Phil-100A-Hndt-2-F-101 - Phil 100A: Ethics F 10 ...

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Unformatted text preview: Phil 100A: Ethics F 10 Professor Aaron Zimmerman Handout #2: Moral Skepticism and Disagreement 1. The Argument from Disagreement Moral nihilism: there are no moral truths or facts. Moral skepticism: whether or not there are moral truths or moral facts, we do not know (and perhaps cannot know) any of them. The Argument from Disagreement (1) Even after being exposed to the arguments for and against these practices many people continue to debate whether drug use, abortion, pornography, capital punishment, euthanasia, stem cell research, etc are moral or not. (2) The best explanation for the fact that these debates remain unresolved is either: (a) nihilism—which implies that there is no fact of the matter as to whether abortion etc are moral; or (b) moral skepticism—which implies that we do not know and perhaps cannot know whether abortion etc are moral. Therefore, (3) We have no moral knowledge. An Initial Response: We might lack knowledge of the moral status of abortion and these other contentious practices and still know that murder and adultery are immoral. For example, there might even be no fact of the matter as to whether abortion is immoral and yet it still be true that murder and adultery are immoral. The Argument from Agreement (1’) With the exception of a few philosophers, people do not debate whether murder, adultery and theft are immoral. (2’) The best explanation for the fact that these issues do not give rise to substantive disagreement is that we all know that murder, adultery, and theft are immoral. Therefore, (3’) We have moral knowledge. Therefore, (4) Nihilism and skepticism are false. Question1: Can we consistently endorse the argument from disagreement and yet deny the argument from agreement? Question 2: How much agreement is there on moral matters? How much disagreement? See ME pp. 25 ­6 for discussion. 2. Alternative Explanations of Moral Disagreement (1) Epistemic Irrationality due to religion and other forms of ideology. Belief in the immorality of homosexuality often has the same source as belief in the Genesis creation myth. Acceptance of the bible as literal truth explains why some people believe that homosexuality is immoral and the Earth is only 6,000 years old despite ample evidence to the contrary. (It’s approximately 4.5 billion years old.) (2) Differing Application of Shared Principles. “One should sacrifice human life only when it is necessary for the survival of the community.” Agreement on this principle is compatible with and would actually explain differing attitudes to infanticide and the encouragement of suicide by the elderly in normal v. extreme environments. (3) Moral truths may be complex and hard to state but still knowable. See discussion of the Tiv and the Baluch (p. 27). (4) Factual errors about the capabilities or characters of foreigners, women, homosexuals, drug users etc. (5) Vagueness. Preliminary Conclusion: We cannot know whether a moral disagreement is truly irresolvable or a moral question truly unanswerable until we examine the details of the case and are convinced that none of these factors explains why one of the parties to the dispute has been led into error. 3. Moral Dilemmas (1) Considerations of utility count in favor of framing the drifter. (2) Considerations of justice count against framing the drifter. (3) Neither consideration counts more strongly than the other. Possible reactions: (a) Comedy: framing the drifter is permissible and so is not framing the drifter; (b) Tragedy: neither framing the drifter nor refraining from doing so is permissible; (c) Action: premise (3) must be false (morality must be neither comedic nor tragic). Bad Inference: (i) Morality is often comedic or tragic. Therefore, (ii) Morality is always comedic or tragic. Again, there may be irresolvable moral dilemmas but knowledge of easy cases. 4. Anthropological Disparity Question 1: Is cannibalism immoral? What makes it so? Question 2: Does disgust over some practice justify the belief that it is immoral? Question 3: Does disgust over some practice justify the belief that it is immoral when one knows that other people aren’t disgusted by it and do not think that it is immoral? 5. The Substantive Argument for Skepticism (1) Our moral judgments have origin O (e.g. feelings of disgust). (2) O is not a safe or reliable way to make judgments. Therefore, (3) Our moral judgments are not formed in a safe or reliable way. (4) If our judgments are not formed in a safe or reliable way, we do not know what we judge to be true (even when we luckily get things right). Therefore, (5) We have no moral knowledge Questions: Do all our moral judgments have a single origin? Even if “our” belief in the immorality of cannibalism or incest between consenting adult siblings has its origins in disgust, mightn’t our belief in the immorality of murder, theft and slavery have another origin? Mightn’t this alternative way of forming moral beliefs be both reliable and safe? Mightn’t it provide us with moral knowledge? ...
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