Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Distinction Between Morality and Ethics (Part 3)

In my previous post, I discussed one metaethical theory of ethics- Relativism- in greater detail . The following post will be dedicated to discussing another metaethical theory: "Subjectivism" that is also known as "Individual Subjectivism (Expressivism)".

Individual Subjectivism (Expressivism):

SUBJECTIVISTS believe that moral beliefs and judgements are the expressions of the individual's feelings, attitudes, desires or preferences- what makes a belief or judgement morally right or wrong, good or evil, is the subjective approval or disapproval of the individual - what is right for me or wrong for me.

If I say, 'The honour killing of women is a grave moral evil', I really mean, 'I disapprove of the honour killing of women', or 'I hate honour killing of women', or 'I wish people would stop such killing', or 'Boo to honour killing'. This is why the simplest form of Subjectivism is called Emotivism which is sometimes called the 'Boo-Hooray' theory.  

The initial plausibility of Subjectivism arrives from three realizations:

1) Morality is clearly connected with strong feelings as the example of the sexual abuse of children would show us.

2)  If moral beliefs are expressions of feelings then we can easily explain moral motivation e.g: Ali doesn't care if his future bride is a virgin or not because he himself isn't and he hates nothing more than double standards.

3) The moral life has this essential subjective aspect. I must finally make my own judgements as to what is the right thing to do, and I must make my own decision based on that judgement. We regard those who say about a moral issue they face, 'You decide for me', as having failed in their moral responsibility.

Problems with Subjectivism:

1) As with relativism , there appears to be no grounds for rational argument about moral matters and no place for the idea that anyone could be wrong or mistaken in their moral beliefs and judgements- how could I be wrong in my feeling that trance music is abhorrent any more than I could be wrong in my judgement that  biryani is delicious? Morality seems to be reduced to a question of taste. So again: what sense can we make of moral argument?

2) Our everyday moral language does not appear to be about my individual expressions of feelings or my interests or preferences. If I say, 'The Holocaust was a terrible evil', this seems to be a straightforward statement that is true. And when I say so-and-so is cruel and spiteful, or arrogant and pompous, or a coward and a traitor, am I speaking about my feelings or preferences? Or am I appealing to the common moral meanings and shared moral understanding- to something objective?

3) Can matters of justice be subjective? Would a racist judge be justified in putting a minority member of society in prison because they feel better about doing that?

4) Can't we always ask of any feeling or preference: Is this feeling appropriate? Is this preference justified? A person may express the same outrage about nose-picking in public as they do about rape- does that mean that both are equally bad? Aren't our moral feelings ( what we care about and praise, what we find outrageous and condemn) always subject to critical judgements? - 'Are you serious?!' 'You are just being sentimental."

Part 4 of this post will look at Humean Subjectivism or Universalism for further understanding of Subjectivism.

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