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July 08, 2007

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Jussi Suikkanen

The metaethics slideshow looks very interesting. Shame that I wasn't able to see it (or the rest of the papers). I have a quick clarificatory question. How can we specify the contents of moral propositions (eg. 'that murder is wrong') without referring to their truth-conditions? I was just thinking that if we do refer to the truth-conditions in the relativist framework, then, given that the truth-conditions are relative to different standards of assessment, the propositions different speakers assert would be different.

I was trying to think how this goes in your semantics with the water case. If I and a Twin-Earthling meet and see watery stuff, the standards of assessment for our 'that is water' and 'that is not water' claims are presumably different. Is the proposition we assert or deny the same and even if it was wouldn't we still be talking past one another? Could there be a rationale for disagreeing about whether it's water or not when the standards for assessing the claims differ?

I'd also like to know more about what happens to the second premise. You say that it is false under relativism but we can capture its intuitive force. Part of that force for me is that there are no non-trivial moral truths. I'm not sure I see how relativism captures that. The standards of assessment are the core value of the community (or take your pick here). Relativism then makes it a trivial moral truth that whatever is forbidden by the core values of the community is wrong (similarly for all other proposed standards). After all the truth of the wrongness claims is assessed by that very standard. However, it seems quite untintuitive that such claims would be trivial - without substantial content. I guess behind this is the strong intuition that communities and even somewhat idealised versions of individuals are fallible.

Russell Blackford

I've posted some photos from the AAP conference here: http://metamagician3000.blogspot.com/2007/07/some-photos-from-aap-conference.html.

Will add a few more soon.

djc

Jussi: one can take different views of what moral propositions are on this framework. But certainly they won't just be truth-conditions across sets of possible worlds, for the reasons you give. A natural way to formally model them is as functions from standards of assessment to truth-conditions. This way speakers in different communities will assert the same proposition. In the Twin Earth case, by contrast, there is presumably no relativism, so the propositions asserted can be identified with simple truth-conditions (or if one wants uniformity, with constant functions from standards of assessment to truth-conditions). This way, Oscar and Twin Oscar will assert different propositions.

In saying that relativism capture's the intuitive force of the second premise, I meant that it could capture the intuitions that motivated the second premise. Those intuitions (at least as put forward by me) were intuitions about the absence of convergence among ideally rational beings despite real disagreement. The relativism I discuss accommodates that intuition by interpreting it as an intuition about a sort of standpoint-independent rationality.

As for the second premise itself, of course it comes out false on the relativist view, as I say in the presentation. On this view, there are nontrivial moral truths (though not nontrivial moral Truths). As for your worry about "Whatever is forbidden by the core values of the community is wrong": something like this will always be true on this framework (relative to the standard of assessment of the speaker), but I don't see why it must be trivially true. Recognizing this truth might require recognizing the truth of the meta-ethical view in question, which may itself be nontrivial. Maybe you're worried about the automaticity of the truth, rather than the triviality. Here it's worth pointing out that "core values" must be read as something like, "the values that we would have on idealized reflection starting from our current values". It doesn't seem so unintuitive to me that this sentence (uttered by me) might always be true. Of course this is consistent with the idea that we can get things wrong in unideal circumstances. It's also consistent with the theses that other communities get things wrong even in idealized circumstances!

Jussi Suikkanen

Thanks David. That is helpful. I'm still not sure I understand how the people from different communities will assert the same propositions if propositions are functions from the standards of assessment to truth-conditions. Aren't the standards of assessments different in different communities, and thus the previous functions different too?

I agree with the latter point that the relevant truth can be epistemically non-trivial even when it is empty of substance. This is the classic reply from naturalists to the open question argument.

The idealisation move poses a bit of a dilemma in this context as comes up in Wright's discussion of the Euthyphro contrast. There is a temptation to use moral and normative language to specify what counts as a idealized reflection. In that way, the sentence comes probably as always true. But, then it's not clear that our current values play any role in the view but rather the moral and normative properties used to specify the core values. On the other hand, if you use only naturalist terms to specify the idealised reflection, then I do find the infallibility unintuitive. Even if my values were more informed about natural facts and more coherent and unified, I think I could get it wrong about many moral issues.

In KJ´s name

Isn´t Moral Relativism just madness?
Saying that Hitler is right though not Right and is insofar on a par with Gandhi doesn´t sound kosher to the folk.
The whole explanatory hum-drum a la relativization to standards of assessment is not only unknown to the untutored folk, but is also strongly rejected by the folk once they are told.
It is hard to believe that Chalmers hasn´t encountered this reaction, so one wonders if he is intellectually honest in proposing such an analysis.


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