Poverty and social justice
Female (and male) circumcision
Exploitation of others
Unfairness in divorce proceedings
Freedom of speech
And one person wrote that we shouldn’t have any more social or moral progress because it always just leads to further problems…
An additional note to last week’s discussion about moral scepticism….also relevant to today’s discussion about subjectivism….
Protagoras: early Greek philosopher 490-420 BCE
Considered a pre-Socratic even though alive at the same time as Socrates
Protagoras considered himself a moral skeptic
He came as close as it was safe to come to insisting that there were no gods (Religious authorities powerful…)
In any case, he said, even if the gods created the world, they didn’t seem to care about people
Therefore, people shouldn’t care about them
If you relied on the gods for moral guidance, you were lazy or you were duped (by those who proclaimed to speak for the gods)
We are alone here and we are our own responsibility (Early Humanism?)
Protagoras: Moral skeptic Protagoras was a sophist – taught for money
Sophists generally not held in high regard – lacked community roots
Willing to teach young men to prove anything
Didn't care whether truth
The correct side is the winning side –
But Protagoras very concerned with matters of virtue and morality…where morality might come from – whether virtue can be taught…
Find Plato’s dialogue between Socrates and Protagoras...
Man is the measure of all things – of the things that are, that they are – of the things that are not, that they are not
Individuals and groups create truth, according to Protagoras "For Protagoras, this same relativism applies to morality. We all have our own perceptions about what things are good, evil, just and unjust. We can also defend our views with arguments.
In this sense, each of our respective moral views is true. (but true only in the sense that there is no standard against which it can be found untrue)
Our respective moral views are not all equally good
Or equally useful
Or equally beneficial
If I say that lying is morally permissible, this may be a true perception on my part, but it isn’t particularly beneficial
if it disgraces me
or jeopardizes my relationships
or undermines social order.
To the extent that Protagoras values the practical benefit of morality,
It’s not saying much to say that your morality is as good as anyone else’s
Protagoras claimed that he could teach moral virtue (arete), just as he could other skills.
The moral virtue he taught, then, involved those values that contained the most practical benefit."
The main points of Protagoras’s moral skepticism:
There is no ultimate moral truth
Our individual moral views are equally true
The practical benefit of our moral values is more important than their truth
The practical benefit of moral values is a function of social custom rather than nature
(He seems to abandon objective moral truth in favor of practical moral benefit.)
We spoke last week about Cultural Relativism and the way in which different societies develop their moral systems
When societies come into conflict – everyone thinks that their morality is the RIGHT morality and others are confused, ignorant or evil
Emigration and Immigration also lead to conflict – fear, suspicion and hatred of the newcomer who refuses to conform – who seems to want different rights – religion, education, food, dress, family life
William Graham Sumner wrote:
We learn [the morals of our society] as unconsciously as we learn to walk and hear and breathe, and [we] never know any reason why the [morals] are what they are. The justification of them is that when we wake to consciousness of life we find the facts which already hold us in the bonds of tradition, custom and habit.”
We awaken into a fully-formed family, religion, community, society and we learn to be functioning members of that society long before we question anything…
Cultural relativism says that every society develops its moral values based on its particular experiences and circumstances. And the fact that these vary so widely over time and distance persuades us that we have no reason to suppose that underneath there are any objective moral principles
Today, we’re going to go even a little further and say that morality is dependant on each individual
This is called Simple Subjectivism and is clearly related to relativism
Early proponent: David Hume (18th C. ) but also others
Hume: morality is a matter of sentiment rather than fact…
(sometimes referred to as a ‘moral sense’ theory)
“moral sense” as in a sixth sense
So that we have a sense of taste, smell, touch, hearing, seeing
All these help us understand the world around us
But are also always intermediaries – standing between us and the ‘real’ world -- standing and filtering, perhaps….changing even
The ‘moral sense’ philosophers believed that we have another sense for morality – some special tool – akin to these other senses –
Hume's moral theory is of lasting importance in the history of moral philosophy both for its originality and for its influence on later moral theoriesHume is famous for the position that we cannot derive ought from is-- that is, the view that statements of moral obligation cannot simply be deduced from statements of fact. Some contemporary moral philosophers see Hume as an early proponent of the metaethical view that moral judgments principally express our feelings. What is perhaps less well-known is that Hume's moral theory is the first in modern philosophy to be completely secular, without reference to God's will, a divine creative plan, or an afterlife. Hume also directly argues that key moral values are matters of social convention. These views spawned both praise and indignation in writings of commentators over the years. http://www.iep.utm.edu/h/humemora.htm
Hume accepted from earlier philosophers the distinction between different players in the investigation of morality
The agent: the person doing (or not doing) the action
The receiver: the person directly affected
The spectator: the person watching and judging
(note that they call the person judging the action – the spectator – as though there is something passing from the action to the spectator just as in sight or smell….
And the receiver – as though he is physically receiving something
Punching someone might be physical – the receiver actually receiving
But what of gossip? What does the ‘receiver’ receive?
What of promise-breaking? What does the receiver receive?
What of lying?
What Hume put together was something like this:
Moral actions stem from character, which can be virtuous or vicious
The agent performs some act – the receiver either benefits and is happy or suffers and is distressed
The spectator’s judgment (my judgment) is based on sympathy with the receiver
If the receiver is happy, I judge the act moral
If the receiver is distressed, I judge the act immoral
And since mostly the same things make most of us happy and mostly the same things distress most of us, we eventually build norms for ourselves – and can judge actions right or wrong even abstractly with no agent or receiver in sight
The sympathy is the key – as humans, we have a great capacity for understanding the emotions of others and for sympathising….
(Empathy is the ability to feel what others are feeling in the absence of the direct stimuli
It’s one of the reasons why literature and movies (and soap operas) are so powerful and so rewarding)
I’ve mentioned Frans de Waal’s interesting book Primates and Philosophers
Rather than assuming, as so many have, that we humans have somehow ‘grown beyond’ our animal natures, he sees the roots of human morality in the social emotions found in the higher primates….
The hypothesis which we embrace is plain. It maintains that morality is determined by sentiment. It defines virtue to be whatever mental action or quality gives to a spectator the pleasing sentiment of approbation; and vice the contrary.
We then proceed to examine a plain matter of fact, to wit, what actions have this influence. We consider all the circumstances in which these actions agree, and thence endeavour to extract some general observations with regard to these sentiments. If you call this metaphysics and find anything abstruse here, you need only conclude that your turn of mind is not suited to the moral sciences.
You hear of this subjectivism all the time
It’s right for me…
I have to feel good about it, not you…
I have to make up my own mind…
Morality is in the eye of the beholder….
Where morality is concerned everyone has to make up their own mind…
We like it – it seems to suit our modern world with its rejection of ethnocentrism (the human tendency to judge the world through our cultural or moral eyes) think colonialism – the white man’s burden -- the destruction of Native Canadian culture -- religious bigotry ---
(All the thinks we’ve learned to think better about, eh?)
It seems suited to the diversity of our multicultural society
It seems suited to our laid-back attitudes
It seems good and easy and tolerant….but it has traps p. 38
It cannot account for moral disagreement for it argues that statements about morality are merely self-reports. “I have a headache” is a self-report. It makes no sense to tell me that I don’t. You just have to take my word for it. If I say “Abortion is immoral” your only logical response is acceptance (because what I’m really saying is that I disapprove of abortion – and how could you argue that ‘no, I don’t’??)
But we do have moral disagreements – and they’re not really just like I like chocolate chip cookies and you like peanut butter and we’ll each be happy in our own way…
It implies that we’re always right since the only arbiter is ourselves (and our little tummyaches or heartaches) –
But we know we’re not always right (and neither is anyone else) – we’ve all regretted something we did (or didn’t do).
It makes morality itself a useless concept for there can be no comparison of one moral act with another – because no standard of comparison – no better or worse moral actions – no better or worse moral people – no way to choose morally between Mother Teresa and Hitler (as long as they were both sincerely living by their own principles)
But surely we all feel that some actions are good and some are bad -- notice that word ‘feel’ in there though…
It reduces moral choices to mere likes and dislikes – as in “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like” --- saying that torturing cats is immoral can only mean that you don’t like torturing cats – no different logically than saying veggie burgers are bad when all you mean is that you don’t like veggie burgers – and no one can argue with what you like – if you say it sincerely, it has to be a true statement (p 37 in your text) “Homosexuality is immoral” reduces to “I disapprove of homosexuality”
If you want “homosexuality is immoral” to mean more than “I disapprove of homosexuality” you have to give up ethical subjectivism – can’t have it both ways
If you want “torturing cats is immoral” to mean more than “I disapprove of torturing cats” you have to give up ethical subjectivism – can’t have it both ways
Same with murdering your neighbour and stealing her stuff
Same with invading another country
Because these are serious problems, philosophers have tried to tweak the system to make it behave – to make it more acceptable –
The Second Stage: Emotivism (early 20th C.)
Begins with the observation that language is used in a variety of ways
not only to state facts
but also to ask questions
and [of especial interest here] to give commands (imperative sentences)
Emotivist Thesis: moral judgments -- though they have the surface grammar of statements, are really disguised commands.
Surface grammar: when I say X is right" I seem to be saying there is a property (rightness) had by X.
What I am saying is "Do X"
When I say X is wrong I'm saying "Don't do X"
So we really do disagree – we disagree, not about our attitudes, but in our attitudes.
Moral judgments must be supported by reasons
If you like peaches, you don’t have to defend your preference
But if you like torturing cats, you should have a reason
Emotivism seems to accept as ‘reasons’ any consideration which influences attitudes – this could be trickery, demogoguery, falsehood, propaganda etc.
Another question?? Subjectivism says that morality is based on feelings – reasons can only be of the kind ‘hitting other people always makes them unhappy – so hitting people must be wrong…
Is it reasonable to ask a theory which bases morality on feelings to provide ‘reasons’?
There are moral facts
It's a false dichotomy to think
Either there are moral facts in the same way that there are facts about stars and planets
Or else "values" are nothing more than the expression of subjective feelings.
Maybe there’s a third way…..
"Moral truths are truths of reason; that is, a moral judgment is true if it is backed by better reasons than the alternatives." P 45
“We cannot make something good or bad just by wishing it to be so….
Before we go on to the question of homosexuality, conventionalism
Conventional ethical relativism
Another attempt to avoid the traps of subjective relativism
Conventionalism is the view that there are no objective moral principles but, rather, all valid moral principles are justified by virtue of their cultural acceptance – this includes an attempt to recognize the social nature of morality
If we are all our own moral arbiters, how can there be any ‘morality’
Conventionalism tries to blunt the harshness of that by requiring ‘social acceptance’ Safety in numbers? Reliability in numbers?
Traps here also…
Hitler had social acceptance for his invasion of Poland
George Bush had social acceptance for his invasion of Iraq
As I said last week, how big does a group have to be to define its own morality?
Lynch mobs in 1920 Mississippi had social acceptance
The Mafia has social acceptance within its ranks
The terrorists of 9/11 have social acceptance within their ranks
We all belong to different groups (with different moral codes)
The Mafia (as portrayed in the Godfather) were good Catholics
Surely the Mafia and the Catholic Church had conflicting moral codes?
The Question of Homosexuality
No doubt that many people's anti-homosexual beliefs are rooted in irrational fears & hatreds
But we need reason, not emotion
Emotions are so powerful, we feel they must be telling us the truth…early learning not easily questioned
Unpacking our prejudices….e. g. homosexuality is wrong
Wrong how? Wrong why? Wrong for whom?
Bad in themselves? Bad for society (family values)
Note that 2/3rd’s of the way down page 49, Rachels admits that the idea that homosexuality is unnatural has intuitive appeal --- but, importantly, no logic
So if you care about logic, you’ll have to reject this argument
And then the ‘family values’ argument
And then the religious argument Leviticus 18:22 and others
But there are many verses in the Bible that we choose to ignore…about beating children, about eating sheep’s fat, about letting women into church who have recently given birth etc.
moral thinking and moral conduct are a matter of weighing reasons and being guided by them
in focusing on attitudes and feelings, Ethical Subjectivism seems to be going in the wrong direction
Discussion: The Ashley treatment: Remember Rachels’ way of dealing with the Baby Teresa case
Outline your position using principles -- the hard part is aligning your solution to your principles
Principle: Everyone has the right to make their own decisions about their body. Are there exceptions?
What about your ten-year old getting a tattoo?
What about your mentally-delayed but physically grown son?
What about 6 year old Ashley X?
What about 15 year old Katie Thorpe?
Everyone should be allowed to reach their full potential. Are there exceptions?
Hume first discusses ethics in A Treatise of Human Nature. He later extracts and expounds upon the ideas he proposed in Treatise in a shorter essay entitled An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Hume's approach in Enquiry is fundamentally an empirical one. Instead of telling us how morality ought to operate, he tells us how we actually make moral judgments. After providing us with various examples, he comes to the conclusion that most, though not all, of the behaviors we approve of increase public utility. He supposes that humans may be, in the language of today, 'hard-wired' to approve of things that help society – public utility. Hume used this insight to explain how we evaluate a wide array of phenomena, ranging from social institutions and government policies to character traits and talents.
Nonetheless, Hume is no utilitarian. In line with his debunking of religion, and of knowledge itself, he has no time for theories attempting to put ethics on a pedestal. But nor is he entirely contemptuous of public morality. Unlike Thomas Hobbes, Hume considers the ethical impulse a worthy one, based on more than self-interest. This is because, in addition to considerations of self-interest, Hume maintains that we can be moved by our 'sympathy' for others, fundamental human impulses that provide a person with thoroughly non-selfish concerns and motivations—sometimes referred to by contemporary theorists as altruistic concern.
Here, Hume follows his close friend and (at the time) much more highly respected contemporary, Adam Smith whose book entitled 'The Theory of the Moral Sentiments' (1759) starts with a chapter entitled 'Of Sympathy'. Smith's theory was intended to explain the operations of human society in much the same way as his (better-remembered) economic works on the nature of money. The theory assumes that there are, in fact, "no differences between right and wrong, just different emotional responses to acts" as Martin Cohen has put it. This is why Hume says: "It is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger" Instead, Hume defends his sympathy-based, moral sentimentalism by claiming that we could never make moral judgments based on reason alone. Our reason deals with facts and draws conclusions from them, but, Ceteris paribus, it could not lead us to choose one option over the other; only our sentiments can do this. Also, our sympathy-based sentiments can motivate us towards the pursuit of non-selfish ends, like the utility of others. For Hume, and for fellow sympathy-theorist Adam Smith, the term "sympathy" is meant to capture much more than concern for the suffering of others. Sympathy, for Hume, is a principle for the communication and sharing of sentiments, both positive and negative. In this sense, it is akin to what contemporary psychologists and philosophers call empathy. In developing this sympathy-based moral sentimentalism, Hume surpasses the divinely implanted moral sense theory of his predecessor, Francis Hutcheson, by elaborating a naturalistic, moral psychological basis for the moral sense, in terms of the operation of sympathy. Hume's arguments against founding morality on reason are often now included in the arsenal of moral anti-realist arguments. As Humean-inspired philosopher John Mackie suggests, for there to exist moral facts about the world, recognizable by reason and intrinsically motivating, they would have to be very queer facts. Still, there is considerable debate among scholars as to Hume's status as a realist versus anti-realist.
Born in 1934 to a teen-age mother who became a prostitute, Manson drifted from reformatory to jail to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury in the late 1960s. There, his occult spoutings and feral charisma attracted followers who became The Family. Manson and his disciples (who called him both "God" and "Satan") moved to Los Angeles in 1968 to pursue his song-writing ambitions...