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  • I'm James Ladyman,

  • Professor of Philosophy at the University of Bristol.

  • My name's Samir Okasha, I'm Professor of Philosophy of Science

  • in the Philosophy Department, University of Bristol.

  • The topic we're going to discuss concerns the status of ethics,

  • in particular, objective versus subjective views of ethics.

  • According to the subjective view,

  • there are no facts of the matter about ethical questions.

  • For example, if someone says "euthanasia is right"

  • and someone else says "euthanasia is wrong",

  • ultimately, that's a matter of subjective taste, not scientific fact.

  • So if that's the case,

  • why do people think they're having disagreements

  • that can be resolved by argument?

  • After all, if I say "chocolate ice cream's nice"

  • and you say "No, it isn't",

  • there's nothing more to be discussed

  • because we acknowledge that each of us is expressing our taste

  • and there's no further fact of the matter.

  • One of the strongest arguments for the subjective view,

  • which in part responds to that objection,

  • is the fact that different communities around the world at different times

  • have held widely divergent ethical views.

  • Some people have thought, for example, it's OK to perform honour killing

  • of young girls who get pregnant out of wedlock.

  • Other communities find that to be an abhorrent thing to do.

  • And you can think of many examples like that.

  • A natural response to that

  • that the subjective view gives is to say

  • "That's because there's no fact of the matter in the first place".

  • It's a bit like a preference for chocolate ice cream over strawberry.

  • There are also widespread divergences

  • in beliefs among different cultures

  • about matters that we're not tempted to regard as not factual.

  • For example, different cultures have disagreed

  • about whether or not the Earth is round

  • as opposed to flat

  • or about the origins of the universe of the nature of matter.

  • The difference with the ethical case is that, in those scientific cases,

  • there's a reasonably agreed-upon method

  • for establishing which answer is correct,

  • even if it's hard sometimes.

  • In the ethical case, there don't seem to be any comparable methods

  • to decide whether, for example, euthanasia is or is not morally wrong.

  • I take your point that we can't do experiments

  • to find out the answer to ethical questions, however,

  • we do have procedures and methods.

  • One of those methods is the method of rational persuasion which people use

  • in attempting to bring others round to their moral point of view.

  • So if we think of the Abolitionist Movement

  • or the campaign for the emancipation of women,

  • in both cases, a large part of their methods

  • were that rational persuasion of other people through argument,

  • so how do you explain what's going on in that process

  • from a subjectivist point of view?

  • It's certainly true that, from a subjective point of view,

  • it's difficult to account for the idea

  • that we've made moral progress, for example.

  • We all tend to believe that we have made moral progress,

  • we've moved from times when slavery was dominant

  • to its abolition, say, over a period of a few hundred years -

  • and that seems to be progress.

  • But a subjectivist will say that it doesn't follow

  • that we've learnt the truth of some factual thing about the world

  • like slavery is wrong, where we used to think slavery was OK.

  • But a subjectivist will try to account for our sense of moral progress

  • without appealing to the idea

  • that it involved apprehending the truth

  • about objective moral facts.

  • Yeah, that's interesting. I'm not yet persuaded

  • that we have a reason to deny

  • that there are ethical truths.

I'm James Ladyman,

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B1 ethical subjective moral view philosophy progress

Questions in philosophy - ethics

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    fisher posted on 2013/03/24
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