Tag Archives: aesthetics

Hume’s subjective morality: Making value judgements about value judgements

One theme of this blog has been my arguments — as a disciple of Hume — that morality is subjective, thus rejecting that idea that moral claims can be assigned truth values and that they are independent of human judgement on the matter. (For example, see my posts: Six reasons why objective morality is nonsense and Science can answer morality questions.)

This idea, though, often meets strong intuitive resistance. A common complaint is that, if moral claims are “merely” people’s opinions, then one cannot say that the morals of a virtuous man, living a blameless life and esteemed by his fellows, are any better than those of a delinquent mass murderer.

The suggestion is that, if morals are human sentiments, rather than being objective statements of fact, then we must value everyone’s sentiments and morals equally.

This, however, is a non-sequitur. There is nothing to stop us making value judgements about value judgements. Indeed we commonly do so. There is nothing at all preventing us from respecting and lauding someone we regard as a moral paragon, or from deprecating someone we regard as a delinquent.

Stated like this the point is perhaps obvious, yet many objections to the idea that morality is subjective amount to the idea that one needs permission to make value judgements, permission that can only come from a reference to an objective standard, and that in the absence of such a standard one must regard everyone’s opinion as “equally valid”. Continue reading

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Disagreeing (partially) with Sean Carroll about what is science

Sean Carroll talks a lot of sense on the nature of science, and in a recent post gave a definition of “science” that focuses on the methods and attitudes of science. He wrote:

Science consists of the following three-part process:
1. Think of every possible way the world could be. Label each way an “hypothesis”.
2. Look at how the world actually is. Call what you see “data” (or “evidence”).
3. Where possible, choose the hypothesis that provides the best fit to the data.

It’s a good operational definition, separating a scientific attitude from a pseudo-scientific or religious attitude, although the process needs to be iterative, with the hypothesis of step 3 then being tested against new data; and I would add in Feynman’s maxim: try hard to see whether you are fooling yourself, remembering that yourself is the easiest person to fool.

Later in the article, however, I start disagreeing with Carroll about what is and isn’t science. He says: Continue reading