Illusive Mind

The Unquestionable should be questioned

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Objectivty Requirement


I object to the objectivity requirement deemed necessary for a theory of ethics to be considered plausible.

For ethics to be objective it would mean that two fully rational persons, aware of all the relevant facts about the universe must come to the same conclusions about the ‘rightness’ and ‘wrongness’ of actions.

This means if a one-person values individual freedom over the good of the community and another values the good of the community over individual freedom, one must be right and the other wrong.

This to me seems to be an overly simplistic way of dealing with the complexity of ethics. If you suppose that there is no empirical basis for ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’, (“no ought from an is”) then you are left with two determining factors.

Rightness is determined as a rational outcome of an argument and/or it is determined as an outcome of social consensus and social norms.

I don’t think there is anything objective to be found in the conclusions of numerous arguments that seem to identify with different values and justify them after the fact.

Nor is there anything ‘objective’ about the norms and conventions happened to be agreed upon by particular societies that also identify with different values.

My understanding of the justification for the objectivity requirement is that it seems implicit in arguments about ethics, that someone must be right and someone must be wrong. Might not this be the arrogance of people? Equal conviction can be found in the arguments of art critics!

I think the sense of ‘rightness’ is stronger in ethical debates not because they point to moral facts but merely because the consequences of those debates are far more serious than debates about the aesthetic values. People live and die by the outcomes of ethical decisions, this is reason alone to “bother arguing about moral questions”, objectivity is not required.

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