Ah Yes, Moral Anti-Realism Is Indeed Intuitive
Title is sarcasm
Moral anti-realists will often object to moral realism on the basis that it’s strange, that moral values are too odd to be part of the fabric of reality. Moral realism just seems to weird to be true. But is anti-realism strange? Is it too weird to be true. I’d submit that it obviously is. Here are the insane, bizarre, crazy implications of anti-realism.
Most anti-realists agree that if there are irrational desires, moral realism is true. This is true because morality is about what we have impartial reason to do, and impartiality is clearly coherent, so as long as there are desire independent reasons to do certain things and care about other things, moral realism is true. This argument was advanced by Parfit in On What Matters.
So the anti-realist has to deny that desires can be irrational. Here are a bunch of desires that aren’t irrational if anti-realism is true,
1 Suppose a person picks out a random direction at the start of the day, either left or right. If they pick right, for the duration of the day, they are apathetic to all suffering that occurs on the right side of their body and vice versa. This person picked out right at the start of the day. They are then confronted with two options. Endure a pinprick on the left side of their body or endure the total suffering endured during the holocaust on the right side of their body. While they’re suffering, their reaction will be identical to the reaction of any of us—they still feel right side suffering, they just have higher order apathy towards right side suffering. In fact, they’ll be hypnotized to believe they picked out left, so when they suffer their higher order aim will be totally irrelevant to their experience of the suffering. On anti-realism this person would be rational to endure the suffering of the holocaust on the right side of their body rather than a pinprick on the left side. This is implausible.
2 Suppose a person is a consistent anorexic. They have a desire to be thin even if it results in them starving to death. On anti-realism they’re being fully rational. Very intuitive.
3 A person desire to eat a car, despite not enjoying eating the car. They just have a higher order desire for that. On anti-realism, they’re being rational. Very intuitive!
4 A four year old desires to not enter a doctor’s office, even though they know that entering a doctor’s office will prevent them from dying a horrible death. This four year old, like many four year olds, discounts the future. On anti-realism, this four year old is rational. Very intuitive!
5 A person cares about avoiding suffering (this one comes from Parfit) unless it happens on a tuesday. Then they’re indifferent to it. On anti-realism, they’re being fully rational. Very intuitive!
6 A person had consensual homosexual sex. They then become part of a religious cult. This religious cult doesn’t have any factual mistakes, they don’t believe in god. However, they think that homosexual sex is horrifically immoral and those who do it deserve to suffer, just as a base moral principle. On the anti-realist account, not only are they not mistaken, they would be fully rational to endure infinite suffering because they think they deserve it. Very intuitive!
7 A four year old really want milk chocolate right now, even though they know eating it will result in them being punished and decrease their overall joy. Anti-realism says they’d be rational to eat the chocolate as long as they want it now! Very intuitive!
8 A person wants to commit suicide and know all the relevant facts. Their future will be very positive in terms of expected well-being. On anti-realism, it would be rational to commit suicide. Very intuitive!
And then we come to moral problems. Moral anti-realism will either be subjectivism (according to which moral facts are true in virtue of what some people think of them, either the speaker or society), error theory (according to which moral claims are semantically intended to be realist, but all moral claims are false), and non-cognitivism, according to which moral claims don’t have a truth value. Let’s take these one by one.
Error Theory: On error theory the following statements are false
It is usually immoral to torture infants for fun.
You shouldn’t hit people with axes most of the time.
What Hitler did was immoral!
Murder and rape are both evil.
Attacking people for no reason is very immoral.
When you went through the saint Jude’s hospital, selecting on the basis of race all the sick children to murder, before killing them all with a chainsaw, you shouldn’t have done that.
Subjectivism: Subjectivism will depend on who determines whether things are right or wrong. If it’s determined by society the following statements are false
“My society is immoral when it tortures infants for fun.”
“Nazi Germany acted immorally.”
“Some societal practices are immoral.”
“When society chops off the fingers and toes of small children based on their skin color, that’s immoral.”
“It’s immoral for society to boil children in pots.”
If it’s determined by the moral system of the speaker the following claims are true.
“When the Nazi whose ethical system held that the primary ethical obligation was killing jews said “It is moral to kill jews,”” they were right.
“When slave owners said ‘the interests of slaves don’t matter,’ they were right.”
“When Caligula says "It is good to torture people,” and does so, he’s right”
“The person who thinks that it’s good to maximize suffering is right when he says “it’s moral to set little kids on fire””
Additionally, when I say “we should be utilitarians,” and Kant says “we shouldn’t be utilitarians,” we’re not actually disagreeing.
Non-cognitivism says that the statement
“It’s wrong to torture infants for fun, most of the time,”
is neither true nor false
“If it’s wrong to torture infants, then I shouldn’t torture infants
It’s wrong to torture infants
Therefore, I shouldn’t torture infants”
Is incoherent. It’s like saying if shut the door then open the window, shut the door, therefore, open the window.
Additionally, as Huemer says on pages 20-21, describing the reasons to think moral statements are propositional
(a) Evaluative statements take the form of declarative sentences, rather than, say, imperatives, questions, or interjections. 'Pleasure is good' has the same grammatical form as 'Weasels are mammals'. Sentences of this form are normally used to make factual assertions. )] In contrast, the paradigms of non-cognitive utterances, such as 'Hurray for x' and 'Pursue x', are not declarative sentences.
(b) Moral predicates can be transformed into abstract nouns, suggesting that they are intended to refer to properties; we talk about 'goodness', 'rightness', and so on, as in 'I am not questioning the act's prudence, but its rightness'.
(c) We ascribe to evaluations the same sort of properties as other propositions. You can say, 'It is true that I have done some wrong things in the past', 'It is false that contraception is murder', and 'It is possible that abortion is wrong'. 'True', 'false', and 'possible' are predicates that we apply only to propositions. No one would say, 'It is true that ouch', 'It is false that shut the door', or 'It is possible that hurray'.
(d) All the propositional attitude verbs can be prefixed to evaluative statements. We can say, 'Jon believes that the war was just', 'I hope I did the right thing', 'I wish we had a better President', and 'I wonder whether I did the right thing'. In contrast, no one would say, 'Jon believes that ouch', 'I hope that hurray for the Broncos', 'I wish that shut the door', or 'I wonder whether please pass the salt'. The obvious explanation is that such I11ental states as believing, hoping, wishing, and wondering are by their nature propositional: To hope is to hope that something is the case, to wonder is to wonder whether something is the case, and so on. That is why one cannot hope that one did the right thing unless there is a proposition-something that might be the case-corresponding to the expression 'one did the right thing'.
(e) Evaluative statements can be transformed into yes/no questions: One can assert 'Cinnamon ice cream is good', but one can also ask, 'Is cinnamon ice cream good?' No analogous questions can be formed from imperatives or emotional expressions: 'Shut the door?' and 'Hurray for the Broncos?' lack clear meaning. The obvious explanation is that a yes/no question requires a proposition; it asks whether something is the case. A prescriptivist non-cognitivist might interpret some evaluative yes/no questions as requests for instruction, as in 'Should I shut off the oven now?' But other questions would defy interpretation along these lines, including evaluative questions about other people's behavior or about the past-t—Was it wrong for Emperor Nero to kill Agrippina?' is not a request for instruction.
(f) One can issue imperatives and emotional expressions directed at things that are characterized morally. If non-cognitivism is true, what do these mean: 'Do the right thing.' 'Hurray for virtue!' Even more puzzlingly for the non-cognitivist, you can imagine appropriate contexts for such remarks as, 'We shouldn't be doing this, but I don't care; let's do it anyway'. This is perfectly intelligible, but it would be unintelligible if 'We shouldn't be doing this' either expressed an aversive emotion towards the proposed action or issued an imperative not to do it.
(g) In some sentences, evaluative terms appear without the speaker's either endorsing or impugning anything, yet the terms are used in their normal senses. This is known as the Frege-Geach problem and forms the basis for perhaps the best-known objection to noncognitivism.
And yet moral realism is the weird one?!