To What Extent Does Mackie's Argument From Relativity Support His Error Theory

2088 words - 9 pages

To what extent, if at all, does Mackie's “argument from relativity” support his error theory?

J.L. Mackie makes his position explicit by opening his paper ‘The Subjectivity of Values’ (1977) with the claim that ‘there are no objective values’. He further elaborates on his position by stating that when most people speak of their moral judgements they are implicitly claiming ‘to be pointing to something objectively prescriptive’ but ‘these claims are false’. This means that when we make moral judgements like ‘it is right to give to charity’ or ‘’it is wrong to kill’, we are claiming there are objective values in the world. However there are no such objective values thus we are saying ...view middle of the document...

Mackie’s view is that moral realists are correct in that our moral judgements intend to represent facts and refer to objective values. He thinks expressivists are wrong to believe that we intend to refer to our attitudes and to express them with forceful language. He thinks that the expressivists are correct that there are no moral facts and that the moral realist is mistaken to think they exist. In essence he agrees with expressivists that our moral judgements represent our attitudes, rather than in any objective values.  Yet, he disagrees with the expresisvists view that all we think we are doing when using moral terms is expressing our feelings.  We think we are aiming at the truth and attempting to explain reality, but fail. In this way we are systematically in error about what we refer to when making moral judgements; we think we are referring to moral facts however we are actually referring to our feelings.

Mackie believes in order for objective values to exist they would need to possess the ability to categorically motivate us. They would also require intrinsic reason-giving power. For example an action being objectively right is itself a reason to carry out the action. I will now discuss how the argument from relativity displaces the ability for objective values to possess intrinsic reason-giving power.

The argument from relativity begins from an empirical observation, that there is fundamental widespread moral disagreement. Many different cultures currently hold different sets of moral beliefs and there have been obvious historical variations in the content of moral which usually contain a degree of intractability.

The moral realist explanation for this disagreement is to assume there are objective values or objective truths. The difference between moral judgements between cultures and in different periods of history occurs as one culture is more aware of these objective values than another. Some cultures may have a better perception of objective values than others. In other words some cultures have inferior epistemic access to a realm of objective values than others. This means some cultures are correct in making certain moral judgements whereas others are incorrect.

Mackie argues that for an alternative explanation that there are no objective values and moral judgements ‘reflect adherence to and participation in different ways of life’ (1977, p.36). Thus disagreement is explained as being caused by different cultures, rather than different access or different perceptions of objective values. Mackie argues that this is the best explanation of moral disagreement. To illustrate his claim he uses an example of two cultures different views regarding monogamy. He questions the plausibility that one culture accesses objective values regarding marital arrangements whereas the other doesn’t? He argues it is more plausible that monogamy happened to develop in one culture rather than another, perhaps due to an unequal number of...

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