Moral realism versus hypothetical imperatives

Moral realism is the doctrine that there are “moral facts”. Moral facts are declarations of what is or is not moral (“Stealing is morally wrong”) or what we ought or ought not do (“We ought to abolish the death penalty”). In order to be “facts”, these statement have to describe objective features of the world, and so be independent of subjective human opinion on the matter. In order to be “moral” facts (as opposed to other sorts of facts), they need to declare what, morally, we ought to do or not do.

I’m an anti-realist. As I see it, the only form of “oughtness” that actually exists, is instrumental oughtness. That is, statements of the form “If you want to attain Y, you ought to do X”. Such statements, termed hypothetical imperatives by Kant, can be objectively true descriptions of how things are. The statement “If you want to attain Y, then you ought to do X” can be re-phrased as “Doing X will attain Y”, which can indeed be a true fact about the world.

However, the oughtness, the conclusion “I ought to do X”, rests on wanting Y. And wanting Y is a human value or desire, and so is subjective. Hence, hypothetical imperatives do not amount to objective “ought” prescriptions. Thus hypothetical imperatives are generally not regarded as “moral facts” of the sort needed to establish moral realism. (Indeed, after discussing “hypothetical imperatives”, Kant then went on to try to establish “categorical imperatives” for that reason.)

Everyone who considers this topic accepts the existence of the “instrumental oughts” decreed by hypothetical imperatives, and yet only half of moral philosophers are moral realists. Moral realism is generally held to be the much stronger notion that there are “moral oughts” that hold objectively, regardless of how we feel about them; things that we “ought to do” regardless of our personal desires.

Or so I thought. But I recently read an article by Richard Carrier, the secularist blogger, author and historian best known for his work on the historicity of Jesus, in which he argues that hypothetical imperatives can indeed be objective moral facts, and thus that moral realism is true.

His argument can be summarised from the premises:

(1) There will be some outcome that John most wants.
(2) There will be some action that best attains what John most wants.

… followed by the hypothetical imperative:

(3) In order to attain that outcome, John ought to take that action.

All of the above are objective facts about the world. Carrier then reasons: Given (1), (2) and (3), we have the conclusion:

John ought to take that action. He maintains that this conclusion is also an objective fact about the world, a “moral fact” that establishes moral realism.

That argument depends on treating the English language as a formal logical system, leading to the syllogism:

(1) If A then ought-B;
(2) A;
therefore ought-B.

But common-usage languages are not formal logical systems. What is the actual content of the statement: “In order to attain that outcome, John ought to take that action”? It surely means (re-phrasing without the word “ought”): “Taking that action will attain that outcome”. Does the version including the word “ought” connote anything additional to that re-phrasing? I don’t see that it does. (And if it does, then what?)

But if it doesn’t then the phrase “… John ought to take that action” cannot be separated from the “In order to attain that outcome …”. The phrase “John ought to do X” is then an incomplete thought, inviting the question “else what?”, in the same way that “taking that action will …” is an incomplete thought. Carrier’s attempt to translate a hypothetical imperative into an objective “ought” seems to me to fail.

If a hypothetical imperative could qualify as a “moral fact” then it would have to be the case that the statement “Doing X will attain Y” could also be a moral fact, since that means the same thing. (Again, if anyone wants to argue that there is more to a hypothetical imperative than that then please elucidate.) But I doubt if philosophers generally would accept that factual statements of the form “doing X will attain Y” are “moral facts”.

Indeed, my criticism of moral realism rests on the basic question: What does “John ought to do X” even mean?

I can translate a hypothetical imperative into a different phrasing, and so I understand what an instrumental ought amounts to, but I don’t understand what an “objective ought” is even supposed to mean. And I’ve never heard a moral realist give a proper explanation; they tend to treat it as intuitively obvious and so don’t ask the question. And yet, if we’re examining the very roots of morality, we need an answer.

I read Carrier’s article since, as an anti-realist, I try to look for good arguments for moral realism. But I don’t find his argument convincing. I do think that his account of morality, as containing nothing more than human values coupled with hypothetical imperatives, is actually the correct one, but it seems to me to be better labelled “anti-realist”.

This illustrates an interesting foible of human psychology. People’s intuitive sense of moral realism is so strong that people feel that there is something badly wrong with an anti-realist conclusion, even when reason leads them that way. They really do want there to be some way in which morality can be labelled “objective”, and they are willing to try hard to construct (faulty) arguments to that end. The better conclusion is in realising that there is nothing wrong with morality being subjective!

30 thoughts on “Moral realism versus hypothetical imperatives

  1. Paul Braterman

    I think the problem starts even earlier, with the word “wants”. John would agree that he ought to be faithful to his wife, but what he most wants to do is to sleep with his secretary. Dies Carrier really think that John *ought* to try to seduce her?

    If we replace “wants” by “considers morally desirable”, we will still have problems. In general, we think it admirable for a person to follow their own moral code, but not always. Thus we would regard it as a moral lapse for an Orthodox Jew to indulge in a bacon sandwich. However, few of us would admire a pharmacist who on moral grounds refuses to dispense the morning-after pill.

    But in any case I agree with your conclusion. Different people have different moral priorities, and will make different moral choices as a result, and while in practice this may lead to severe difficulties there is nothing inherently wrong with this.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      John would agree that he ought to be faithful to his wife, but what he most wants to do is to sleep with his secretary. Dies Carrier really think that John *ought* to try to seduce her?

      I guess that Carrier would reply that he wouldn’t actually want to sleep with his secretary if he were aware of all the consequences. But I definitely think that Carrier is trying to hard to arrive at an “objective” morality, and you’re likely right that the concept of what someone “most wants” is not that sensible.

      What they would “want” in the sense of what they would choose to do would very much depend on their evaluation of the consequences, and what the consequences actually would be is not something about which there could be a fact of the matter (given non-determinability).

    2. Paul Braterman

      Your excuse for Carrier makes things worse. You refer to consequences but as you know not all moralities are consequentialist. I believe that many people are repelled by the idea of brother and sister sleeping together, even if they take adequate precautions against producing inbred offspring.

      In the case I cite, I don’t think nondeterminability is relevant either. I think that the corrosive effect of cheating on a partner is pretty determinate, but in any case we commonly make decisions, based on some kind of estimate of probabilities, in circumstances where the outcomes, whether in principle knowable or not, are unknown to us

  2. Robin Herbert

    One problem with Carrier’s view is that it doesn’t capture what people mean when they use “ought” intending it to be an objective statement.

    After all people would see nothing wrong with the statement: “You ought not to do that even if you want to”.

    It is fairly easy to make objective moral statements, for example if I define “good” as “kind and altruistic” and “bad” as “cruel and selfish” then I could make all sorts of objectively true statements about what is good and bad.

    But of course it still wouldn’t get us moral realism.

    Reply
  3. Robin Herbert

    I should add that most people would see nothing wrong with “You ought not to do that, even if it is what achieves what you want above all.”

    According to Carrier this should be an oxymoron.

    Reply
  4. Robin Herbert

    I don’t see it as an appeal to definition. The objectively true statement is about the referent of the terms. There can be objective truths about what is and is not altruistic, or kind, or cruel, or selfish. These are all part of the subject matter of morality.

    The point I am making is that there are all sorts of objectively true statements about morality that don’t equate to what most people mean by moral realism.

    Overall I agree with Coel that we should start to acknowledge that morality is subjective and that there is nothing at all wrong with that.

    Reply
  5. Joe

    I understand moral realism to mean that it is a feature of reality that there are some things we morally should do and some we morally shouldn’t do. And this feature of reality is not dependent on someones opinion of what we should or should not do. So they believe that the statement that “stabbing babies is morally wrong” is true. That is it accords with reality. And generally it would further hold that our opinions about stabbing babies will not change this fact.

    JL Mackie said in his excellent book “inventing right and wrong” that moral realism would be a queer feature of reality. But I think it accords with too many of our beliefs to be discarded without blasting a hole in how we normally think about things like moral progress and justice etc.

    Reply
    1. Armando Perez

      “Stabbing babies is morally wrong” is not a feature of reality in the sense that it has not been true at all times and places, independently of human existence. Some civilizations like those pre-Columbian in America and others sacrificed babies to their Gods. It was morally correct for them to do it. Others in other parts of the world killed every male, even babies when they conquered another tribe.

  6. Robin Herbert

    Here is what I see as summing up the problem with his argument:

    It is tautologically the case that what you ought to do above all is what achieves what you want above all.

    To me, this is pretty much the definition of moral anti-realism.

    Moral realism would entail that it is possible that what you ought to do might be different to what achieves what you want above all (having all the information and reasoning without fallacy.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Agreed, it seems to me that Carrier’s scheme is anti-realist, but then he thinks that he has to scheme up a way of labeling it “realist” and “objective”.

    2. Joe

      I don’t think that is what moral realism means. Moral realism as I understand it does not require that we take a position on that question.

      So I don’t think “Moral realism would entail that it is possible that what you ought to do might be different to what achieves what you want above all (having all the information and reasoning without fallacy.)”

      I do not see how that is entailed at all.

  7. keithnoback

    One can mean two entirely different things in stating, “The Cleveland Browns are the best team in football.”
    I could intend the statement as a declaration, backed up by statistics and actual performances. Such a statement would be “truth-apt”.
    Or, I could intend the statement as an assertion that the Browns play with a certain panache and heart that makes the scores on the board irrelevant and which commands my loyalty through good times and bad. Such a statement would not be “truth-apt” (though it could be true or not that I said it, or that I really believe it).
    Moral facts and properties certainly seem to be things asserted rather than things declared, in the sense above, or ought I have the decency not to say such things.

    Reply
  8. Joe

    Coel I think you are wise to immediately question what sort of ought are we talking about and I think you are right he is conflating the meaning of ought (as morally required) and other sorts of ought.

    There are definitely different types of ought. And it is fairly common for even decent philosophers to have issues from ambiguities.

    It is worth noting that people who reject moral realism do not reject all normativity. That is there is a right way to do math and a right way to tie a fishing knot etc. One ought to do XYZ is something that moral anti-realists certainly can agree with. And of course there is the predictive aspect. If I leave this ice on the table it ought to melt.

    Richard Joyce was the first I read to point out how authors do that. I think he is a first rate philosopher on meta-ethics in case you are interested.

    Reply
  9. Robin Herbert

    Hi Joe

    So I don’t think “Moral realism would entail that it is possible that what you ought to do might be different to what achieves what you want above all (having all the information and reasoning without fallacy.)”

    I do not see how that is entailed at all.

    Moral realism has to be more than just what you want.

    I don’t think that a moral realist would say that choosing an expensive new television over saving the life of a child would be the morally good thing to do, just as long as the person had all the information and made no fallacy of reasoning and he still really wanted the television.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      I don’t think that a moral realist would say that choosing an expensive new television over saving the life of a child would be the morally good thing to do, just as long as the person had all the information and made no fallacy of reasoning and he still really wanted the television.

      I’d be interested to see how Carrier would reply to that.

  10. Robin Herbert

    I can also see that he is assuming that if nearly every human being basically wants the same thing then the moral system for nearly every human being will be the same as long as they are reliably informed and reasoning correctly.

    I can see a big problem with that assumption.

    Reply
  11. verbosestoic

    Moral realism is the doctrine that there are “moral facts”.

    As discussed in our lengthly debate over morality, this describes moral objectivism. Moral realism says that moral propositions exist in some sense in reality, from which we can get that there are clearly moral facts, but you don’t have to be a moral realist to be a moral objectivist. For Carrier, the link to realism would be his claim that moral values are and can be determined empirically.

    Which is what you’re missing wrt how Carrier gets his hypothetical imperatives to be “objective” (as I don’t think he succeeds). He argues that by definition what is moral is what a person most values, which then allows him to tie it to the more subjective hypothetical imperatives. But then he argues, a la Harris, that rational human beings will reasonably have the same — or at least very similar — things that they value more than anything else, or would if they were only informed and rational enough to see that. Thus, anyone who disagrees is making an error in judgement, not having a legitimate disagreement. Studying the brain and things like that will help us determine empirically what it is that rational and informed humans will value more than anything else, which will then form the basis of the moral system.

    So, to answer the above case:

    I don’t think that a moral realist would say that choosing an expensive new television over saving the life of a child would be the morally good thing to do, just as long as the person had all the information and made no fallacy of reasoning and he still really wanted the television.

    Carrier would argue that such a case might be logically possible, but not actually possible when dealing with real humans. Anyone who thought that doing so would fulfill what they most value must either be making a mistake about what they most value or about how to achieve what they most value. A quote where he talks about money from the post you reference: (which I addressed on my blog in https://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/discussion-of-objective-morality-moral-criticism/ ):

    Suppose you prioritize making money, and do so because you value money above all else. That you should do that, and value that, can still be false. Because even if you say it, even if you believe it, it isn’t actually true about you that you value money above all else. Because that’s impossible. If you thought about it, money actually has no value to you, except in respect to what you get with it. In other words, you only value money because you value something else more. If you could get all those things, the things you actually value most, without money—or worse, if money actually caused you to lose them, and thus not gain those things—then you would no longer value money.

    The problem with this, of course, is that Carrier has a failure of imagination here, being unable to imagine someone making money their top value and not a purely instrumental value. Carrier could not criticize anyone who indeed actually did consider making money their primary value, and so only spent money to either make more of it or to keep themselves alive in order to make more money, and so on and so forth. Such a person would be strange, but not even pragmatically impossible.

    My criticism of Carrier here is that this gets morality backwards. When we say that what we most value is what is moral, we DON’T mean that whatever we happen to most value is just what it means to be moral, but instead that we, as humans, OUGHT to value whatever it turns out is moral more than anything else. That’s why his premises sound reasonable and like how we consider morality at first — at least if we are objectivists — but then end up with something that is, as you note, more subjectivist than objectivist. He takes the subjectivist concern of tying it to individual values and tries to objectify it, which doesn’t really work.

    (Note: Carrier did defend Sam Harris’ view, so comparing the two of them is, even to Carrier, a valid move to make).

    Reply
    1. Robin Herbert

      The thing is that the person who values the new television over saving the lives of children overseas is not valuing money per se, nor is he even valuing the television set, rather he is valuing the pleasure he believes he will derive from the vivid colours, sharp resolution and rich clear sound and maybe the satisfaction from ownership of a stylish, impressive piece of technology.

      Carrier may say that he is making a mistake but then Carrier is trying to say what people ought to value.

    2. verbosestoic

      Carrier may say that he is making a mistake but then Carrier is trying to say what people ought to value.

      Yeah, he is. Explicitly. He thinks that what we ought to value is determinable empirically and rationally. So he’d say that the person who prefers the pleasure they get from the TV set over what they’d get or lose from not saving the lives of children overseas is acting irrationally based on empirical data reflecting reality, just as he would for the person who prefers money over doing that.

      As I said, the issue is that he assumes that such preferences will eventually lead to a contradiction with what’s REALLY important, but has a failure of imagination in his inability to consider that someone really might have such a premise as the thing they really do value most.

    3. Coel Post author

      But then he argues, a la Harris, that rational human beings will reasonably have the same — or at least very similar — things that they value more than anything else, …

      Agreed, that is what Carrier (and Harris) are arguing. But I don’t see how it can be regarded as a moral “objectivist” or “realist” scheme. The “oughtness” still derives from human values, from the human wanting. That makes it an instrumental and subjective ought.

      The fact that all (or nearly all) humans might have the same values and desires does not change that.

      If every child in the world liked chocolate, their liking for chocolate would still be subjective. It would not mean that “chocolate tastes nice” was an objective fact.

      we DON’T mean that whatever we happen to most value is just what it means to be moral, but instead that we, as humans, OUGHT to value whatever it turns out is moral more than anything else.

      Agreed, that’s what a realist/objectivist needs to mean by it.

      Carrier did defend Sam Harris’ view, so comparing the two of them is, even to Carrier, a valid move to make

      Carrier did indeed defend Harris’s view, but I suspect he hated defending Harris, since he did it with (in typical Carrier style) a huge amount of disparagement of Harris as a thinker!

    4. verbosestoic

      Agreed, that is what Carrier (and Harris) are arguing. But I don’t see how it can be regarded as a moral “objectivist” or “realist” scheme. The “oughtness” still derives from human values, from the human wanting. That makes it an instrumental and subjective ought.

      Carrier argues that it is objective because it is empirically and scientifically discoverable, so a scientistic approach. I commented on his premises here: https://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/answering-carriers-premises/ which contains a link to his original post, but the relevant premises are:

      5. What will maximize the satisfaction of any human being in any particular set of circumstances is an empirical fact that science can discover.

      6. There are many fundamentals of our biology, neurology, psychology, and environment that are the same for all human beings.

      So humans from those objective and scientific facts will have some things that will always maximize satisfaction, and for any differences those can be discovered empirically and so will be empirical facts. While I don’t agree with the move, anyone leaning towards scientism can’t really deny that this makes them facts.

      Agreed, that’s what a realist/objectivist needs to mean by it.

      No, you miss the point. One of the things that we hold about moral values is that, whatever they are, they are the highest values that we have, and so the ones that we most want or need to satisfy. Carrier takes that and then argues that therefore whatever we DO most want or need to satisfy must be the moral values. However, that’s not what’s meant by that. We mean that we OUGHT to do that, but acknowledge that a number of people at various times don’t. This stops Carrier’s move of deriving them empirically from what people specifically do value more because there is no reason to think that we’re right about that. So what we mean is that we ought to value the moral values more than anything else and are wrong if we don’t (whether those are objective or subjective) while Carrier wants to take that statement as if it means that whatever it is that we do happen to value most must be what are considered moral values.

    5. Coel Post author

      Carrier argues that it is objective because it is empirically and scientifically discoverable, so a scientistic approach.

      A boy’s liking for chocolate ice-cream is also empirically and scientifically discoverable. (Just offer him a choice a chocolate ice-cream or boiled cabbage and see which he goes for!) That does not make the boy’s liking for chocolate ice-cream “objective”. Such preferences are the epitome of things that are “subjective”.

      So humans from those objective and scientific facts will have some things that will always maximize satisfaction, and for any differences those can be discovered empirically and so will be empirical facts. While I don’t agree with the move, anyone leaning towards scientism can’t really deny that this makes them facts.

      There certainly are facts about subjective preferences. Thus “10-yr-old Tom likes chocolate ice cream” is an objective fact. But an *objective* moral scheme needs to be independent of human likes, desires and values (isn’t that the whole point of any conception of *objective* morality?).

    6. verbosestoic

      A boy’s liking for chocolate ice-cream is also empirically and scientifically discoverable. (Just offer him a choice a chocolate ice-cream or boiled cabbage and see which he goes for!) That does not make the boy’s liking for chocolate ice-cream “objective”.

      Well, yeah, that’s what makes it scientistic: it finds a related empirical/scientific fact and tries to present it as being the solution even though it isn’t the right sort of fact to do that. This is typically what annoys philosophers when scientists do the same thing on other questions and when that’s pointed out argue that philosophers just want to ignore science and empirical data.

      To give Carrier some credit, though, he DOES focus on the universal values that we have as humans (premise 6). That makes it a bit less egregious, although still incorrect. And the worse mistake is still earlier when he tries to boil it all down to satisfaction anyway.

      But an *objective* moral scheme needs to be independent of human likes, desires and values (isn’t that the whole point of any conception of *objective* morality?).

      As we’ve discussed before, no, it isn’t. Again, Utilitarianism is an objectivist philosophy but it boils it all down to what will maximize the likes and dislikes of all people. The key difference between the two is whether moral propositions are universal or whether they can only be meaningful in the context of a particular subject or group.

    7. Coel Post author

      Again, Utilitarianism is an objectivist philosophy but it boils it all down to what will maximize the likes and dislikes of all people.

      I would suggest that utilitarianism *attempts* to be an objectivist philosophy, but fails precisely because it needs to appeal to subjective value judgements (such as in deciding on the utility metric).

      The key difference between the two is whether moral propositions are universal or whether they can only be meaningful in the context of a particular subject or group.

      Are you sure of that? That’s not how I would understand the difference between “subjective” and “objective” moral schemes.

      Suppose there were a world with only one life form, consisting only of genetic clones with exactly the same preferences and values. They all like 1.5 teaspoons of sugar in their coffee, and they all have identical moral values. Does this mean that their moral system is “objective”? Is their liking of 1.5 teaspoons of sugar objective?

      Suppose in that world, one genetic mutant is born. He likes coffee without sugar and has different moral values. Does their previously “objective” moral scheme now become “subjective”, because it is no longer universal? If someone shoots the mutant, does the scheme instantly go back to being “objective”?

    8. verbosestoic

      I would suggest that utilitarianism *attempts* to be an objectivist philosophy, but fails precisely because it needs to appeal to subjective value judgements (such as in deciding on the utility metric).

      But this is an argumentative and not definitional point. Your argument is that it has no way to justify the utility maxim as the base of morality without simply appealing to what people ACCEPT as the base of morality. However, if Utilitarians COULD demonstrate that maxim as the base of morality, then the fact that the maxim takes the preferences of individuals into account would not make it a subjectivist theory, which was the point.

      Suppose there were a world with only one life form, consisting only of genetic clones with exactly the same preferences and values. They all like 1.5 teaspoons of sugar in their coffee, and they all have identical moral values. Does this mean that their moral system is “objective”? Is their liking of 1.5 teaspoons of sugar objective?

      Oddly, you get this right when criticizing Carrier’s view but seem to miss it here: that all members of a species HAPPEN to have the same moral values doesn’t make it universal in the way objective moral theories say it is. To use the previous example, if Utilitarianism had been demonstrate to be the objectively correct moral theory and yet in your world those people all accepted a specific moral theory that was not Utilitarianism objectivism would simply say that they are WRONG about what the right moral theory is, not that the universal moral theory magically becomes the one they hold.

      Objective moral theories hold that moral facts are like the statement “The world is round”: they are just true no matter what anyone’s opinion about them says. Subjective moral theories say that at some point what a group or subject THINKS are the moral “facts” determines what they are for them (but not for anyone else).

    9. Coel Post author

      To use the previous example, if Utilitarianism had been demonstrate to be the objectively correct moral theory and yet in your world those people all accepted a specific moral theory that was not Utilitarianism objectivism would simply say that they are WRONG about what the right moral theory is, not that the universal moral theory magically becomes the one they hold.

      But doesn’t that reply illustrate that what matters is not universality, but univeral *oughtness*? That is, any “objective” moral theory says that people universally *ought* to hold it.

      And then isn’t universal oughtness the same as *objective* oughtness, since being “objective” means it holds independently of someone’s judgement on the matter, and is therefore universal?

      Objective moral theories hold that moral facts are like the statement “The world is round”: they are just true no matter what anyone’s opinion about them says.

      Agreed.

      Subjective moral theories say that at some point what a group or subject THINKS are the moral “facts” determines what they are for them (but not for anyone else).

      I guess there are various flavours of subjective moral theories, but I would not define it that way. I’d say that a subjective moral theory says there are no “moral facts”, not that there are “moral facts” and that they are determined subjectively. To me, that’s a contradiction (facts have to be objective or they are not “facts”).

    10. verbosestoic

      But doesn’t that reply illustrate that what matters is not universality, but univeral *oughtness*? That is, any “objective” moral theory says that people universally *ought* to hold it.

      Not really. Carrier’s normative principle of “Do what will produce the most satisfying life” seems to be a pretty good candidate for a universal ought, as it’s a good argument to say that it’s irrational for someone to choose something that they know will give them a less satisfying life than what they know will give them a more satisfying one, and so if they do so they are mistaken in some way, either about what it is rational for someone to do or else about what it is that they really value. And yet neither of us will accept that that is therefore a principle of objective morality. I’ll question whether it’s a moral principle at all as opposed to being a pragmatic one — and oppose Carrier by arguing that it’s the case that one ought to be most satisfied by doing what is moral, and if one isn’t what they need to do is change what satisfies them — while you will deny that it’s objective because it depends on the individual values of people. So it doesn’t really seem like the normative part — figuring out if it really will or ought to motivate people — is all that important to the discussion. Again, then, it’s more reasonable to figure out what the right moral system is, if such a system exists, and then see what the implications of that are. But that doesn’t have to be one that people hold nor one that they inherently see as motivating.

  12. Alex SL

    Much of the discussion here appears to assume that Carrier’s position is about what any given individual wants. But the way I understand the kind of Carrier and Harris style moral realists they do not say “you want X, therefore having to do the thing that gives you X is a moral truth”. I think their approach appeals a bit more to collective human thought and goes a bit like this:

    1. Science shows us that if we want A, we ought to do B.
    2. Science shows us that most sane, adult, responsible humans want A (e.g. safety from harm or fairness).
    3. Therefore science shows us that we ought to do B, as a matter of objective fact.

    In other words, their trick for bridging the is-ought divide is indeed to use human preferences, but not an individual’s but rather a kind of an abstracted or idealised human’s or collective preferences.

    I still fail to see how that gives us an ought in the sense that moral philosophy really understands the term. Human preferences are still subjectively human. Consequently I would not file it under moral realism either.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Human preferences are still subjectively human. Consequently I would not file it under moral realism either.

      Agreed. It seems that Carrier and Harris have an intuition (shared by many!) that there is something wrong with morality being subjective, and thus that they have to scheme some way in which they can label it a “objective”.

Leave a Reply to Alex SL Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s