Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Does this work?

It has come to my attention that moral realists have been hard-pressed in many instances to provide an ontological story as to why others should assent to the moral realist's claim of independent existing moral facts. By moral facts, I mean the set of moral beliefs that inform our everyday day-to-day deliberation in the same way someone would speak of a set of worldly facts like how many grains of sand there are on Earth, or how many snakes are poisonous. The only difference in form from the analogy is that moral facts express evaluative notions about what ought to be the case rather than describing the world. I claim that the existence of moral facts can be treated as a body of truths that is implied by the acceptance of their relevance in lived-experience. Thus, I accept the following argument as a way of entering into the truth of moral realism.

P1: If moral facts exist independently of our endorsement of them, then moral facts constitute the fabric of the world.
P2: If moral facts constitute the fabric of the world, then moral facts arise in our experience of knowing the fabric of the world.
IC: If moral facts exist independently of our endorsement of them, then moral facts arise in our experience of knowing the fabric of the world. (HS, 1 and 2)
P3: If moral facts arise in our experience of knowing the fabric of the world, then moral facts, according to phenomenology, are rooted in our subjective constitution of moral intentionality that bestows meaning-formation of our lived-experience. (HS, IC and 3)
C: If moral facts exist independently of our endorsement of them, then, moral moral facts, according to phenomenology, are rooted in our subjective constitution of a moral intentionality that bestows meaning-formation of our lived experience.

3 comments:

TorturedArtist said...

As always, an interesting point.

Here's a couple concerns about the formalized version of your argument:

1. You're arguing that moral facts 'constitute the fabric of reality'. That's a little vague. I'm assuming you mean something like moral facts are facts about the world independent of our subjective experience of the world'? Or something like that. I mean, I know what you mean, but someone who is a non-realist could grant that moral facts 'constitute the fabric of reality' by saying that moral facts are facts about the subjective preferences or experiences of individuals while still denying that moral facts pick out anything that is independent of an individual's subjective phenomonology.

2.Someone could deny P2. Why must we assume that facts that pertain to the actual world must arise in our 'experience of knowing the fabric of the world'? I see no principled reason to reject the possibility that there might be facts about the actual world that either may not arise in our (human?) experience of knowing the world or might actually be things that humans are incapable of ever knowing. This seems reasonable. I mean, for a really simple example, there's facts about the flora and fauna of various planets in the Alpha Centauri galaxy that might never arise in the experience of humans, and at the very least, won't arise in the experience of humans for centuries...but yet, these are still facts about the actual world. So, even if their are moral facts in the actual world, it's possible that we might never know about them.


P3: I must confesss, I don't really understand this premise. It's probably a language thing. It sounds, however like a non-realist could grant you everything you're asking for about the arising of moral facts in the phenomonological experience of a given individual but could still consistently and in a principled way, deny that these 'moral facts' pick out anything that is subjective-independent in 'the fabric of reality'.

So, I guess, my concern is that the subjective intentionality view of moral facts that you propose sounds consistent with many non-realist views of morality.

Ashley said...

And that's a source of huge confusion. Even Mackie likes that values come from our subjectivity.

I'm trying to figure out how best to formalize this argument, and give justice to the fact that there are facts about human life about how we ought to live. It's the central concern that has motivated a lot of my concerns about ethical matters. Now, you're right, any non-realist (I like the term anti-realist myself) can grant that subjectivity is the root of moral facts, and that moral facts are not independent of my subjective experience.

However, what falls between the anti-realist denial and the phenomenologist is the fact that phenomenology uncovers the implicit processes by which our experience of moral facts arises in our experience is an objectively (intersubjective and valid) interpretation of human experience. The fact is, it will arise in someone else. If we think phenomenology reports true descriptions of how we are conscious of our experience in the world, then if someone denies that there are moral facts we might never know, then they are in essence also denying themselves insights that stare them straight in the face of human existence.

Finally, I'm unsure as to whether subjective-independence is the right term here. For starters, the space between the world and our subjectivity is a realm of intelligible propositions that mediate our conception of the world and ourselves. I think dissolving the poles of this space between the subject and the world is where much of philosophical disagreement takes place.

Khadimir said...

Uh .... There are so many presumptions packed into this argument that the list of premises needs to be number in the dozens. Moreover, I strongly advise separating the conditionals in an argument from the antecendent and possible the consequence, for they are logically independent.

Finally, the use of "phenomenology" here is entirely an idiosyncratic usage that does not follow any Continental thinker I know. It would be best to specify a thinker and work out of that thinker to reach an eventual conclusion, whereas this looks like some concepts borrowed without any story of how they're being appropriated.

Aside, the phenomenological concept of world in no way corresponds to any commonsense of "independent" notion. Moreover, unless one is some kind of hard idealist, such facts cannot be said to inhere in subjectivity as such.