Rachels, Ch. 3, Subjectivism



         a.      No facts or objectives truths (about the world) in morality

         b.      No (unique?) right answers to moral questions

         c.      Morality is

                   i.       Mere matter of personal opinion

                   ii.      Mere expression or statement of feelings

                   iii.     Matter of sentiment/emotion/feeling, not truth, fact, or reason

2.      Subjectivism applied to claims about homosexuality

         a.      When someone says “Homosexuality is wrong”

         b.      Facts are

                   i.       Some people are homosexual and others heterosexual

                   ii.      Some people have feelings of approval about homosexuality and others of disapproval

         c.      No facts about homosexuality being right or wrong


         d.      When we perceive a gay couple holding hands, we don’t perceive any (fact of) wrongness (or rightness)

                   i.       (Assumption is, if it was a fact, we’d perceive it)

         e.      The wrongness or rightness is something we (the perceiver) add

                   i.       It is subjective (from the subject)

                   ii.      Not objective (from the object)

                   iii.     It is our own feeling or emotion toward the behavior and is not a property of the behavior

         f.       So when we think an act is objectively right or wrong, we confuse something in us with something in the object

         g.      Rightness or wrongness is a mere feeling or attitude we have and not an objective fact about the act we evaluate


3.      Two specific versions of subjectivism: Simple subjectivism and emotivism



         a.      X is morally right/wrong means I (the speaker) approve of (or disapprove of) X

                   i.       Contrast this account with the one Rachels gives:

                            (1)    According to Rachels, X is morally right means X has the weight of reasons on its side (it has the strongest arguments for it)

         b.      According to SS, moral language states facts about a speaker’s attitudes and feelings

                   i.       This is strange: When you say some act is wrong, it turns out (according to SS) that you are talking about yourself and your attitudes (not about the act)

5.      Two problems with simple subjectivism

         a.      Makes people’s moral views infallible (and this is not plausible)

                   i.       Makes (sincerely stated) moral statements infallible--since we are only talking about our own attitudes

                   ii.      But we obviously aren’t infallible about our moral claims, we do make mistakes

         b.      Makes disagreement impossible:

                   i.       Because (according to SS) we are talking about our own feelings toward actions and not the actions themselves,

                   ii.      When one person says “X is right” and another says “No X is wrong” they are not disagreeing

                            (1)    One is saying “I approve of X” and the other is saying “I disapprove of X”

                            (2)    But both of these can be true at the same time and each can agree that the other has the attitude stated

                   iii.     But because moral disagreement obviously exists, SS must be mistaken, for it makes such disagreement impossible


6.      EMOTIVISM (=E)

         a.      X is morally right/wrong means either

                   i.       “Do X”


                   ii.      “Yuck on X” or “Boo X”

         b.      For emotivism, moral language is not a fact stating use of language

         c.      A moral utterance is not an attempt to say something true or false

         d.      Moral utterances are either

                   i.       Commands (which aren’t T or F),


                   ii.      Expressions of emotions (as opposed to stating or reporting or emotions as SS claims)

         e.      The point of moral utterances are to influences people’s attitudes or behavior

7.      Emotivism avoids the two problems identified in SS

         a.      Moral utterances are not infallible (always correct) as they aren’t attempts to say true or false things

         b.      Disagreements exist in attitudes

                   i.       “Yeah Cougars” versus “Down with the Cougars”

                   ii.      While there is no disagreement about truth, there is a disagreement about what folks want to happen

8.      Problem for emotivism: Mistaken view of role of reason giving in ethics

         a.      If purpose of moral language is to influence behavior or attitude, then what is the purpose of reason giving in morality?

         b.      Answer: To influence attitudes

         c.      So a good reason (according to E) is any consideration that has this desired affect (influences the attitude in the right way)

         d.      For example, I say “President Obama is a bad man”

                   i.       According to E this amounts to me trying to get you to take a negative attitude toward him (and not vote for him)

                   ii.      If a good reason is one that produces this attitude, then when I appeal to your prejudice against Muslims by saying “Obama is a Muslim” and this leads you dislike and not vote for Obama, it follows that I gave a good reason.

                   iii.     But this is a totally skewed view of that good reasons are and of the point of reason giving

                   iv.     Good reasons are not simply the ones that have the desired psychological effect

                            (1)    At the very least they must be logically relevant (and true)

         e.      Rachels concludes that E is mistaken because its view of moral reason giving is unacceptable.



10.    Subjectivism is appealing because it presents a false dilemma

         a.      If falsely assumes there are only two possibilities

11.    Either

         a.      (1) Moral truths/facts/values exist in same way as planets and trees exist

                   i.       That is they are physical objects that we can perceive with out senses

         b.      (2) Or moral truths/facts/values are mere personal feelings or emotions or attitudes (that we take toward behavior)

12.    The subjectivist argues that since (1) is obviously false, (2) must be true (hence subjectivism is true)

13.    This is a false dilemma because there is a third option

         a.      (3) Moral truths are truths of reasons (they exist as truths of reason)

                   i.       A moral judgment is true if it is backed by better reasons than its alternatives

                   ii.      The correct answer to moral questions is the answer that has the weight of reason on its side.

14.    Moral truths are objective in the sense that

         a.      They are true independent of what we want to think

                   i.       We can’t make the weight of reason lie on one side of an issue by wanting it to lie on that side of the issue

                   ii.      Reason says what it says regardless of our desires about what it says

         b.      We can be mistaken in ethics; we can be wrong about what reason recommends (about where the weight of reason lies)



16.    Many say no

         a.      Science is our paradigm of objectivity and proof and ethics lacks that sort of objectivity or proof

17.    Rachels provide examples of what he considers proof in ethics

18.    One proof in ethics is this:

         a.      Teacher gives a test that a student judges to be unfair.

         b.      The test covered in details matters that were quite trivial, while ignoring matters the teacher had stressed as important.

         c.      It also covered material not in class readings or discussions

         d.      Test was so long not even best students could complete it in the time allowed (and it was graded on the assumption it should be completed)

         e.      All these things are true and the teacher has no response when confronted with them

         f.       Would seem like this is a proof that the test was unfair.

19.    People think moral judgments are unprovable

         a.      Because they use the wrong standard of proof (scientific, empirical standard)

         b.      Focus on hard cases; there are lots of easy cases people agree upon

         c.      Falsely believe that proving something means convincing everyone

Chapter Three: Subjectivism

1.         What is subjectivism about morality? How is it different from cultural relativism? What does Rachels think about subjectivism? What is Rachels' own position about the nature of morality? Is it subjectivistic or objectivistic? Explain.

2.         Define simple subjectivism. What are the two objections that Rachels gives to simple subjectivism?

3.         Define emotivism (and distinguish it from simple subjectivism). Explain how emotivism avoids the two objections to simple subjectivism. What is Rachels objection to emotivism?

4.         Rachels argues that the appeal of subjectivism is based on a false belief that we only have two options (a “false dilemma”). What are those two options? What is the third option that Rachels suggests we could (and should) adopt?

5.         According to Rachels, are there proofs in ethics? (What is one of Rachels’ examples.) What are some of the reasons Rachels gives for why people think there are no proofs in ethics?

6.         Rachels considers the charge that homosexuality is unnatural in three different ways. What are those ways and what is Rachels’ evaluation of those claims?