A classmate of mine asked me to shed some light on my views on moral anti-realism. What follows is a verbatim reproduction of a comment I posted on Facebook. I didn’t cover (Olson 2009, 2014), so I would by no means consider it comprehensive, but it still is worthwhile, since it integrates arguments I’ve developed this semester.
Let’s introduce some meta-ethical categories.
Those categories will be ‘cognitivism versus non-cognitivism,’ ‘objectivism versus subjectivism,’ and ‘realism versus anti-realism.’
Cognitivists takes moral expressions to be truth-apt, whereas non-cognitivists do not.
[Meta-ethical] objectivists take moral expressions to reference something mind-independent, whereas subjectivists take moral expressions to reference the attitude of some observer.
To simplify the debate while still accommodating non-standard perspectives like Hume’s non-cognitivist subjectivist realism, let’s understand realists as taking it to be the case that the truth conditions of at least one first-order normative predication are (non-trivially) satisfied, whereas anti-realists reject such; we can cash this out in terms of what (Miller 2013) calls the ontological thesis: realists take there to exist some value-entity or value-property sufficient to make at least one normative predication true, whereas anti-realists reject the existence of the aforementioned.
You can be a moral anti-realist if you’re a cognitivist or non-cognitivist, objectivist or subjectivist; whether you’re a moral (anti-)realist or not, I take it, hinges on the ontological thesis.
I take there to be two general strong forms of moral realism. Categorically speaking, they are both species of ethical intuitionism.
The first is rationalist ethical intuitionism by which I mean non-naturalist cognitivist objectivist realism.
This view is best represented by Huemer and Shafer-Landau, but you can of course go back to Ross and Moore and Reid and Sidgwick to see some of the genealogy of rationalist ethical intuitionism.
The other ethical intuitionism is empiricist moral sentimentalism by which I mean naturalist non-cognitivist subjectivist anti-realism.
This view is best represented by the readings of Hume we get from Mackie and Jonas Olson.
I take it that the existence of ethical intuitions and moral sentiments can be explained without the ontological commitments we would get from Huemer and Hume (with Hume it’s an ideal observer theory which gets complicated in terms of how he’s a realist, and what the status of ontological commitment is for him).
I take it that Mackie’s argument from ontological/epistemological queerness shifts the burden of proof to realists.
Here Hume doesn’t have much to offer, but Huemer and other ethical intuitionists have tried to say that you can reject the justificatory basis of normative statements just as much as you can of empirical statements, so you get global skepticism from the local skepticism of the moral anti-realism implied by the ontological/epistemological argument from queerness.
Huemer offers the view that pre-rational intuition is the best foundation for an internalist (which for him we would need) epistemology; I think we can strip his principle of phenomenal conservatism of its internalism and understand it as a sort of reliabilism that comports with common-sense (if not praxeological necessity), but regardless of how we can preserve it, as Huemer presents it it does not, as I see the discourse, satisfactorily address general skeptical knowledge; in short, I engage Huemer with the reply that rejecting normative knowledge by no means necessitates a rejection of empirical knowledge.
I think Mackie’s argument from relativity shows how a great deal of moral dispositions we have do not seem to be best explained by an appeal to some epistemic access to normative truthmakers (I don’t mean them as abstract objects, but rather in the sense of having epistemic access with the value-entities or value-properties requisite for the satisfaction of the truth-conditions of first-order predications of normative value), but rather by sociological/psychological reasons.
I think Richard Joyce’s evolutionary debunking argument also shows that we can best explain these intuitions/sentiments as evolutionary artifacts (though he, as a revolutionary fictionalist, would not take moral talk to be meaningless [literally, since he’s a cognitivist], but rather the sort of thing we should make-believe with respect to).
I don’t think the justificatory assent challenge we find in Book I of The Republic (and which we can strengthen with Meno’s paradox) is solvable in any satisfactory way; if we do not agree on the nature of some normative predicate, how can we gain (negative) knowledge of said ‘simpliciter’ normative predicate’s extensionality?
It seems all we would get through discourse would be the extensionalities of normative predicates indexical to individual standards of evaluation.
But which extensionality is the right one?
An externalist (or really just a non-internalist tbh) approach to epistemology could make it so that we don’t need to extend the justificatory assent challenge to all non-normative statements and hence obliterating the possibility of any knowledge whatsoever.
Moore’s open question argument doesn’t get us out of the problem.
So just to summarize and then cover a few more bases, I think moral facts would have to be weird in nature, unlike anything else my ontology needs (I reject non-naturalism along with platonism, though I haven’t discussed platonism in this paper; let us not confuse moral realists with platonists).
It’s more plausible, through the argument from relativity and the evolutionary debunking argument, that moral development comes from non-normative sources.
Add in general anti-internalist concerns and the justificatory assent challenge (Book I problem, Meno’s paradox, Moore’s open question argument, etc.).
There are other reasons as well, and I haven’t gone into as much depth as I’ve wanted to in some areas concerning both epistemology and philosophy of language.
These are two presentations of mine on libertarianism (of course Randian Objectivism is, strictly speaking, not libertarianism, if libertarianism is taken as a political philosophy in which liberty is held as a primary goal, for Objectivism is supposed to be holistic, starting with metaphysics, then epistemology [and the ‘anteroom’ of epistemology, as Sylvan Leonard Peikoff put it in his lectures on his book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand], then axiology [ethics, politics, aesthetics]). I am not a libertarian.
The following is a Fall 2016 presentation of mine, delivered during my third semester of college for a class on philosophy of law, critiquing Murray N. Rothbard’s ethics.
The following is a Fall 2015 presentation of mine, delivered during my first semester of college for a class on logical/critical thinking and philosophical writing, on Peter Schwartz’s Washington Post article “Objecting to the ‘season of giving’.” As far as metaphysics and epistemology are concerned, I would now make more pronounced my disagreement with Objectivism, though at the time of the presentation I was more amenable to Objectivism.
I’ve been a supporter of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign since the very beginning, June 2015. I was just a senior in my final weeks of high school; now I’m a uni sophomore undergrad. Needless to say, Trump’s landslide electoral win this week was one of the greatest events I’ve ever laid witness to. Congratulations to president-elect Donald J. Trump. I’ll probably have a PhD in philosophy before your second term is over.
I posted an excerpt of something on PhilPapers: “Rothbard on Natural Rights and Why Animals Lack Them” by Melvin A. Davila Martinez. You can access the paper itself here: http://philpapers.org/archive/DAVRON.pdf