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Assess the Claim That There Are Objective Moral Statements

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By LydiaEveGrant
Words 1458
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An objective moral statement is a statement that has a definite truth-value; they are not subjective, even if you are not aware of whether or not a statement is true or false the fact of the matter is it is either one or the other. This is a cognitivist view, although there are many branches of cognitivism they all have one thing in common, they believe that moral statements express a genuine belief.
Moral Realism is a cognitivist theory, they believe that all moral statements have a truth value and there are moral facts which determine that truth-value. Moral Realism is not to be confused with Universalism (the theory that there are absolute values) because a moral realist does not believe that a particular moral judgement has to apply to all situations. For example one could say objectively ‘abortion is wrong’ but in certain situations it is morally acceptable or right. So abortion could be viewed as wrong after a careless pregnancy where a man and woman do not use protection to prevent it, but still be viewed as an acceptable option for a rape victim who becomes pregnant. A moral realist would argue that this was a moral fact.
However an opposing view to moral realism is the non-cognitivist view, Emotivism. Emotivists believe that when you are expressing a moral statement you are merely expressing an emotional response, this is different to expressing an emotional opinion. An opinion can either be true or false whereas an expression of emotion cannot be. For example, if I was to bang my elbow it would be an expression of emotion if I said ‘ouch’ because it can’t be true or false, however if I was to say ‘I banged my elbow and it hurt’ I would be describing an emotion, this would have a truth value as this is the nature of opinions. An emotivist would say that when we say ‘Slavery is wrong’ we are actually saying ‘BOO- slavery’ and if we were to say ‘abortion is right’ we’re actually just saying ‘HURRAH- abortion’ this is known as the Boo-Hurrah theory. It is just like expressing a positive or a negative emotional response to something, much like saying ‘ouch’ when hurt. This is different to Mackie’s error theory in that error theory still supports the idea that statements about morality have a truth value, but there are no moral facts, so all positive moral statements are false.
A strong case for moral realism is the fact that most people would agree that when we say statements such as ‘slavery is wrong’ or ‘abortion is right’ we are giving a statement which would normally be taken as true or false. For example when we say ‘slavery is wrong’ we are asserting the idea that enslaving people has the moral property of being wrong, this fits into commonly used language in the way that other statements such as ‘my car is blue’ function in a similar way; we asserting the idea that the car has the property of being blue. However an emotivist might argue that all human language is misleading, and this therefore means that moral realists don’t have much evidence for this claim. For example when we say ‘the four corners of the Earth’ we are using an idiom, which is a literary technique used to describe something in a figurative way. As we are aware that the Earth is not flat but in fact elliptical, we know it cannot possibly have four corners. Yet we still insist on using terms such as this to describe things, making them in a way misleading.
Furthermore in ordinary language it is common to talk about the mind as though it exists, however eliminative materialists believe that the mind does not exist at all. Just because moral statements can be either true or false, it does not necessarily amount to any of them actually being true. This could be joined in with the idea of error theory. Error theory states that moral statements do have a truth value, but there are no moral facts so all positive moral statements are false.
Another point a moral realist may pose is as we deliberate over moral statements they must have a truth value. For example when we argue about things in general life we argue from opposing views, but both members of the argument would agree that one of them had to be right. For example, if I were to tell you that the Earth was flat, you would argue that it was not. You may argue the scientific proof for this, such as looking at shadows cast from vertical objects and how those shadows change as the Earth rotates. If the Earth was flat it would not do this, furthermore when the first man to brave sailing ‘off the edge of the world’ found that he did not fall into oblivion the fact of the matter was shown in that one point of view was found to be correct. A moral realist would say that examples like this prove that there must be one outcome that was correct and others that are false. Furthermore it is said that we argue because we believe that what we are arguing for is true, we have no need for arguing if we did not. However, A.J Ayer who was an emotivist claims that we do not actually argue over the moral issues themselves, but rather the associated factual matters or definitions. For example when we argue for or against abortion we are actually arguing over matters such as whether or not the foetus can feel pain, which is actually a biological issue.
In addition to this, moral realists may also argue for the idea of moral knowledge or wisdom. Which is the idea that some people are born with more moral wisdom than others and this allows them to make better and more ethical choices, for example it has been said that freedom-fighters like Nelson Mandela had a better grasp on the fundamental basics of moral truths or facts, and this helped to guide their actions. A moral realist would say someone like this was a moral expert- just like Einstein was an expert of the nature of space and time. However it would be possible to say as Nelson Mandela started out his political career as a terrorist and not a moral man he actually didn’t have any more moral knowledge than the average person, he just saw opportunity and seized it. For example there were cases when Nelson Mandela bombed schools with young children inside, killing and injuring many, in many cultures around the world the killing of children is seen as a horrible crime to commit. If Nelson Mandela did have a better grasp on moral facts than the average person then surely he never would have committed a crime that was considered so morally wrong. Furthermore we may think that we have moral knowledge when in fact we don’t actually have any. Mackie’s error theory again applies to this situation, our assumption that there is moral knowledge and our apparent ‘factual’ language about morality might all be an error.
Also, moral realism allows us to make sense of the idea that we can make moral progress, as there is an objective moral truth for us to progress toward. It would seem plausible that when we make scientific progress our account of the world gets closer to the truth. It would be fair to say that in the last five hundred years our understanding of medicine has vastly improved just like it could be said our understanding of moral facts has also improved. For example in the last five hundred years our understanding of whether or not it is okay to discriminate against women or people of other races has progressed greatly, moral realists would claim that as there are moral truths we are more factually accurate than we were five hundred years ago. However we may argue there is genuine progress toward the truth of scientific issues whereas an emotivist would claim that it wasn’t progression but rather change in emotional response that caused a difference in the opinions of moral facts.
In conclusion one could be led to believe that although moral realism poses a strong case it would be equally as acceptable to adopt the view of emotivism or error theory as there seems to be a response for most aspects of moral realism in both theories. Furthermore, emotivism allows for the view that there are no objective moral statements. This would seem likely due to the wide variety in difference of what is considered moral all around the world in different cultures.

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