Moral Truth

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  • Created on: 28-03-13 18:01

Moral Cognitivism

Moral cognitivism - we can have moral knowledge, morality exists

Realism - good can be equated with a real property in the world

Irrealism - good cannot be equated with anything but exists nonetheless

Reasons to be a moral cognitivist:

- If no true morality why should act as if there is

- Things in the world that we can relate to morality

- Feel accountable to morality

- those who act morally survive and flourish - it is an inbuilt human function??

- We talk of moral progress which does not make sense if moral knowledge is not possible

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Morality as transcendent truth

If morality exists it would appear to exist outside empirical world - e.g. in theological terms

Could be argued morality exists transcendentally in the same way as mathematical truths 

Could be argued maths is transcendent - where does it come from, is it discovered or invented - it is an abstract concept 

Maths is true regardless of our feelings about it - 2+2=4 will always hold - the same might apply for moral truths 

Implications of transcendent morality - objective, standard of morality to strive for, can have moral progress, removes subjectivism, might imply transcendence of other concepts e.g. beauty, suggests supernatural realm - cultures will definitely be wrong - should we tolerate them, moral dilemmas turn to what we want to do vs. ought rather than what is right

Problems - why do we not have same morality, expect net gain of good always, why do we care unless punishment. Does morality just exist in our genetics?

Strengths - purpose, objective morality 

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Implications of transcendent truth

Leads to elitism - like Plato's philosopher kings

- If we knew good why would we not follow it? Akrasia - weakness of will

Socrates - not in our nature to act in a way that is not beneficial to us, might not know good - we never act against what we know is good - Questionable

Aristotle - Akratic person goes against reason in favour of an emotion, e.g. pleasure or anger

Davidson - Agent does b intenionally, believing an option a is open to them, judge that it is better to do a than b, judge that b is better than a pre action 

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Moral truths are based on natural facts (Mill + Ar

- happiness is an end, happiness is desirable, can prove by general consensus that happiness is the ultimate end, 

- Mill argues we desire happiness by:

- empirical evidence is that people desire happiness

- everyone acts to promote their happiness

criticism - not everyone acts to promote happiness
- what do we mean by happiness - general vs. personal
- is all happiness equal

Aristotle: living well is determined by human nature - ultimate aim of human action
- good life is dependent on human nature
- facts about moral truths depend on human nature
- A good man is one who reasons and chooses well - happiness will result from this
- being moral is living the good life
- good life is fulfilling your purpose - based on your nature

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Criticisms: Moore (open question and naturalistic

naturalistic fallacy:

- good is a simple idea - cannot be broken down further

- cannot be defined by those who have not experienced it (like e.g. yellow)

- therefore cannot equate good with happiness, he is defining that which cannot be defined

- error is that Mill tries to break down the simple concept of good

Open question:

- 3 options for good to be, a simple or complex concept, or meaningless (reject as we all have a concept of good with meaning for it)

- if good = happiness then question 'is happiness good' would not make sense - would ask 'is good good', would be a closed question 

- question makes sense so it is an open question, therefore happiness does not = good

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Is naturalistic fallacy a fallacy?

No: confuses concepts with properties,

- 2 different concepts such as water and H2can talk about same propety

- therefore happiness and good can talk about same property

- Problem is that water and H2O  are talking about physical things that can be measured whereas good cannot, a good person might not always be happy and vice versa

- could be argued you can define good, in the same way you can give instances of yellow to define yellow, you could do the same for good

- Is Mill trying to define good?


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The is/ought gap (Hume)

Although open questions fails might be argued that Moore is right to maintain that, from any natural property, we cannot deduce a moral property

- cannot jump from what is (descriptive) to what ought to be (evaluative)

e.g. Premise: women are able to have children

Conclusion: Therefore all women should have children.

Hume argues there is a hidden premise between original premise and conclusion

Deductively valid = conclusion follows premise with no new info in the conclusion

Criticism Searle: might be word e.g. promise that implies an ought

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Morality and relational properties

Morality can be objective but still relative to the party acting

In the same way that water boils at different temperature depending on the altitude

Objectively true that water will boil at a given temp at a certain altitude but still dependent on the altitude

In same way might argue that morality might not count for animals - killing others of your species not considered murder for the different animals

Morality can therefore be objectively true for use given our own reasons for it - natural facts are not necessarily relational but whether a natural fact can be given as a reason in relational to us

Problem - suggests that morality is subjective, e.g. just because I don't believe that dinosaurs existed doesn't make it false

You can only bridge the is-ought gap in relation to yourself, you have to care about the topic e.g. eating meat is wrong only makes sense if you care about the animals welfare, what we have reason to do is dependent on us so moral judgements are expressions ofwhat we care about not of truth 

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Hume's argument from primary and secondary qualiti

e.g. hot and cold water - put one hand in hot and one in cold then in tepid - temp will feel different

Way we feel temperature is subjective - it is a secondary quality unlike the actual temperature which is primary

Hume - morality is a secondary quality, action remains same but our emotional reaction differs - morality judgements are expressions of our feelings

Counter: McDowell - Secondary qualities no less real than primary - to be brown means to look brown to normal person in normal circumstances

idea that somtething is a moral value makes sense only in relation to valuers, moral judgements are defined by human response - but what values there are doesn't depend on what any person find valuable
morality can be subjective but still exist, e.g. if saw shadow of a chair would say that a chair exists - therefore in the same way we can say we can't see moral truths only their effects, if you say food is tasty your talking about an aspect of the food, people can disagree about morality without it ceaing to exist

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How is knowledge of moral truth possible?

Different ideas: Moore: intuition (good = simple)
- Plato forms
- Mill - based on natural facts - happiness
- Society - what a society thinks is right
- Kant - duty
- Aristotle - self-fulfilment

Moral reasoning and insight and ways of reasoning:

- In same way we can gain mathematical knowledge through reason and insight we can do the same for moral - unlike empirical knowledge which we gain through causation  

- Self evident judgements rest on evidence of own plausibility - though some people might disagree on what is self-evident e.g. Mill and happiness being desirable - though if not based on self evidence then each argument has to have a reason                            

 - Reflective equilibrium - question beliefs and give reason to them - reasons are based on assumed beliefs - good as people rarely simply disagree about beliefs         

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Non-cognitivist challenge and possibility of moral

Moral intuitions not based on insights into moral truth but based on pre-existing values and commitments

Non-cognitivist might argue that moral disagreements cannot be settled by an appeal to facts - when people look at a moral dilemma they see the same facts, therefore it must be something other than facts that people are debating on, therefore no moral truth

Cognitivist reply - disagreeing about reasons - e.g. is potential to be a human being a reason for abortion being wrong - people make moral mistakes about what facts should be reasons - will depend on life experience

objection - hard to argue that in all moral disputes only one person has had good life experience, very hard to agree on moral truth if only a few people can gain moral knowledge (elitism) - another problem is that there are other factors that shape people's belief e.g. culture

Coherence theory - statement is true iff it is consistent with other beliefs
Correspondence theory - statement is true iff it corresonds with facts - difference between belief and morality 

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Can moral truths motivate us, or justify action?

Justifying and motivating are different - to justify is to show that it is morally right, this justification might not be the motivating reason though. 

you might be paid to steal something - it might motivate the action it does not justify it - Moral truths definitely justify actions question is whether they motivate

Moral truths cannot motivate us just for being a fact (is-ought gap) just because it is true murder is wrong does not motivate me not to murder in self defence

Response - they are not motivating

or - morality is based on relational properties then it can motivate us as it is what I believe is moral therefore there must be a reason why I think it is moral that will cause me to act

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