Ethics Research Group: Sander Voerman Tuesday October 23 15:00 – 17:00Posted: October 2, 2012
‘Moral Disagreement and Human Psychology’
Room Dante Building 119
Intuitively, moral discourse involves moral disagreements: situations such that when A says “doing X is right under circumstances C,” B can contradict A by saying “X is not right under C.” This implies that there is a certain kind of objectivity to moral judgment, but what kind? According to Michael Smith, A gets his judgment right if and only if all conceptually possible agents get it right when approving of X under C and wrong when disapproving of X under C, regardless of how their contingent psychological attitudes might differ from those of A. By contrast, what I call “relationalist” accounts analyze the truth conditions of a moral judgment in terms of such contingent attitudes of the agent making the judgment. Smith argues that such accounts fail to account for the objectivity required to explain moral disagreements. In this paper I defend relationalism against Smith. On the account I have developed elsewhere, the truth conditions of moral judgments involve opaque volitional attitudes of an agent that this agent herself can be mistaken about. Thus, A and B might both have such attitudes in support of doing X under C, which A is getting right and B wrong. I argue that this explains their disagreement if A and B assume, as part of the conversational implicature of their judgments, that their opaque attitudes are the same. I examine two types of reasons for making such an assumption. The first is when species-wide attitudes are involved as a matter of common human psychology. This makes moral judgments just as objective as judgments about human physiology such as “the heart is located in the left side of the body.” I speculate why certain basic moral values might be shared in this species-wide sense. The second type of reason applies in situations where A and B share a cultural background that may be constitutive of the attitudes at stake. This implies that the attitudes will not be shared cross- culturally, which may seem to imply an unattractive cultural relativism. However, I will argue that relativism is usually understood in a transparent sense, and that my opaque relationalism is a much more plausible alternative. Furthermore, I will argue that the absence of shared attitudes may even be plausible in certain intra-cultural cases. Thus, if we must choose between saving m loved ones or n strangers, with m<n, the vaguely determinable m/n ratio at which one should start saving the strangers might not even be shared intraculturally, let alone species-wide.