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Ethics. Chapter 3: Subjectivism in Ethics. Ethical Subjectivism. The view that ethical judgments are not factual claims; instead, they simply express an individual’s personal feelings about an issue. . Rachel: Subjectivism.

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Chapter 3: Subjectivism in Ethics

ethical subjectivism
Ethical Subjectivism
  • The view that ethical judgments are not factual claims; instead, they simply express an individual’s personal feelings about an issue.
rachel subjectivism
Rachel: Subjectivism
  • “People have different opinions, but where morality is concerned, there are no ‘facts,’ and no one is ‘right.’ People just feel differently, and that’s all there is to it.”
subjective relativism vs cultural relativism
Subjective Relativism vs. Cultural Relativism
  • Cultural Relativism states that ethical judgments (what is right and wrong) is determined and based on the customs of a given culture.
  • Subjective Relativism states that ethical judgments (what is right and wrong) is determined and based on the feelings of a given individual.
evolution of the theory
Evolution of the Theory
  • First, a hypothesis is proposed; and if it has explanatory power, and evidence in its support, it grows into a theory.
  • Second, objections arise that undermine the theory.
  • Third, the theory is modified to overcome the objections while maintaining the central idea of the original theory.
1 st stage simple subjectivism
1st Stage: Simple Subjectivism
  • Ethical judgments are simply expressions of one’s feelings.
  • If you say, “Abortion is wrong,” what you are saying is that you do not like abortions. You are simply expressing a feeling about it.
  • If John says, “Abortion is morally acceptable,” John is simply saying “I do not mind abortions.”
simple subjectivism
Simple Subjectivism
  • According to simple subjectivism, moral claims do have a truth value,but they are about how one feels.
  • A moral statement is true if and only if it corresponds to the feelings of the person uttering the statement.
  • “Abortion is ethically wrong,” is true, according to John, if and only if John truly dislikes abortions.
refutation of simple subjectivism
Refutation of Simple Subjectivism

1) If Simple Subjectivism were true, then disagreementswould be impossible, which is absurd.

2) If Simple Subjectivism were true, then moral claims are always true, which is absurd.

1 no disagreement is possible
1) No Disagreement is possible
  • It seems that when two people have contrary claims about the ethics of abortion they do disagree.
  • But, according to simple subjectivism, this is impossible, because you would agree that, if your opponent is sincere, he really feels the way he claims to feel about abortion, and thus you would agree with her.
2 can never be wrong infallibility argument
2) Can never be wrong (Infallibility Argument)
  • Most people believe that sometimes we are wrong about our moral claims.
  • However, according to simple subjectivism, because a person’s ethical judgment only expresses a feeling, then, as long as the person is not lying and she has access to to her emotions and feelings, she can never be wrong about them.
  • Ethical claims have a truth value, just like the claim “I like this ice cream” has a truth value.
  • But it seems that they are always true!
2 nd stage emotivism
2nd Stage: Emotivism
  • Emotivism is a new theory that attempts to overcome the problems of Simple Subjectivism, but maintains the central idea.
what is emotivism
What is Emotivism?
  • Emotivism states that ethical judgments express an attitude and are more like commands; therefore, they do not have a truth value.
  • They do not represent a feeling; they represent a desire or preferred outcome.
  • They are not like: “I like this ice cream”
  • They are more like: “I want the Miami Heat to beat the Boston Celtics.”

1) Express an attitude

2) Try to convince, influence others’ attitudes and behavior.

disagreement argument
Disagreement Argument
  • Emotivism overcomes the disagreement objection because it admits that there is a disagreement.
  • However, the disagreement is not about a fact, but rather it is about an outcome.
  • It is a disagreement about attitude not about belief.
  • You want the Boston Celtics to win, and I want the Miami Heat to win.
  • You cheer for abortion; I cheer against abortion.
infallibility argument
Infallibility Argument
  • Emotivism overcomes the infallibility argument in a way that simple subjectivism cannot.
  • According to emotivism, moral language, that is, moral claims, are neither true nor false; they are not claims at all!
  • They resemble more commands or questions in this respect.
objection against emotivism
Objection Against Emotivism
  • If emotivism is true, then there could never be any moral claims that are true, because, as just mentioned, moral claims DO NOT HAVE A TRUTH VALUE.
  • However, there are moral claims that are clearly true and others that are false.
moral claim have truth value
Moral Claim Have Truth Value
  • For example, “Hitler’s actions against the Jews were morally good and acceptable.”
  • This claim clearly has a truth value: it is clearly false!
  • “For Simple Subjectivism, our judgments cannot be criticized because they will always be true.
  • For Emotivism, our moral judgments cannot be criticized because they are not judgments at all; they are mere expressions of attitude, which cannot be [true or] false. This is one problem with Emotivism.
  • Another problem is that Emotivism cannot explain the role reason plays in ethics.”
reason and ethics
Reason and Ethics
  • Ethical judgments require rational support.
  • Ethical judgments are radically different than “I like chocolate ice cream.”
  • Would you ask someone “Why do you like Chocolate ice cream?”
  • If you did, the person might just respond, “I don’t know I just do”
ethical judgments as commands
Ethical judgments as Commands
  • Emotivism tries to incorporate reason by treating ethical claims as if they were commands.
  • For instance, “you should wear your seat belt in the car.”
  • Now, according to Emotivism, anything that would produce the desired command will work as “good reason” for supporting it.
  • If I were to tell you that your horoscope said that you will be in a car accident sometime in the next five years, and this made you wear your seat belt, then, this would be a “good reason” for support of the claim: “You should wear your seat belt.”
emotivism excludes reason
Emotivism Excludes Reason
  • It is clear that treating ethical judgments as command functions will not permit us to make sense of how reason can be incorporated into moral decision making.
  • Not only can irrelevant claims be persuasive, but also false claims can also be persuasive and thus considered “good reason.”
  • We know that neither irrelevant nor false premises produce rational support for the truth of a claim!
two lessons
Two Lessons
  • Emotivism and Simple Subjectivism are not correct ethical theories.
  • Reasons do not always have to be physical, tangible, or scientific in nature.
reasons in ethics
Reasons in Ethics
  • The kind of reasons that one gives in ethics are not empirical.
  • Moral truths are truths of reason; that is, a moral judgment is true if it is backed [supported] by better reasons that the alternatives.
moral truths are objective
Moral Truths are Objective
  • Moral judgments have a truth value (true or false) that is independent of our personal, subjective attitudes, feelings, and opinions.
  • It does not matter what we feel or believe or think about a certain moral judgment; our hoping and wishing cannot make it different than it is.
  • In this sense moral judgments (value judgments) are more like empirical scientific claims than like subjective claims.
  • They are OBJECTIVE.
proofs in ethics
Proofs in Ethics
  • If moral claims are objective, then there must be proofs in ethics.
  • Why do we normally think there are no proofs?
  • Three common mistakes: (1) Ethical proofs are different than scientific proofs, therefore, we tend to assume incorrectly that they are subjective;
  • (2) We usually consider the most difficult issues in ethics, such as abortion;
  • (3) We usually confuse proofing an opinion with persuading someone to accept the proof.