Monday, July 14, 2008

Moral Indexicals, Or Why Judgment Internalism Is Not Evidence Against Objectivist Moral Realism

So one argument I've come across more than once is that Judgment Internalism - on the version I am here interested in, the view that, insofar as one is rational, moral judgments will be intrinsically motivating - provides evidence against moral realism or at least against objectivist versions thereof (could a subjectivist view count as moral realist? I'd have to think about that, but it's late so I won't). The reasoning here is that objective facts are not intrinsically motivating, so when one makes a moral judgment one can't be judging that some objective fact is the case. I have two main responses to this argument, either one of which would effectively defang it:

First, I would contend that in fact not all moral judgments do motivate on their own. Consider this one: 'Ian Spencer ought to A'. That's not going to motivate me to do anything unless I know that I am Ian Spencer. Andy Egan thinks that since self-locating beliefs such as 'I' beliefs are motivating and hence that moral judgments must be self-locating beliefs ascribing to oneself the property of being such that one's ideal rational self would prescribe or proscribe such and such. But notice that, as we just saw, the only moral judgments that are in fact motivating are the ones that contain an explicit first-person reference. This has nothing to do with the fact that it is a moral judgment - it only has to do with the fact that it contains a first-person indexical! So Egan is right to find the motivating factor in a motivating moral judgment to come from self-location but he is wrong to think that this has anything to do with the relativity of morality. After all, an moral realist objectivist could perfectly well agree that self-location is doing the work here but disagree with Egan's relativism - the non-motivating third-person judgment and the motivating first-person one express the same facts and these can perfectly well be objective, morally realist facts. Similarly, 'Ian Spencer is being chased by a bear' and 'I am being chased by a bear' express the same objective, realist fact even though the latter will motivate me all on its own whereas the former will not (that requires me to know that I am Ian Spencer). Note that this also shows that there may also be non-moral judgments that are also intrinsically motivating insofar as I'm rational!

Second, suppose I am wrong about the above. Notice that Judgment Internalism says that it is only if one is rational (or insofar as one is so) that one is motivated by moral judgments. But if we view morality as in the business of dealing with reasons for action, we can view moral judgments as embodying or expressing reasons for or against different actions. Now, insofar as one is rational, one will be motivated by one's reasons. So judgment internalism follows nearly-trivially from just these two conceptual points about morality and its connection with rationality. No need for relativism or emotivism or what-have-you. The nature of rationality and morality jointly do all that work for us. So whichever of these two arguments you choose to employ, it looks like the move from Judgment Internalism to relativism or anti-realism done for.

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