Moral skepticism is the opposite of:
moral realism (df.): the view that there is such a thing as objective moral truth, i.e., moral judgments that are true (and others that are false) independent of what people think, feel or believe about them.
· One may be a moral realist about all morality (this is “full blown” moral realism) or just about specific issues, such as rape (“limited” moral realism).
The LCDA concludes that: there is no objective truth as to whether infanticide is right or wrong; all there is with regard to infanticide is opinion. In other words, the LCDA is an argument in support of moral skepticism about infanticide and against moral realism about infanticide.
(a) Are both of the premises true?
(b) Is the argument valid?
If the answer to either question is “no”, then the argument is unsound, and we should reject it.
[2.8.4.] Rachels’ Criticism of the LCDA.
Rachels offers the following criticism of the LCDA (so far as I can tell, this criticism is accurate… the argument really does fail for the reason that Rachels describes):
The premises of the LCDA are both true. Each premise merely makes a factual psychological claim about what is believed by a specific group of people. The fact that these premises are about people’s beliefs does not make them subjective:
· it is an objective fact about me that I believe Atlanta is the capitol of Georgia; and
· it is an objective fact about most Americans that they believe that infanticide is immoral.
But the LCDA is invalid, i.e., the truth of the premises would not guarantee the truth of the conclusion.
The important thing is to understand why the truth of the premises would not guarantee the truth of the conclusion. The reason is this: In general, the fact that different groups of people have contradictory beliefs about x does not imply that there are no objective truths about x. It is possible for two groups to have conflicting beliefs about a subject, and for one of those groups to be right and the other to be wrong (or for both groups to be wrong).
The “shape of the earth” argument described by Rachels (argument 5, at RTD p.23) has the same flaw:
This is invalid for the same reason as the LCDA: the fact that two groups of people disagree about something does not imply that there is no objective fact of the matter about it. The following argument is invalid for the exact same reason:
An important logical point: the fact that the LCDA is unsound does not imply that its conclusion is false. It just means that the argument is itself not a good argument for that conclusion. It may still be true that infanticide is neither objectively right nor objectively wrong.
However, since the LCDA is an invalid argument, those who believe that infanticide is neither objectively right nor objectively wrong need a better argument to support that claim.
As we have already seen, the fact that an argument is invalid does not mean that it has a false conclusion. It is easy to come up with unsound arguments for true conclusions, for example
Some NFL teams are named after a bird. (true)
The Atlanta Falcons are an NFL team. (true)
So, the Atlanta Falcons are named after a bird. (true)
This argument is unsound because it is invalid (the truth of the premises would not guarantee the truth of the conclusion). But it still has a true conclusion.
The next argument Rachels considers is an argument in support of full-blown moral skepticism. In other words, it is an argument in support of moral skepticism about everything, not just about a single issue (like infanticide, abortion, capital punishment, etc.). If full-blown moral skepticism is true, then no action whatsoever is objectively immoral... not even rape, torture, or killing innocent people for fun.
This argument is at RTD p.25 (I have changed the wording to make it clearer):
[2.9.1.] Valid or Invalid?
1. If p, then q.
2. Not-q. [This premise denies the q portion of the first premise.]
3. Therefore, not-p.
And any argument that has this form is valid. It does not matter what propositions you fill in for “p” and “q”; so long as both “p”s are replaced with the same proposition and both “q”s are replaced with the same proposition, the resulting argument will be valid. For example,
1. If Atlanta is the capital of Georgia, then the moon is made of cheese.
2. The moon is not made of cheese.
3. Therefore, Atlanta is not the capital of Georgia.
This is a valid argument, even though one of its premises is false.
This argument form has a name: modus tollens. We will return to this argument form, and consider other argument forms that are similar to it, in a few days.
· that a test was unfair
· that “Jones is a bad man”
· that “Dr. Smith is irresponsible”
· that “A certain used-car salesman is unethical.”
We can prove that a test is unfair by showing that it has nothing to do with the class content, is too long for any student to finish, that it does not follow the study guide that the professor provided for the test, etc. And we can prove that Jones is a bad person by showing that he is a habitual liar, that he abuses his wife and children, that he tortures puppies for fun, and so on.
Discussion: is Rachels right to say that we can prove these claims to be true? Is there are difference between proving a moral claim and simply providing good reasons to believe it?
Stopping point for Thursday January 16. For next time, study the lecture notes from today, and begin reading EMP ch.2 (pp.14-22 only). You may have a pop quiz on both at the beginning of class.
YOUR FIRST EXAM IS TUESDAY FEBRUARY 4. The study guide is now on the class website.
This page last updated 1/16/2014.
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