agit-prop, opinion manipulation and well-poisoning games Atheism Darwinist rhetorical tactics Ethics governance Lessons of History Logic and First Principles of right reason Media Manipulation, Agit-Prop &/or Lawfare Selective Hyperskepticism You're a Nazi/fascist/racist/fundy/creationist etc

The futility of relativism, subjectivism and emotivism as ethical stances

Spread the love

The exchanges over ethics have continued to brew up in UD’s comment threads. Accordingly, it is appropriate to note an excerpt from a chapter summary for what seems to be a very level-headed — and so quite unfashionable — textbook:

>>Excerpted chapter summary, on Subjectivism, Relativism, and Emotivism, in Doing Ethics 3rd Edn, by Lewis Vaughn, W W Norton, 2012. [Also see here and here.] Clipping:

. . . Subjective relativism is the view that an action is morally right if one approves of it. A person’s approval makes the action right. This doctrine (as well as cultural relativism) is in stark contrast to moral objectivism, the view that some moral principles are valid for everyone.. Subjective relativism, though, has some troubling implications. It implies that each person is morally infallible and that individuals can never have a genuine moral disagreement

Cultural relativism is the view that an action is morally right if one’s culture approves of it. The argument for this doctrine is based on the diversity of moral judgments among cultures: because people’s judgments about right and wrong differ from culture to culture, right and wrong must be relative to culture, and there are no objective moral principles. This argument is defective, however, because the diversity of moral views does not imply that morality is relative to cultures. In addition, the alleged diversity of basic moral standards among cultures may be only apparent, not real. Societies whose moral judgments conflict may be differing not over moral principles but over nonmoral facts.

Some think that tolerance is entailed by cultural relativism. But there is no necessary connection between tolerance and the doctrine. Indeed, the cultural relativist cannot consistently advocate tolerance while maintaining his relativist standpoint. To advocate tolerance is to advocate an objective moral value. But if tolerance is an objective moral value, then cultural relativism must be false, because it says that there are no objective moral values.

Like subjective relativism, cultural relativism has some disturbing consequences. It implies that cultures are morally infallible, that social reformers can never be morally right, that moral disagreements between individuals in the same culture amount to arguments over whether they disagree with their culture, that other cultures cannot be legitimately criticized, and that moral progress is impossible.

Emotivism is the view that moral utterances are neither true nor false but are expressions of emotions or attitudes. It leads to the conclusion that people can disagree only in attitude, not in beliefs. People cannot disagree over the moral facts, because there are no moral facts. Emotivism also implies that presenting reasons in support of a moral utterance is a matter of offering nonmoral facts that can influence someone’s attitude. It seems that any nonmoral facts will do, as long as they affect attitudes. Perhaps the most far-reaching implication of emotivism is that nothing is actually good or bad. There simply are no properties of goodness and badness. There is only the expression of favorable or unfavorable emotions or attitudes toward something.>>

Let us trust that those enamored of the more fashionable schools of thought just critiqued in brief but telling fashion will take on board this food for thought. END

13 Replies to “The futility of relativism, subjectivism and emotivism as ethical stances

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    The futility of relativism, subjectivism and emotivism as ethical stances.

    (And yes, there is a shameless plug to buy the book. I have no connexion, but this clip tells us a lot.)

  2. 2
    JSmith says:

    I agree with this except. Subjective relativism and cultural relativism are untenable.

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    JS, also, emotivism (such being little more than a cover for utterly cynical, manipulative soft nihilism). There endeth the basis for the arguments you and others have made for weeks. Due note is taken also of the attempted gloating at at least one of the penumbra of animus sites. KF

  4. 4
    JSmith says:

    KF JS, also, emotivism (such being little more than a cover for utterly cynical, manipulative soft nihilism). There endeth the basis for the arguments you and others have made for weeks.

    Sadly, I was never arguing for any of these. That is why I said that I think that we are arguing about different things.

    Due note is taken also of the attempted gloating at at least one of the penumbra of animus sites. KF

    Well, if you are going to believe everything ET claims, that is your choice.

    Just a note, I don’t think “penumbra” means what you think it means.

  5. 5
    ET says:

    The evidence, JSmith- the evidence says it all. Your whining is just the clincher.

    Just a note, we all know that you can’t actually make a case and have to rely solely on your nonsensical and cowardly innuendoes.

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    JS, the track record of your arguing for relativism and linked radical fallibilism is there to be called up if necessary. As for metaphorical use of a term used for half-shadow [as in, in the half-shadow of UD], we just laugh the movie reference off. KF

  7. 7
    JSmith says:

    KF

    JS, the track record of your arguing for relativism and linked radical fallibilism is there to be called up if necessary.

    Really? Then you are speaking loudly in disregard to the truth (aka lying). I have never talked about moral relativism. In fact, I have more than once stated that moral subjectivism isn’t to be confused with moral relativism. That is just the term that you have applied to me to erect a strawman argument that you can topple. If you can’t address the substantive arguments being made, claiming that the arguments are different than what they are, and attributing nefarious motives and making other attacks on character is just dishonesty and insecurity.

  8. 8
    ET says:

    JSmith:

    I have never talked about moral relativism.

    Moral relativism:

    Evolution and moral relativism go hand-in-hand, for evolution teaches that life is accidental, without meaning or purpose. Therefore, anything you do is OK, because it ultimately doesn’t matter.

  9. 9
    ET says:

    JSmith:

    If you can’t address the substantive arguments being made,…

    When and if someone makes a substantive argument it will be properly addressed.

  10. 10
    kairosfocus says:

    JS,

    We credibly know you are a sock-puppet for a notorious troll [HT: ET], the only real question is as to whether the root identity is an individual or effectively a collective. Where, one of the typical tactics of such trolls is to try to double down and to project, a propagandistic tactic known as the turn-speech accusation.

    That’s not going to work here, though we will keep in our scales the question as to whether your utility as a specimen of what has gone wrong is overbalanced by your inherent incivility. For the moment we will simply chalk down your tactic of casting out an accusation of lying to the mirror-problem of projection.

    More interesting is something else, we cannot but notice the evasiveness above.

    When at long last we decided to target the popularised morality of our day, and listed some of its fatal flaws, you instantly denied adhering to PART of it. Then, on challenge you denied adhering to the last main part, but have not dealt with the apparent root of the weed, the extremist fallibilism that seeks to invalidate moral knowledge and often knowledge in general.

    We further note the trick of evasion and oh I don’t have anything to defend.

    A normal person, confronted with a challenge such as in the OP would lay out in outline his or her actual position by substantial contrast with the ideas s/he is distancing position from.

    You did not.

    That evasiveness is crucial, and is utterly telling.

    It is similar to how, when you were confronted with direct cases of general self-evident truths, you evasively said you never said there were no such truths. Which, of course, is not quite the same as acknowledging that there are such truths and that you saw several of them in front of you that you accepted as so.

    Which would of course have devastated the fallibilist notion that as we may err, we cannot know some things utterly certainly. Where, one of those things that we may in fact know to utter certainty is that error exists. Which albeit humbling as to import [and notice how it instantly means that we are not the strawman totalitarians imposing their notions that ever so many have projected], is a case of self-evident truth, known to be so to utter certainty. As, undeniably true.

    One of the subtleties of radical fallibilism, of course, is that as warrant comes in degrees, much of what we accept in practical — good enough for real world work — knowledge (such as in science, management and the court-room) is not warranted to utter certainty. That is why on such observations, I started the recent series of OP’s on what is knowledge, identifying that there is a weaker form sense:

    Generally, I would argue that “knowledge” is used in a weak form sense: warranted, credibly true (and reliable) belief.

    Of course, I went on to argue that there are comparatively limited cases of strong-form knowledge, self-evident truths that are utterly certain as the attempted denial instantly lands in patent absurdity.

    One classic case is that a conscious individual knows himself to be conscious to self-evident certainty. Not, that there may be or are no errors within the consciousness, but that the bare fact is so. And if he doubts, instantly, the issue is, WHO is doubting but a self-aware conscious individual.

    Similarly, 2 + 3 = 5 and that distinct identity exists with immediate corollaries the first principles of right reason: LOI, LNC, LEM.

    Maybe, I should re-arrange:

    A conscious individual is aware of self [A] vs non-self, rest of world [~A]

    A-ness is self evident already as shown

    W = {A | ~A}

    A = A, A is itself, LOI

    opening up all the points on core characteristics that distinguish A and allow it to be, properties, behaviour and manifestations flowing out into ROW from which we may infer to characteristics. Proverbially, men do not gather mangoes from thorn-bushes and the same spring does not gush forth sweet and bitter and salty water.

    Any x in W — given the dichotomy — will be A X-OR ~A, LEM

    No x in W will be A AND ~A in the same sense and circumstances etc, LNC.

    So, despite the fallibility that errors may exist in our consciousness and in our shared base of ideas, there is demonstrably sufficient capability and reliability in our intellectual capabilities to warrant certain things as self-evidently true. Where such will never amount to enough to flesh out a worldview. Instead such SET’s serve to test as a plumb-line tests a wall and may expose a crooked yardstick. Even, one that has somehow been allowed to be used as a standard of what is straight, level and upright.

    Where too, that moral error exists, we have discussed by highlighting a key instructive case that you and others of your ilk have studiously tried to evade and side-track from for many weeks now: that it is self-evidently evil to kidnap, bind, sexually violate and murder a young child for one’s pleasure.

    Let me remind you of the headlined comment from which the past several weeks of exchanges have directly come; yes it is all there and WP allows us to readily go back and roll the tape:

    [JS:] ALL morals that we have, regardless of the source, regardless of whether they are objective or subjective, are filtered through humans. As such, we can never be absolutely sure that they are free from error. [–> key step in highlighting fallibilism, towards relativising moral truth] All of your “moral governance”, “reasoning and responsibility“, “self referential”, “IS-OUGHT” talking points are just that. Talking points. They are not arguments against what I have said about the fact that ALL purported moral actions are open to be questioned. [–> based on fallibilism and the relativisation of difference of views] Unless, of course, you suggest that we shouldn’t use the reasoning capabilities that we were given.

    This is of course the radical fallibilism — addressed here in reply to CR — that fuels the agenda of relativising the question of moral truth, transforming it into “values” in the sense of personally or institutionally or culturally established opinion.

    Where, I add, trivially anyone may question. That is not the issue.

    The operative insinuation is that questioning overmatches any moral claim, by virtue of radical or selective hyperskepticism and fallibilism. Where, when you and others were challenged on the self-referentiality that fallibilism is itself fallible [thence infinite regress], there was evasion. What you and others have refused to squarely face and acknowledge is the demonstration of sufficient reliability to establish certain limited truths as self-evidently so. That goes to the underlying lack of sincerity and seriousness of course — your persona is that of a troll.

    But more to the point, that such truths exist and are instructive allows us to use them as plumb-lines that test and build rational, responsible confidence in the reliability and credibility of much wider bodies of knowledge. Ranging from common-sense facts of daily life and experience, to managerial decision making, to education and work, to a soundly critical approach to bodies of scientific knowledge, to mathematics, to logic, to philosophy and even to theology and even the Christian faith tradition and its Hebraic roots. Not to mention, to ethics.

    Now, lurking in the skepticism and fallibilism automatically triumph thesis, is the underlying suggestion that there are no actual moral facts so one is left to manipulate emotions and perceptions to come to moral conclusions. Might and manipulation make ‘right’/ ‘truth’/ ‘knowledge’/ ‘soundness’/ ‘rights’/ ‘justice’ etc. This soft nihilism is credibly a key part of why you tried to dismiss a major philosophical theme, the IS-OUGHT gap, as nonsense, mere empty talking points.

    Indeed, at 347 in another thread, here is how you clipped SB and replied, a week and a half or so ago:

    [SB:] You have stated many times that objective morality doesn’t exist. Are you really so badly educated that you don’t know that “good” and “evil” exist in the objective moral realm. Is it really necessary for me to provide remedial education for you every time you write something?

    [JS:] And where have I said that good and evil don’t exist in the subjective morality realm? I realize that some say that right and wrong, good and evil, don’t exist. But when they say this they are referring to them not existing in the objective sense. There is no prohibition of them in the subjective sense.

    Of course, existing in the realm of opinions and imagination, perceptions and feelings etc, is the same way that characters in novels etc exist. As notions that awaken attitudes, not as binding realities that must be acknowledged as facts. As convenient fictions in short.

    This is the heart of emotivism, it is the heart of subjectivism, it is the heart of relativism, the issue is only, of just what particular flavour of the day.

    So, the evasion fails.

    KF

  11. 11
    Seversky says:

    . . . Subjective relativism is the view that an action is morally right if one approves of it. A person’s approval makes the action right.

    It makes it right for the individual who approves it. Others may approve or disapprove of it and be just as right – whatever “right” means in this context

    This doctrine (as well as cultural relativism) is in stark contrast to moral objectivism, the view that some moral principles are valid for everyone.

    Moral objectivism is the view that there are moral imperatives to which we are all subject, which are entirely independent of our will and in which we not allowed any say whatsoever. It is a bid for social and political power by the proponents of whatever is being advocated as the one and only true objective morality.

    Subjective relativism, though, has some troubling implications. It implies that each person is morally infallible and that individuals can never have a genuine moral disagreement

    No, subjective morality doesn’t necessarily imply individual infallibility or preclude the possibility of disagreement with others. They don’t follow at all.

    Cultural relativism is the view that an action is morally right if one’s culture approves of it. The argument for this doctrine is based on the diversity of moral judgments among cultures: because people’s judgments about right and wrong differ from culture to culture, right and wrong must be relative to culture, and there are no objective moral principles. This argument is defective, however, because the diversity of moral views does not imply that morality is relative to cultures.

    Actually, the diversity of moral views does imply that morality is relative to cultures. That is definitely one possible explanation, although not necessarily the only one.

    Emotivism is the view that moral utterances are neither true nor false but are expressions of emotions or attitudes. It leads to the conclusion that people can disagree only in attitude, not in beliefs. People cannot disagree over the moral facts, because there are no moral facts.

    Our abhorrence of the rape and murder of a child is not based on a careful and dispassionate consideration of the pros and cons of such behavior, it is because we are horrified by the very thought of it. Morality at one level is a visceral rather than an intellectual response, although we try to justify it by post hoc rationalizations. It is why we are outraged at the prospect of a murderer, having unlawfully deprived the victim of the rest of his or her life, walking away scot-free to enjoy the rest of theirs.

  12. 12
    JSmith says:

    S

    No, subjective morality doesn’t necessarily imply individual infallibility or preclude the possibility of disagreement with others. They don’t follow at all.

    I would go even further and say that subjective morality acknowledges individual fallibility and seeks to obtain agreement. Objective morality, on the other hand, breeds obstinacy, bigotry and discourages cooperation.

    Actually, the diversity of moral views does imply that morality is relative to cultures. That is definitely one possible explanation, although not necessarily the only one.

    I would agree. It also explains the diverse moral values that we see amongst cultures.

    Morality at one level is a visceral rather than an intellectual response, although we try to justify it by post hoc rationalizations.

    It is definitely visceral. But I would suggest that the visceral aspect is the result of indoctrination by parents and authority figures, along with reinforcement and feedback. The original source of these teachings is still rational logic. Or what was considered rational logic at the time of our parents, grandparents and so on. And is why it is important that we continue to question our moral values. And our gut reactions.

    In the 50s and 60s many would have reacted with a visceral reaction to seeing a black man kissing a white woman. As many people still do at seeing two men kissing. Neither of these can in any way be objectively wrong, but due to indoctrination, our gut reactions (in the 60s and today) would suggest otherwise.

  13. 13
    ET says:

    JSmith:

    Objective morality, on the other hand, breeds obstinacy, bigotry and discourages cooperation.

    Again you are using your uneducated opinion as meaningful discourse.

Leave a Reply