Re: new to list

From: Russell Blackford (
Date: Fri Aug 24 2001 - 18:24:13 MDT

Mark said

>J L Mackie
>famously argued that all moral truths are false because there are no moral
>facts, i.e., morality does not exist. Mackie and other error theorists
>(Nietzsche is sometimes interpreted this way) do not say that moral truths
>are relative to some social group, rather all such claims are false.

Yes. As I understand Mackie, he says that there are no objective moral
properties, etc. However, our moral discourse implies/assumes that there
are. Therefore, the propositions in our moral discourse are false. Actually,
I find this pretty persuasive, so I maybe I should call myself an "error
theorist" rather than an "ethical subjectivist". A stricter subjectivist
position might be that the statements in our moral discourse are
psychological reports, or prescriptions, etc. The error theorist says that
we make statements which involve more than this and (falsely) include claims
about objective moral properties, etc.

Ideally, people like me, who are attracted to Mackie's position should try
to revise our language so that we no longer seem to make objective moral
claims, but only give hypothetical recommendations, etc. However, this is
damn hard.

Actually, I do find that I can get by from day to day making very few
*moral* judgments, as opposed to having personal responses, tastes, etc. I
can certainly get by without such concepts as "sin", which not only imply
the existence of an objective morality but tie it to a supernatural being
against whom we "sin" when we act wrongly. I've largely abandoned the
concept of "desert", which has all sorts of problems, and simply work on the
basis that I just have preferences for people who are talented, disciplined,
competent, etc.

There's been a fair bit of public discussion over here of a book called _How
to Defend Humane Ideals_ by James R. Flynn, an American error theorist, if I
understand *his* position correctly, who actually tries to do some of the
hard work of reworking our moral discourse. I haven't had a chance to read
this yet. Has anyone else seen it? Any opinions? It sounds like an important


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