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Entries in Moral Judgment (2)


Moral Judgment in the Real World

David Brooks, writing in the New York Times on Tuesday, March 10th, offers an account of moral values as those societal standards which we adopt (either implicitly or, if necessary, deliberately and consciously) in order to achieve better social outcomes (by producing more stable, productive members of that society). I'm not sure if this offers the best possible account of moral judgment, but it does seem to make some sense:

We now have multiple generations of people caught in recurring feedback loops of economic stress and family breakdown, often leading to something approaching an anarchy of the intimate life.
. . . The health of society is primarily determined by the habits and virtues of its citizens. In many parts of America there are no minimally agreed upon standards for what it means to be a father. There are no basic codes and rules woven into daily life, which people can absorb unconsciously and follow automatically.

This account suggests a naturalistic picture, i.e., that morally good behavior derives from recognizing what is good for human beings via the societies they live in (social goods) and acting in accord with such standards. . . .

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Quine on Ethics

Quine's basic position on ethics, as expressed in this clip


seems to be that judgments of moral valuation have "no analog" with questions of scientific facts (assignment of truth values to statements about the world). Thus, in the end, moral judgment can be nothing but a reflection of what we have been taught to believe or what is inherent in us based on natural selection. Quine is paraphrased here, by one of his interlocutors, as saying the best that you can get in moral valuation are claims reflecting a kind of coherence theory, while in science you can get statements according to a kind of correspondence theory. Hence he appears to agree with the old Humean notion that one cannot derive an ought from an is.

In science and ordinary talk about the world, Quine holds that what we can say is determined by our inputs from the world around us but, in terms of moral judgments, what we can say is entirely determined by what we intuit, by how we feel about things. He allows that we can argue the facts of moral cases, of course, and so come to different conclusions even where we seem to share similar feelings or predispositions about the elements of the case, but his bottom line seems to be consistent with Hume's suggestion that moral judgment is entirely determined by our sensibilities -- which can be subject to change, of course, although not consciously by ourselves, for on this view we just are whatever our inclinations and feelings are . . .

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