Sunday, January 21, 2007

A meta-ethical test

I took a test that purports to help people determine what meta-ethical view is closest to their hearts. I don't know what to make of the results. I had just one or two reservations about the questions, but this is so typical of philosophers as to be not worth mentioning.

Here are my results:

You scored 10 Objectivism, 57 Naturalism, and 73 Cognitivism!

There are meaningful ethical propositions which can be reduced to talk of other things, but no independent moral facts. You might agree with subjectivists. "Ethical subjectivism is the meta-ethical belief that ethical sentences reduce to factual statements about the attitudes and/or conventions of individual people. An ethical subjectivist might propose, for example, that what it means for something to be morally right is just for it to be approved of. (This can lead to the belief that different things are right according to each idiosyncratic moral outlook.) Another kind of ethical subjectivist might define "good" as "that which I desire".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another kind of ethical subjectivist might define "good" as "that which I desire".

I desire to torture people.

7:51 p.m.  
Blogger P. M. Jaworski said...

Yes... and? What is that supposed to be a one line refutation?

Do you really believe that people who hold views like that haven't thought about desires like torture?

At any rate, this isn't what I believe about ethics. That's one possible version of subjectivism. And I haven't fully decided whether my ethical views are best described as subjectivist, or something else. These tests are hardly fool-proof measures of your actual position.

8:02 p.m.  
Blogger Matteson said...

This test is terrible. As a person who has very recently been hip-deep in the metaethical literature the test is supposed to address, I think that there are very few questions which were written well. The first question might actually be the only good one. It asks something like "Are there moral facts?" and the second question begins with "Suppose that you have moral fact X..." Blech.

It said that I was a Naturalist. This couldn't be further from the truth. I think naturalism fails 10 times out of 9.

Worry not. You're not doomed to Subjectivism like Noah. ;-)

9:20 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes... and? What is that supposed to be a one line refutation?

Actually, yes. Pretty cool how I just destroyed the subjectivist understanding of ethics with only 5 words.

11:11 p.m.  
Blogger Matteson said...

Look "anonymous," you've not said anything here. You've pointed to a system of ethics (which is ok with torture) which is peculiar to you. The fact that you seem to think that this is a reductio of the subjectivist project points out that you think that there exists some sort of moral law that stands on its own. You've not said what that would be or why we should believe you to be correct. Either show your cards, or troll somewhere else.

2:38 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look "anonymous," you've not said anything here.

Well, if I press you on that, you know it's not true. You know I've said something. You also know that what I've said implies and assumes a lot -- which I haven't articulated, but if you're educated in these matters, then you know where I'm going to go.

Look, I have to admit, I was just trying to be cute. And Peter is right, that test is by no means fool proof. Peter and you are not idiotic enough to believe that whatsoever one desires is necessarily good. And if you accept that then you can accept my "cute" reductio ad absurdum with respect to the subjectivist theory of ethics.

If I can be both cute and ugly at the same time, permit me to play the Nazi card. It's so cliche, but we all know that although Hitler wanted what he wanted, it did not and does not therefore make it right.

Recall: Another kind of ethical subjectivist might define "good" as "that which I desire".

It's bullshit. I'll show you again: I desire to rape and kill prebuscent teens.

11:38 p.m.  
Blogger P. M. Jaworski said...

When pressed, I would be lying if I said I did not find some version of ethical conventionalism to be awfully close to the truth about ethics. Contractarianism is a kind of normative conventionalism, but I don't think I accept contractarianism. So, too, is sentimentalism a kind of conventionalism.

Conventionalism is, in a way, subjectivism. But it is not the kind of conventionalism captured in the claim that what is good is what I desire. It is more complicated than that. It is more like what is good is what, according to some aggregating procedure, we "all" desire (or some appropriate substitute for "desire").

I consider ethics to be much like language. There is, right now, a right answer to the question, "what is the definition of "cheese doodles?" The definition does not hinge on what I think or want the definition to be, but somehow hinges on a terribly complicated story about the evolution of language and its changing use. But language just is a social convention.

And my strong, strong suspicion is that ethics is just like this. There is a current truth to the matter, it rests on social conventions about the right and the good, but there are no eternal truths about ethics, or truths not dependent on what people think/believe/desire/feel about ethics now.

I don't know what to say about the Nazis. I will say this, however. People have often tried to arbitrarily or autocratically determine the meanings of words. It is rarely successful. Language has a way of not being easily manipulable by a few.

The claim, "what is good is what I desire," strikes me, too, as obvious nonsense. I guess I should have said that right away.

12:14 a.m.  
Blogger Matteson said...

I don't know that any answer is better than any other on the face of it. I haven't been convinced that there are moral facts. This being the case (maybe) it follows that no action is good or bad on its face.

Conventions might be as good a way as any to define morality, but it's surely not very definitive. Nazis had (have?) a convention that says that Jews and such aren't people, or that they're evil, or whatever gets them through the night. It seems that this is wrong. I know several Jews and they are great folk. The thing that makes the killing of people wrong is not that there is some wrongness inherent to killing, it is probably something about the results of killing, or some social contract against killing or some other sort of agreement whether tacit or implicit.

Anyway, this thread is probably dead so I'll stop there.

7:36 p.m.  

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