As we all know saving the differences is difficult.
Distinguishing between realists and anti-realists is coming increasingly
difficult. For me, this is a fascinating topic. I’m reading our fellow pea
souper’s, Michael Huemer’s, book Ethical
Intuitionism. He doesn’t explicitly investigate the topic but still seems
to take a stand on it in classifying different metaethical views. I wonder how
efficient his way of describing the differences is. Much of what I have in mind
here is nothing original but I still would like to ask Michael if he had more
in mind that I’m picking up.
Huemer seems to think that we can use the concepts of
‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ for making the metaethical difference. He defines
subjectivity in this way:
( Subj) F-ness is subjective = Whether something is F
constitutively depends on at least in part on the psychological attitude or
response that observers have or would have towards that thing.
I take it that he thinks that F-ness is objective if and
only if it is not subjective, i.e., F-ness does not depend even in part on the
attitudes or responses of the observers. The crucial question he poses is whether goodness is
objective. If you are a moral realist, then your answer to this question must
be yes and if you are an anti-realist
your question must be no. So far, so
Huemer then lists three anti-realist theories: subjectivism,
non-cognitivism and nihilism a.k.a. the error theory. I agree with him that
these theories are anti-realist views but I cannot see how his criteria can
pick them out as such.
Start with error theory. Would an error theorist accept or
reject (Subj)? I take it that he would reject it and say that goodness does not
depend on the attitudes of the subjects. In this sense they would reply to
Huemer’s question yes – goodness is
an objective quality, just nothing happens to be good.
The fate of non-cognitivism is trickier. It depends whether
(Subj) says more than this:
(Subj*) If we did not have certain attitudes towards the
object, then the object would not be good.
If it doesn’t, then the non-cognitivist denies subjectivity. Blackburn is famous about this. Any claims of
the sort (Subj) or (Subj*) are part of morally suspicious first-order
moralizing to which the non-cognitivist does not want to be committed. As
Blackburn puts it nicely ‘The criminality of the Iraq war is
dead-innocent-Iraqi-dependent, not Republican-sentiment-dependent’.
So, it looks like both error theorists and non-cognitivists
answer Huemer’s question yes. Goodness
is objective. But, if Huemer’s question classified realists and anti-realists,
this would make error theorists and non-cognitivists realists. That cannot be
right. So, the question cannot distinguish between realists and anti-realists.
Huemer has another classification that does better with the
error theorists. This test distinguishes the kinds of facts you believe in. The
error theorists does not accept moral facts. But, of course, again the
sophisticated expressivists is happy to accept the talk of mind-independent
irreducible moral facts.