people immediately respond with their moral sense, or moral intuition, which may produce viewpoint X in one person and completely different viewpoint Y in another.

The Argument From Queerness The argument from queerness consists of two parts: firstly the metaphysical argument, and then the epistemological argument which tollows on trom the tormer. The argument from queerness states that if objective values such as right and wrong existed, they would exist as forms or concepts of a queer sort, the like of which has never been perceived (consciously) before. Therefore to perceive these values humans would need to possess a special “6th sense” or sorts to detect these moral values.

As we have no evidence to suggest that we have that moral sense faculty, or that there exists these ethereal objective values, Mackie concludes that there can be no objective values. We are provided with some examples of what attributes an objective value might have, starting with Plato’s Forms. The Form of the Good when taken on as knowledge by an individual provides not only the correct course of action to take, but also the motivation for that individual to pursue that action.

Knowing that helping an old lady to cross the street rather than leave her alone is the right choice, tells the individual that helping her is the correct option and makes that individual go help her. Also, Mackie mentions an example from Samuel Clarke, whereby a moral situation would have a demand for the morally right action ingrained within it, which then provides the motivation for the individual to pursue that action. Clarke’s version of events merely states that the objective value demands from the person involved the correct action; it does not cause them to take up that action as in the example of

Plato’s Forms. Conclusion In The Subjectivity of Values, Mackie’s Moral Scepticism is clarified extensively, so that we are sure not to confuse it with considering first-order moral views, or the similar anti-realistic view of Moral Subjectivism. The idea that humans make moral judgements which involve a claim to objectivity, a habit ingrained within our language and culture, is shown as mistaken by Mackie’s error theory of moral scepticism. By providing his arguments from relativity and (metaphysical and epistemological) queerness, he refutes the common sense view that there must be objective values.

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