Naturalism and Objectively Horrifying Evils

A serious and thoughtful objection against metaphysical naturalism is that it cannot provide a basis for some of our deepest and most intuitive moral judgments. If so, a metaphysical naturalist could bite the bullet and say “so much for our deepest and most intuitive moral judgments!” Still, if this consequence could be avoided, it would remove a major stumbling-block for those who might otherwise view atheism as plausible.

The argument is clearly stated by Alvin Plantinga. He first notes that there seem to be instances of real and objectively horrifying evil in the world (Plantinga, The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, p. 326). The real and objectively horrifying acts that Plantinga means are those that are purposely and maliciously committed, like the hideous tortures and genocidal atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein, Stalin, the Nazis, or the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot. We think that such acts are objectively horrifying, that is, that they would remain enormously evil even if all human beings could be somehow brainwashed into approving of them.

Plantinga comments:

Naturalism does not have the resources to explain or accommodate this fact about these states of affairs [that they are objectively evil and horrifying]. From a naturalistic point of view, about all we can say is that we do indeed hate them; but this is far short of seeing them as intrinsically horrifying. How can we understand this intrinsically horrifying character? After all, as much misery and suffering can occur in a death from cancer as in a death caused by someone else’s wickedness. What is the difference? The difference lies in the perpetrators and their intentions. Those who engage in this sort of thing are purposely and intentionally setting themselves to do these wicked things. But why is this objectively horrifying? A good answer (and one for which it is hard to think of an alternative) is that the evil consists in defying God, the source of all that is good and just, and the first being of the universe. What is horrifying here is not merely going against God’s will, but consciously choosing to invert the true scale of values…(Ibid., p. 326).

Plantinga says that it is not opposition to God’s will per se that makes an act intrinsically wicked and horrifying, but its intentional inversion of the true scale of values. But are theists the only ones allowed to posit a true scale of values? Why should this be so? Why cannot a metaphysical naturalist reasonably hold, e.g., that kindness is good and cruelty is bad, and would be so even if somehow all humans were perversely brainwashed into thinking that they weren’t? Plantinga seems to be assuming that a naturalist must be a subjectivist about values, that is, that for naturalists value is a function of how we feel about things. For the subjectivist, the only thing that can make cruelty bad is that we all feel a collective sense of horror or disgust when we contemplate cruel acts.

But naturalistic alternatives to subjectivism are well known, and have been for centuries. Aristotle articulated such an alternative 2400 years ago. In his Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle argued that the state of human well-being or flourishing, eudaimonia in Greek, is, objectively, the good for human beings. Eudaimonia is not made good by our feeling that it is. It would still be good if, perversely, all human beings were made to feel that it wasn’t. Neither is Eudaimonia made desirable by the fact that we do desire it; it would be desirable even if no human being desired it. Eudaimonia is best understood as a state of mental and moral excellence accompanied by a sufficiency of material and bodily goods. What makes such a state the good for man? Biology, says Aristotle—the biological nature of the human organism. Nature has designed the human organism to fulfill a characteristic function, just as other organisms are adapted to the performance of their roles in the economy of nature. Nature has therefore given humans the natural potentialities which, if actualized, will permit them to fulfill that function in an excellent manner. Humans are naturally adapted to live a life of intellectual and moral virtue in society with other human beings. This does not mean that most people actually live such a life; far from it. Most do not even perceive such a life as the natural end or goal of human striving, the state that is eminently and intrinsically worth achieving. Nevertheless, says Aristotle, it is in such a state, where human mental and moral capabilities are fully actualized, that humans will find the most fulfilling and rewarding life, for it is naturally pleasant to enjoy the use of our rational and moral faculties. Further, since most of our unhappiness in life springs from flaws in our own characters, particularly, as Aristotle notes, from our failure to form habits that avoid extremes of behavior (e.g., excessive anger or deficient generosity), the moderation entailed by virtue leads to a life of peace and equanimity even in the face of adversity.

Some have criticized Aristotle’s vision of the good life as elitist. Such critics say that it may spell out the best life for a well-off and well-educated Greek gentleman of the Fourth Century B.C.E., but its vision of the ideal life may be inappropriate to people of very different temperaments or cultural backgrounds. There may be something to such criticisms (not terribly much, in my opinion), but if naturalistic moralists can succeed in indicating, at least in broad outlines, the life that is intrinsically most rewarding and fulfilling for human organisms, then they will have identified something objectively valuable for human beings. That state will be objectively valuable in the sense Plantinga specifies, that is, it will be so even if everyone perversely identifies their well-being with something else, say, a life of hedonistic indulgence in sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, or one of self-righteous indulgence in persecuting everyone who does not share one’s particular religious fixations. In other words, naturalists will have succeeded in identifying a set of objective values and can say, with as much justification as any theist, that some actions are laudable and others are horrifying because they tend either to promote or to thwart the realization of human well-being. If there is an objective state of human flourishing, then those who purposely and intentionally seek to impede the realization of that state in others, say by crushing the human body, mind, or spirit, are engaged in objectively horrifying and wicked acts. Those who do such things, to use Plantinga’s phrasing, are choosing to invert the true scale of values; they are preventing both their victims and themselves from attaining the natural end of human beings. So, metaphysical naturalism seems quite compatible with a moral view that recognizes certain actions as violently opposed to the true, objective scale of values, and hence as intrinsically horrifying.

About Keith Parsons
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    Philippa Foot picks up Aristotle’s argument in Natural Goodness. Michael Thompson has a few works further supporting it as well.

    The usual objection is to Aristotle’s teleology, but I think Foot and Thompson do a good job with that question.

    Aquinas was a virtue ethicist as well, but he built teleology in with God’s purposes (which is, in some ways, a more natural fit).

    I suspect that an answer along these lines is the most promising response to the theist’s objection you mention.

    The other side of the debate is whether or not theism can provide an objective value system (e.g. can they get out of the Euthyphro dilemma–see Wes Morriston’s “Must There Be a Standard of Moral Goodness Apart from God” for a look at how the traditional response to this problem does not work). Aquinas’ move might be the most promising, but it’s not very widely held by theists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Keith Parsons: “if naturalistic moralists can succeed in indicating, at least in broad outlines, the life that is intrinsically most rewarding and fulfilling for human organisms, then they will have identified something objectively valuable for human beings.”

    Maybe. But if that’s what you’re placing your hopes on, then go ahead, do it. That is, provide a broad outline of what Aristotelian flourishing would look like.

    Personally, I doubt I doubt any project like this can succeed. Human nature cannot give you too many stable points of reference here, particularly when biotechnology is available to widen our options by changing human nature. There are too many successfully reproducing ways of life in our moral ecologies, where these sustain conflicting moral outlooks but their participants endorse their own points of view on reflection.

    I think the whole notion of looking for a basis for deep moral judgments is deeply misguided. It thoroughly misrepresents what people actually do in their moral lives. Naturalists, I think, should refuse to play Plantinga’s game, rather than try to find a naturalistic substitute for transcendent anchors of morality.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09468191085576922813 David B. Ellis

    I think its a mistake to agree that what we need is an OBJECTIVE basis for moral truths.

    There is a common equation of subjective with arbitrary which is simply absurd.

    Agony, for example, is a “bad” thing, in and of itself, precisely because of the subjective content of the experience. To look anywhere else for the reason its something we should want to avoid is to fail at the very first step.

    Much the same applies to ethical attitudes. Love is of value precisely because of what it is like to love and what it is like to be part of a community of loving individuals—and this is true even if some people are sufficiently lacking in the capacity for empathy to be able to recognize it.

    To look for the reason to be moral (and to be horrified at torture and other evils) elsewhere is to set oneself up for failure—whether that “objective” source one is looking for is God (clearly shown to be no basis for morality by the Euthyphro dilemma and its variants) or in something naturalistic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09468191085576922813 David B. Ellis

    This is very much like Aristotles approach. I just don’t think we should apply the term “objective” to it.

    What we need is not an objective basis for moral truths but a nonarbitrary basis—and the flourishing of human beings (and other living beings, for that matter) is a good place to look for it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    But if that’s what you’re placing your hopes on, then go ahead, do it. That is, provide a broad outline of what Aristotelian flourishing would look like.

    Here’s a start inspired by Anscombe:

    A bee that doesn’t sting to protect its hive is defective because bees, naturally, sting to protect their hives; a human who doesn’t cooperate with others is defective because humans, naturally, cooperate with others. A defective human is not a flourishing human. Cooperation with others, then, is part of human flourishing. Cooperation demands virtues like trust, honesty, etc.

    Foot, Hursthouse, Thompson, and Anscombe have all expounded on this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16731690779682393927 Philip

    I think there’s a contradiction in Keith Parson’s post. He wants to show there’s a naturalistic basis of objective values, and he appeals to Aristotle’s biological functionalism. This raises the question whether a biological function is inherently valuable. Many naturalists distinguish between descriptive and prescriptive norms. Prescriptive ones are value-laden and they tell us what we ought to do. But descriptive norms, such as biological functions, don’t prescribe any behaviour because they’re factual rather than valuable.

    (Then the question is whether there’s anything normative about a biological function. The idea is supposed to be that a turtle shell, for example, is supposed to protect the turtle even if it actually fails to do so. But the standard in this case isn’t anything like a moral law the shell is “supposed” to follow, but something posited by the biologist for the purpose of explaining the shell’s behaviour in evolutionary terms.)

    I think the notion of a descriptive norm is fishy, but the point is that even were there such a thing, this sort of norm would have to be different from a prescriptive one. So Plantinga could say that biological functions support, at best, descriptive norms, not objective values.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Wes: “a human who doesn’t cooperate with others is defective because humans, naturally, cooperate with others. A defective human is not a flourishing human. Cooperation with others, then, is part of human flourishing.”

    In what context? A neoliberal economy? New York City? An ecovillage?

    With whom do we cooperate? Close kin? People in our ethnic or religious group? What if human nature includes cooperation within a narrow in-group, and genocidal attitudes toward rivals, in certain circumstances? (The winners of conflicts may well flourish, after all.)

    And there is still one of the earlier questions I posed. Let’s say with advanced biotechnology, you have the option to alter the nature of a certain human population. Maybe you’re an economist pissed off at the economic irrationality of most people, and you want to create a group of rational utility maximizers to occupy a hypercapitalist paradise. Or maybe you’re a ecofeminist who want to get rid of all sorts of genetic bases for testosterone poisoning. Or whatever. How does any notion of human flourishing based on a stable human nature help in such circumstances?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Does Plantinga really believe that the killing of all the men, women and children of a certain group by the Nazis is something that could never be approved of by a god?

    And surely Plantinga would claim that there is possibly a greater good that was served by the Nazi’s genocide, even if neither I, not Plantinga nor the Nazis could say what it was.

    Anybody who has read Plantinga’s defense to the Problem of Evil knows the first port of call of theists is to claim there are possibly all sorts of greater goods created by evils, and that atheists cannot prove otherwise, so yah boo to them.

    So if Plantinga ia correct , and there is a logically possible world in which the Nazis genocide led to a greater good, then how can it be objectively horrifying?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    How does Plantinga know what is contrary to God’s will?

    Has any god ever said what his will is?

    He may as well claim that the Nazis were objectively wrong because Santa Claus did not bring them any presents, because they had been naughty boys and girls.]

    Until he can show that his god has told us his will, his argument is as valid as the claim that Santa Claus has told us he will only bring presents to boys and girls who have been good, so Santa Claus provides a baisis for objective morality.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    ‘We think that such acts are objectively horrifying, that is, that they would remain enormously evil even if all human beings could be somehow brainwashed into approving of them.’

    ‘Even if…’?

    How can something be objectively horrifying if nobody is horrified by it?

    Does Plantinga have an example of something that is objectively horrifying but no human beings are horrified by it?

    The definition is absurd. Nothing can fall into the category.

    Let me propose a definition of objectively horrifying that is not absurd.

    Something is objectively horrifying if it horrifies human beings, even if a God claims it is good.

    As human beings are not gods, there may well be things that horrify human beings, but do not horrify an omniscient god that can see the true picture, or a god who cannot feel human emotions like horror.

    (I wonder if Plantinga’s god suffers when he is horrified by watching human genocide. As God can’t suffer, God can never be horrified by anything)

    So this is a definition we can work with.

    Something is objectively horrifying if it horrifies human beings, even if a God claims it is good.

    I’m sure Plantinga will decry this definition, even though it is obvious that some things could be horrifying to us, but not to a God.

    But Plantinga wants to define horrifying as horrifying to God, a definition which obviously assumes what it is trying to prove – that there is a god who has subjective feelings of horror, just like a human being.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    This post promted a number of thoughtful comments, as I hoped it would. I would like to respond to a few of them.

    Philip raises a question which the ethical naturalist must address: What makes a biological function inherently valuable? Just because something is fulfilling its natural function, why is it intrisically valuable that it do so? Surely, it seems, not all natural functions are valuable. After all, the rabies virus is simply fulfilling its natural function when it causes rabies.

    I think that the reply of the ethical naturalist must first address the empirical question: Is there an objective state of human flourishing? A farmer has criteria for telling when his crop is flourishing and a breeder of race horses can tell when a horse is flourishing. Are there likewise criteria of human flourishing?

    To answer this question another question must be asked: Is there a natural human function, that is, has nature designed human beings to do certain things and live in certain ways and equipped humans with the aptitudes which, if developed, permit them to fulfill that natural function? This certainly is so with other animals. As Richard Dreyfus’s character explains in the movie Jaws, the great white shark is a miracle of evolution, designed to do nothing but swim, eat, and make little sharks. Further, nature has marvelously equipped the great white shark to fulfill that function. A great white shark is flourishing when it is doing a good job of swimming, eating, and making little sharks.

    Humans, however, are not (despite the behavior of certain CEO’s) designed to be sharks. Aristotle held that humans are fitted to live a life of rationality in society with other human beings, and that nature has gifted us with certain aptitudes, which, if fully developed, will allow us to fulfill that function maximally well. The condition in which a human being is fulfilling that function most excellently is a state in which the human aptitudes for rationality and virtue are fully developed, and where one enjoys a modicum of bodily and material goods. Aristotle calls that state “eudaimonia.”

    Assuming, for now, that there is an achievable natural state of human flourishing, then, cannot we still ask, as G.E. Moore famously insisted, “but is it good?” Do we not commit the “naturalistic fallacy” if we identify any natural state, such as eudaimonia, with the good? Moore said that goodness is a non-natural property which he could not define, but which (as the prude says about pornography) he could identify when he saw it.

    Naturalists can make nothing of Moore’s proposal. It seems to empty goodness of any significance or meaning. Indeed, as Aristotle pointed out in his critique of Plato’s form of the good, there is no univocal concept of good, but only “good for x” where “x” refers to different creatures. Like “being,” “good” is predicated in many different ways. What is good for a pig is not necessarily good for a human being and vice versa. If humans were eusocial creatures, like honeybees, ants, naked mole rats, and the Borg, then “the good for humans” would be very different than the good for humans as presently constituted. When someone asks of eudaimonia whether it is good, to naturalists this sounds like they are presupposing that “good” has some univocal, Platonic sense, an idea that naturalists reject.

    If “good,” then, is only definable as “good for x,” then for a human being to ask of eudaimonia, “is it good?” seems simply perverse. Is it possible, naturalists would ask, that the good for humans could be any state other than eudaimonia? Could it be good for us to be in a state of irrationality, vice, sickness, and want rather than in a state of rationality, virtue, health, and material adequacy? Well, the ascetics of late antiquity seemed to think that the life of a starving, miserable, ignorant, fanatic was best. But to naturalists this only indicates that the ascetics’ idea of goodness was what Hume called “sick men’s dreams.”

    This answer leads to some of Taner’s objections, but since this comment has gone on too long already, I’ll have to defer answers to Taner to a later post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    If something can be objectively horrifying, can anything be objectively terrifying?

    I don’t see why not, but it does mean that God would be terrified of an objectively terrifying thing, just as he is horrified by objectively horrifying things.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09468191085576922813 David B. Ellis


    If humans were eusocial creatures, like honeybees, ants, naked mole rats, and the Borg, then “the good for humans” would be very different than the good for humans as presently constituted.

    There remains, however, a fact of the matter about whether its intrinsically better to be a thriving human, honeybee or Borg.

    Its hard for any person, of course, to have the necessary direct experience to evaluate which its better to be directly.

    We have to fall back on the strength of our imperfect imaginations. Which doesn’t in any way weigh against there being true that one is better than the rest—only against certainty in regards to knowing which is the case.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09468191085576922813 David B. Ellis


    There are too many successfully reproducing ways of life in our moral ecologies, where these sustain conflicting moral outlooks but their participants endorse their own points of view on reflection.

    Evolutionary fitness (successful reproduction) is not the only criteria by which moral outlooks can be judged. At least as relevent is what sorts of living experience they produce within the individuals and communities that hold them.

    Difficult to judge which is intrinsically better than the other, in some cases at least, since we lack direct access to what its like to live the way others live. As I said above we have only our imperfect imaginations to rely on.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16731690779682393927 Philip

    Keith,

    You say, on the one hand, that our biological state of flourishing, or of happiness, is good (ethically valuable), because all goods are only goods for creatures with the capacities to achieve the goods. There is no abstract, univocal sense of “good.” On the other hand, you say that flourishing is objectively our good. More needs to be said to reconcile these two claims. Aristotelian ethics nicely counters subjectivism, by showing how goods can depend not on feelings but on objective capacities. As you say, we’re built to think and to be social, not to hunt like sharks.

    Clearly, our biological capacities are objective, and if these capacities determine our good, our good is objectively determined. But can a good or indeed any value be biologically determined? Aristotle compared biological regularities to the functions of artifacts. An artifact has an effect it ought to perform, and this prescriptive norm is just a convention that depends on some intentions to use the artifact. Biological functions aren’t like this, so they can’t be valuable in the same way.

    I think Aristotle’s functionalism shows how nontheistic morality needn’t be entirely up in the air, in the sense of being determined by nothing more than feelings. There are objective facts about how we’re built that constrain what could be good for us. After all, if we couldn’t possibly achieve some end, this end couldn’t be good for us. (An “ought” implies an “is.”) But functionalism doesn’t show how a fact about an end we either tend to achieve, try to achieve, or are naturally selected to achieve, could be good or valuable in the first place.

    Again, were our biological capacities artifacts of design, some of their effects could be valuable to the designer. But we know this is a false analogy. Many of our traits are naturally selected, which means that to explain why they exist, we speak of an effect that earlier members of their type had that increased the chances that the earlier organisms would reproduce and spread the genes that build the trait. This is a natural process of competition, reproduction, and genetic determination. But who says anything about this process is good? What rule licenses that inference? Just because we’re built to do something, doesn’t mean we should. Just because we try to do something, doesn’t mean we should. Just because our ancestors used to do something, doesn’t mean we should. Just because we exist because our ancestors used to do something, doesn’t mean we should.

    So Plantinga and his ilk can still say that morality doesn’t follow from biology.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09468191085576922813 David B. Ellis


    Aristotelian ethics nicely counters subjectivism, by showing how goods can depend not on feelings but on objective capacities.

    Subjectivism is not incapatible with the existence of moral truths. Subjective isn’t the same as arbitrary.

    It is arbitrariness that needs to be overcome. Not the subjective nature of the experiences relevent to moral questions.

    What it comes down to is that some subjective states are intrinsically preferable to others—precisely because of their subjective content. And its in this fact that we should look for the key to moral truths.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16731690779682393927 Philip

    David Ellis,

    I see that in several posts you’ve been making this point about the nonarbitrariness of feelings that make for subjective moral judgments. You say that “Agony, for example, is a ‘bad’ thing, in and of itself, precisely because of the subjective content of the experience,” and that “some subjective states are intrinsically preferable to others—precisely because of their subjective content.”

    The idea of something that is “intrinsically” preferable because of its “subjective content” seems oxymoronic to me. If pleasure is preferred to agony, because of the differences between the way those states feel to certain people, that preference is subjective, which means that the preference isn’t due to some intrinsic feature of the feelings. We know that no intrinsic feature is what matters to whether a feeling is preferred, because some people, such as masochists or long-distance runners do prefer agony, say, to feelings of ease and peace. Perhaps “arbitrary” is the wrong word, but we can certainly call subjective preferences things that are relative to the subject, and given a diversity of subjects, we must have a diversity of preferences and thus of subjective moral values.

    Maybe by “intrinsic quality of subjective states” you have in mind Thomas Nagel’s suggestion that there are objective facts about qualia. You might also be making a linguistic point about the meaning of “agony” as something not to be preferred, so that a masochist doesn’t prefer agony as such. Still, what’s intrinsic about a feeling of agony surely isn’t the subjective content, since that content is precisely not intrinsic but extrinsic (relative to a subject); instead, what’s intrinsic, presumably, is the neural substratum. If by “intrinsic” you mean “objective,” then it’s self-contradictory to say that something is intrinsically preferable because of its subjective content.

    In any case, I’ll play devil’s advocate here, on behalf of Plantinga, and say that if subjectivism implies relativism about moral judgments, and nontheism implies subjectivism, nontheism has a real problem with morality, because moral relativism is highly problematic. If actions are right or wrong simply because they’re preferred or not, and people have different preferences, then all we can say against someone who prefers, say, to kill infants is that his preference doesn’t match ours. As Taner Edis says in his Cynic’s Definition of Morality, morality becomes a political matter and thus a matter of force, not of reason. More people prefer to protect infants, so the murderer loses out in a power struggle, but there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with his preference. It’s just that he lacks the power to enforce his will.

    If moral values depend just on the actual number of people who share some preferences, then might makes right. So had the Nazis won, their preference that there be no Jews would have been right, their values would have been enforced, and there would have been nothing wrong with that because no one would have remained to oppose them. What’s arbitrary about subjective moral judgments is that they’re not justified so much as enforced.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    ‘If actions are right or wrong simply because they’re preferred or not, and people have different preferences, then all we can say against someone who prefers, say, to kill infants is that his preference doesn’t match ours.’

    We can’t say that such actions do not increase the well-being of humanity in general and individuals in particular?

    If things are subjective , does anything go?

    If one football coach thinks a run play is the best play in a certain situation, and another football coach thinks a pass play is the best play in a certain situation, then are we not allowed to criticise a coach who thinks the best play is to run the ball back to your own end zone and then fall down?

    After all, without a god to say what is the objectively best play, then it is all subjective….

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09468191085576922813 David B. Ellis


    preference is subjective, which means that the preference isn’t due to some intrinsic feature of the feelings.

    You’re making exactly the mistake I pointed out in the beginning of my comment. Equating subjective with arbitrary.

    The negative qualities of the subjective state of being in agony are not an arbitrary preference. Its an intrinsic feature of that state of mind.


    such as masochists or long-distance runners do prefer agony, say, to feelings of ease and peace.

    First the less consequential matter. Long distance runners (and I used to be one) don’t prefer agony (the pain of running rarely rises to that level). A person can endure pain because they value the other things that come with it in a particular circumstance. And masochists are generally people who feel sexual arousal at mild to moderate pain—not agony.

    More consequentially though, the fact, already pointed out in my earlier post, that some people can fail to recognize the intrinsic negative or positive qualities of particular subjective states does not imply that these intrinsic qualities don’t exist.

    Remember that I said the means to know what is or isnt intrinsically worthwhile is provided by ideal observer theory.

    In other words, the fact that some people, for example, don’t value love or compassion isn’t evidence love and compassion aren’t intrinsically worthwhile (regardless of a particular persons preference—mere individual preference was never the deciding factor—remember what I said about ideal observer theory).

    Rather the question is whether a highly rational and objective person with a full, intimate understanding of what its like to be an individual who loved deeply and valued love greatly and what its like to be someone who didn’t would find the one intrinsically more worthwhile than the other.


    Thomas Nagel’s suggestion that there are objective facts about qualia.

    Close, but not quite. What I’d say is that there are facts about qualia. Objective is a bad (and unnecessary) qualifier because it refers to whether something exists independently of any subject.

    There are facts about subjective states. Happiness is intrinsically worthwhile. Agony is not.

    Those are obvious examples. Of course, other subjective states are not so obvious and can be the subject of reasonable disagreement.


    and say that if subjectivism implies relativism about moral judgments

    Except what I’m saying is precisely the opposite. There are moral truths based on the truths about the intrinsic qualities of subjective states, attitudes and ways of being in the world and the relative merits of different subjective states, attitudes and ways of being are knowable (to the degree that they are—imperfectly in the real world) by the methods provided by ideal observer theory.


    and nontheism implies subjectivism, nontheism has a real problem with morality, because moral relativism is highly problematic.

    Fortunately, though, my approach, in my opinion, involves quite the opposite of moral relativism. You just happen to disagree that it achieves what I think it does.

    Anyway, Plantinga can’t reasonably claim to be in a better position whether my theory is valid or not since his theistic basis for morality is in worse circumstances than almost any theory imaginable. The Euthyphro dilemma (and its variants applying to different theories of a theistic basis for morality) shows that such a basis for morality is arbitrary and cannot help but be so.


    If actions are right or wrong simply because they’re preferred or not, and people have different preferences….

    A common misunderstanding of my views but, as already explained above, its not based on personal preference (not everyone is equally equipped to judge what is and isn’t intrinsically more worthwhile). Ideal observer theory is most definitely NOT based on any and everybodies individual preferences.


    If moral values depend just on the actual number of people who share some preferences, then might makes right.

    Again, see above.

    Your criticisms have been based on misconceptions of what my theory is. If you wish to address other than a strawman version of it you’ll need to deal with the ideal observer method for recognizing what is and isn’t intrinsically more or less worthwhile.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16731690779682393927 Philip

    David Ellis,

    I didn’t see your reference to an ideal observer theory. I think that sort of theory opens up a debate at a meta-level about what sort of person counts as ideal. You speak of the ideal observer as someone who is a “highly rational and objective person with a full, intimate understanding of what its like” to be in various mental states. I don’t see what objectivity has to do with evaluating the subjective content of mental states (as you say, objects are independent of the subject). And rationality may have to do simply with choosing effective ways of achieving goals, leaving open the question of which goals to choose.

    Anyway, someone who prefers to kill infants won’t likely agree with non-murderers about the sort of person who counts as an ideal observer. So subjectivism still leads to relativism: instead of a dependence of moral value on people’s conflicting preferences or goals, the value depends on people’s different interpretations of the ideal observer.

    And were there some objective, fool-proof way of determining the type of person who counts as this ideal observer, the moral theory at issue would no longer be subjectivism. That is, moral value would depend on more than just the quality of certain mental states, since there would be an appeal also to the rules that decide the issue of who counts as an ideal observer.

    Moreover, I don’t see how this focus on the supposed intrinsic content of mental states helps us in the area of ethics or morality where the focus is on actions. Granted, in virtue theory, there’s a focus on character traits, but that’s because these are the causes of actions. So suppose agony were intrinsically a bad mental state. Why should this deter someone who prefers to inflict agony on other people? Sure, this murderer might not prefer to feel agony himself, but as long as his actions are causing only other people to suffer, he’s acting rationally to achieve his goals. He’s not universalizing in a Kantian, Golden Rule sort of way, but if morality depends on universalization, once again the moral theory at issue isn’t simply subjectivism.

    I certainly agree, though, that Plantinga’s theistic approach to morality is untenable. I just want to see the best possible nontheistic alternative.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16731690779682393927 Philip

    Steven Carr,

    The football analogy is a little misleading here. The choice between two plays is the choice between ways of achieving a goal that’s already agreed on, since the coaches are both interested in winning a football game; the disagreement is just over how to win. Although everyone has some basic goals in common, there’s also a lot of disagreement about which goals to pursue.

    If the moral value of actions is a reflection just of what someone prefers, that is, if the value is subjective and thus dependent at least on something about the subject, and subjects and their preferences differ, moral values also differ. One person values football, another values the killing of infants. There would be nothing more to say about moral value, if that were all there is to it. You could talk about the consequences of the killer’s preferences, about how murdering infants doesn’t increase people’s well-being, and so forth, but then you’d be making an argument as opposed to assuming that moral value is simply subjective.

    Here’s what I think is a better analogy. Suppose that aesthetic value were simply subjective. For example, suppose that what counts as the best movie is purely a matter of taste. Some people like some kind of movies, and others like other kinds, and there’s nothing more to being a good movie than there being someone who likes it. Take two people who disagree about which is the best movie. If they argue over their choice, they’re assuming that the choice is rational as opposed to being a matter of taste. If they assume, instead, that the choice is just a matter of taste, all they can do is express their preferences, which is likely to lead to some form of nonrational conflict.

    As Taner Edis says, disagreements over something entirely subjective become political, which means that anything goes in the Machiavellian sense. Movies may not matter much to people, so a disagreement over movies doesn’t become a physical conflict, but moral issues are of utmost importance, so if moral subjectivism is true and subjectivism implies relativism (assuming that the subjects at issue are diverse), subjectivism implies also that there’s nothing more to morality than political or physical conflict and perhaps the attempt to conceal that fact.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    ‘One person values football, another values the killing of infants.’

    Well, make a case that the killing of infants is a moral goal worth pursuing.

    I am open minded.

    If you can make such a case, I will listen to it.

    Tell me what the point of obeying these ‘objective’ moral values is.

    If the point is to acheive goal X, then we can examine scientifically what ‘plays’ best achieve goal X – to use my football analogy.

    If I think that the goal of moral behaviour is to improve the well-being of humanity in general and individuals in particular, then I will attempt to restrain by force people who claim the object of moral behaviour is to further their own pleasure, by killing infants if necessary.

    Why do you want me to reason with such people when the best ‘play’ is to restrain such people by force?

    Do you think criminals should be reasoned with or locked up?

    Once they are locked up, then you can perhaps reason with them…

    Even Christians recognise that their ‘objective’ morality depends upon reward and punishment.

    If you don’t agree with God’s subjective ideas of what the point of moral behaviour is, then you will roast in Hell.

    It is just as much a ‘subjective’ opinion to prefer Heaven over Hell, as it is to prefer a world of well-being as opposed to a world of misery.

    And once you agree that a world of well-being is the objective of being moral, then you have to agree that there are good ways of bringing about such a world and bad ways of bringing about such a world.

    Which is the point of my football analogy.

    Just because people might not agree yet on the best plays, does not mean that all plays are as good as each other.

    But you might like to tell us if there is or is not a goal to be achieved by acting morally.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09468191085576922813 David B. Ellis


    I don’t see what objectivity has to do with evaluating the subjective content of mental states (as you say, objects are independent of the subject).

    Obviously, it has enormous relevence. If, for example, you are highly emotionally committed to the proposition that the moral attitudes and ways of experiencing dominant in your cultural background are the right way to be and unable to set that aside to any significant degree when attempting to imagine and evaluate what it would be like to live with different attitudes and values you will be unable to make good judgments about the merits of one value system and way of living and experiencing in comparison to another.


    Anyway, someone who prefers to kill infants won’t likely agree with non-murderers about the sort of person who counts as an ideal observer.

    An ideal observer (of course, an ideal to be aspired to rather than a totally achievable state—which is why reasonable disagreement is possible in ethics) is, by definition, a person with those qualities best capable of being able to weigh the merits of different moral systems, perspectives and ways of being.

    That a highly biased person would prefer to call being biased in favor of his perspective “ideal” doesn’t make such a person actually better at weighing the intrinsic merits of his values or those of others.

    I think there is a fact of the matter and not just arbitrary preference in regard to what makes one better or worse at judging such matters.

    It seems obvious to me that being rational, being unbiased and having the broad experience and imagination necessary to understand what other perspectives are like from the inside are the bare minimum necessary qualities to being competent at this task.

    If you, or anyone else, thinks a good case can be made for why being, for example, biased makes one better at making such judgements then I think you have an uphill challenge ahead of you.


    Moreover, I don’t see how this focus on the supposed intrinsic content of mental states helps us in the area of ethics or morality where the focus is on actions.

    You are not aware that various mental states, attitudes and ways of valuing lead to different actions and different consequences for the total subjective content of what its like to live as an individual with such values and what its like to live in a society dominated by such values?

    That seems obvious and noncontroversial to me.


    So suppose agony were intrinsically a bad mental state. Why should this deter someone who prefers to inflict agony on other people? Sure, this murderer might not prefer to feel agony himself, but as long as his actions are causing only other people to suffer, he’s acting rationally to achieve his goals.

    The negative quality of the mental state called agony was only put forward as an example of subjective not being equivalent to arbitrary. Not as, alone, the sufficient and complete basis for it being wrong to inflict pain on others for your enjoyment.

    It can be known to a reasonable degree of confidence that being a loving person is better than being a sadist due to the fact that a person viewing both perspectives without bias and understanding both from the inside completely will naturally find being a loving person vastly intrinsically superior to than being a sadist.

    At least I strongly suspect so. If you disagree feel free to argue the contrary.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Philip: “s Taner Edis says in his Cynic’s Definition of Morality, morality becomes a political matter and thus a matter of force, not of reason,” and “As Taner Edis says, disagreements over something entirely subjective become political, which means that anything goes in the Machiavellian sense.”

    Just to be clear, I say no such things. Neither are they implied in anything I say.

    The force in politics can, and sometimes even does, include the force of argument.

    Denying that morality is objective is not the same thing as saying it comes down to subjective whims. And I have explicitly pointed out that not anything goes. Real world politics, as opposed to abstract fantasies, has many constraints.

    If you have misconceptions about politics, I can’t help it, but don’t attribute positions to me that I don’t hold.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16731690779682393927 Philip

    Taner Edis,

    I suppose that when I paraphrased your post on a cynic’s definition of morality, I should have said I was paraphrasing a consistent version of what you were saying. As you’re wont to do in your posts, you throw the baby of philosophy (especially metaphysics) out with the bathwater of theology, taking, as I think you do, science to be central to your nontheism. But without the philosophical perspective, according to which knowledge is better than opinion even on nonscientific issues, there’s not much of an alternative to settling heated disagreements on value issues, by force.

    Like Richard Rorty, you don’t like the Nietzschean implications of this antifoundationalism. So you’re torn between giving a harsh portrayal of politics, to contrast the reality of moral disagreements with the phoniness of the kind that go on in “metaphysical games,” and giving a positive portrayal that avoids the well-known problems with moral relativism. In paraphrasing what you said, I opted to land on the Nietzschean side, leaving to you the task of reconciling your conflicting claims.

    You say, for example, that reason is “a useful cognitive tool,” but that “Our moralities are all very thinly supported by reasons. It is more accurate to think of our moralities of having causes [sic].” The notion of reason as a “cognitive tool” shows how you straddle the Nietzschean and the politically correct presentations of moral antifoundationalism (or Rortian pragmatism). A tool is something that operates on a physical level, so if moralities have causes, reason can have a causal role in the way institutions enforce moral agreements. This is how the Nietzschean, Foucault, talked about reason, as a mask worn over the exercise of power. But the cognitive level is not the causal one, so if reason is also cognitive, the causes of morality are irrelevant from the rational, philosophical perspective.

    You’ve also misread what I said you said. I didn’t say that someone who thinks morality is subjective thinks morality is arbitrary in the sense of being whimsical, and I didn’t say such a person thinks simply that “anything goes” in morality. I said that morality would be arbitrary in that physical force would have a role in establishing morality, which would be arbitrary from a cognitive, rational perspective. From that perspective, morality is about giving reasons that justify moral judgments. (I compared the subjectivity of morality with that of aesthetic judgments about movies, but I didn’t say taste in movies is whimsical. My point was that without shared rules for handling disagreements, the disagreements are settled by the use of force or by subtler forms of coercion, not by reason.)

    I said also that anything would go “in the Machiavellian sense,” which is consistent with your claims that “If morality is politics, it is ugly. It is not true that there are moral truths all rational agents must agree upon. This does not mean anything goes. But quite a lot things can go [sic].” It’s consistent also with your talk of the strategic usefulness of morality in concealing our “social use of deception and coercion.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    My post on “objectively horrifying evils” has certainly evoked a lot of terrific discussion. I am teaching an ethics class this term and I’ll probably refer my class to this discussion for their edification.

    I would like to comment further on just one passage from one of Philip’s comments. Here is the passage:

    You say, on the one hand [responding to my preceding comment], that our biological state of flourishing, or of happiness, is good (ethically valuable), because all goods are only goods for creatures with the capacities to achieve the goods. There is no abstract, univocal sense of “good.” On the other hand, you say that flourishing is objectively our good. More needs to be said to reconcile these two claims.

    I think, though, that the feeling that there is something that still needs to be reconciled here indicates that the ethical naturalist’s point has not been fully appreciated. If “good” does not have a universal, transcendent, or a priori meaning (and naturalists say that it does not), but can only be cashed out as “good for x,” where x refers to some type of organism, then value is a biological fact. For naturalism there can be no is/ought or fact/value dichotomy. What is valuable for human beings is what is, in fact, conducive to the fulfillment of the human function. Once the human telos and how it is best achieved is explicated, and the explication will be in terms of human biology and psychology, to then ask how that telos is objectively good is to assume a sense of “good” other than “conducive to the fulfillment of the human function.” And this begs the question against ethical naturalism.

    For the naturalist, all imperatives are hypothetical, e.g., “If you want to be happy, shun excess and strive for moderation.” If someone hankers for categorical imperatives, pure duties dictated by reason itself, and independent of all circumstance, ethical naturalism will not satisfy that person.

    But ethical naturalists think that the yearning for categorical imperatives is a pipe dream. I think the most important book on ethics published in the last several decades is Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. After a thorough debunking of the Enlightenment project of deriving ethics from reason itself, MacIntyre concludes by offering a choice: Aristotle or Nietzsche. That is, either admit that the human good is due to human biology or adopt Nietzschean perspectivalism and relativism. I side with Aristotle.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16731690779682393927 Philip

    I think there are a number of false dilemmas and non sequiturs in your response. They may be due to the quickness and brevity of the response, but it might be worth pointing them out in any case. First, it seems counterproductive for you to lump in “universal” with “transcendent” and “a priori.” You go on to speak of naturalistic ethics as taking the good to be only “ ‘good for x,’ where x refers to some type of organism.” Suppose biology does show that there’s a function for all human beings, and that ethical value is relative to that function. Well, those values will be universal just as the truths of biology are (more or less) universal for each species. The values may not apply to other species, including extraterrestrial intelligent species, but that would be universality enough since the values would cut across all human societies and differences between individual preferences. Your problem with Kant’s categorical imperative, then, is that it’s a priori, not that it’s universal.

    You say that for naturalism–I assume you mean ethical naturalism—there can be no fact-value dichotomy. There may be no such dichotomy, given Aristotle’s ethical naturalism, but I don’t see how the dichotomy could be incompatible with any kind of ethical naturalism. All that’s needed is the view that special sciences are autonomous, despite the token identity of things in their domains with physical things. In that case, ethics might refer to values but not to facts or to observer-independent, objective states of affairs.

    You say that for the naturalist, the good can only be good for a “type of organism,” which brings in biology, but you go on to say that our telos can be explicated in terms of “human biology and psychology.” My point was that statements about ethical value don’t follow specifically from biological statements, and you seem now to be conceding this point.

    You say that for the naturalist, all imperatives are hypothetical, but if this is so, naturalism is a form of eliminativism with respect to values and prescriptive norms, because a hypothetical imperative is a description of an effective means of achieving an end. “If you want to kill an infant, you should knock over its crib” is a hypothetical imperative which means at least that what’s said in the second part is in fact a means to achieving what’s said in the first part. If this imperative has any prescriptive meaning that isn’t captured by that translation into a description, this must be because desiring something makes the thing subjectively good; alternatively, if the desire is biologically determined, being instinctively driven to achieve something makes the thing good for the species. But what does “good” mean here? In what sense is killing an infant good?

    It’s no accident that Aristotle’s functionalism applies to everything in nature that requires an explanation, from humans to stones, fire, and everything else that he says has a function, a final cause, or a good. Without theistic or panpsychist assumptions, this naturalistic notion of good actually implies that there is no separate property of goodness. If stones are said to have the purpose of being heavy, and yet stones are not intelligently designed to carry out this purpose and aren’t themselves alive or interested in being heavy, talk of their purpose and thus of their good is eliminable.

    Prescriptions, and not just descriptions, are needed to make sense of behaviour that is in some way freely caused. If what’s good is what’s prescribed, and rocks aren’t at all free to be heavy or to be light, there is no good for rocks. All there is here is an anthropomorphic metaphor. Prescriptions apply mainly to humans because our behaviour seems self-controlled and thus not merely describable. So human behaviour can be good or bad in a way that the characteristics of rocks can’t be, but this means that the good can’t be determined simply by natural function, by what organisms are naturally selected to do, or by what things in nature tend to do or must do all things being equal.

    Lastly, I think the choice between hypothetical and categorical imperatives, given that categorical ones are, as you say, pure dictates of Reason independent of all circumstance, is a false choice. Nietzschean ethical principles, for example, are neither conditional nor rationalistic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Philip says that commit a number of false dilemmas and non sequiturs in my previous response to his comments. Let’s see:

    He complains that I say that naturalistic ethics would not be universal because it would apply to all human beings. However, he goes on to say that natural values need not apply to other species. This was my point. Kant held that the categorical imperative was a dictate of reason itself, and therefore was binding on all rational creatures, presumably including angels, demons, or ET’s. The universality that I reject is a universality applying to all rational creatures qua rational.

    Philip says that he can imagine forms of ethical naturalism that would have a fact/value dichotomy. Maybe he can, but the sort of Aristotelian naturalism I am defending does not have such a dichotomy. According to that view, what is good for human beings is a biological fact about humans, just as much as what is good for your tomato plants is a fact about tomato plants.

    Philip goes on to say that I seem to be conceding his point that statements about ethical value do not follow from biological statements. I am not conceding this, and I am not sure why he thinks I am. Maybe it is because I say that the human telos must be explicated in terms of human biology AND psychology. However, I am regarding psychology, or at least elements of it, as also biologcial. If there is a human nature, then certain psychological facts about human beings will also be biological facts.

    Philip concludes his next paragraph by asking in what sense killing an infant would be good. Gosh. Neither I nor any other ethical naturalist that I know of has said anything that implies that it is. Aristotle says that to say that a human act is good is to say that it is ultimately conducive to the attainment of eudaimonia. I concur. Gratuitous killing of innocents certainly does not seem conducive to eudaimonia, quite the reverse, in fact.

    In response to some of Philip’s points in his last few paragraphs, the modern-day ethical naturalist need not subscribe to Aristotle’s pan-functionalism. We no longer have to extend teleological explanations to stones. In biology, though, they are not so easy to eliminate. Organisms do seem to be designed (by evolution, of course) to function in certain ways in certain environments. Further, Aristotle clearly recognizes a difference between human beings and rocks, or “lower” animals when it comes to the achievement of natural ends. A rock just moves towards the center of the earth. Likewise, a pig just does the piggy things it does without being taught or told. Humans are not like that. Nature has given us a capacity for virtue, but that capacity has to be consciously developed through a process of training and the inculcation of good habits. You become courageous by doing courageous things, says Aristotle. If humans were just instinctively good, as birds instinctively fly south, there would be no need for ethical prescriptions. But human nature is more complicated. We have a telos, but we must learn to recognize and pursue it, and so prescriptions, moral education, and voluntary action is still needed. Humans can indeed be good in ways that a rock or pig cannot be. We can, and must, consciously strive for good. Yet this fact in no way indicates that the good is not a matter of natural function. Eudaimonia can be our natural end, even though we are not inflexibly programmed to pursue it.

    Finally, Philip thinks that I create a false dichotomy between categorical and hypothetical imperatives. Actually, I do not propose a dichotomy at all. I am saying that ethical naturalists reject categorical imperatives as a figment of the philosophical imagination and regard hypothetical imperatives as all the sorts of imperatives we need. Whether there is some other sort of imperative that is neither categorical or hypothetical is something I do not address.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    Perhaps a different tack might be the approach I take in this post, where I argue that even in those objective ethical systems where God is not invoked, there are metaphysical commitments made which are not acceptable to contemporary philosophical naturalists.

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2007/06/ethics-without-god-or-ethics-without.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09468191085576922813 David B. Ellis


    there are metaphysical commitments made which are not acceptable to contemporary philosophical naturalists.

    A meta-ethical theory which depends on the truth of any particular metaphysical theory is, in my opinion, a bad theory.

    My approach to meta-ethics is entirely independent of metaphysicals (if its true at all its true under any variety of metaphysics).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09468191085576922813 David B. Ellis


    but can only be cashed out as “good for x,” where x refers to some type of organism, then value is a biological fact.

    I think there are moral truths other than what is good for x (x in our case being humans).

    For example, I think its true that torturing animals for amusement is wrong.

    While I think its true that having the quality of being sadistic is intrinsically inferior (falling short of flourishing, to use your term for the “good”) to being caring and so, in a roundabout way we still get to torturing animals being wrong under your system I also think its wrong independent of whether it involves human flourishing or not.

    The well-being of animals is also ethically significant in its own right.

    And so your ethical system, while valid so far as it goes, its not the complete story of the nature of the right and the good.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09468191085576922813 David B. Ellis

    Perhaps part of what’s needed is a more general view of flourishing in which what matters in not just OUR flourishing but the flourishing of mind as such.

    As a bit of an aside for those interested in science fiction dealing with philosophical issues, for a good example of what happens ethically when humanity has no concern for the flourishing of any but itself read the Xeelee Sequence novels by science fiction writer Stephen Baxter. A chilling vision of a very successful future humanity devoid of any concern for the well-being of nonhumans as it spreads throughout the cosmos.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826768452963498005 Jim Lippard

    David B. Ellis wrote: “A meta-ethical theory which depends on the truth of any particular metaphysical theory is, in my opinion, a bad theory.

    My approach to meta-ethics is entirely independent of metaphysicals (if its true at all its true under any variety of metaphysics).”

    I’m not sure your first sentence is consistent with the position you’re defending (ideal observer theory)–what if the notion of an ideal observer is incoherent, e.g., if there could be multiple ideal observer positions about any situation based on differing metaphysical facts (e.g., real world vs. simulation)?

    Your second sentence seems implausible. Surely it’s possible to construct metaphysical scenarios that can result in any particular meta-ethical framework yielding bad results, as measured against our intuitions. E.g., divine command theory – a God who commands wrong actions; utilitarianism – utility maximization occurs when some horrific act is regularly performed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    I gave the following question to the people at William Lane Craig’s ‘Reasonable Faith’ site :-

    ‘Take the belief ‘It is morally wrong to torture babies
    for fun.’ Is that a properly basic belief?’

    I got this answer.

    ‘The short answer is yes, the belief you describe is properly basic.’

    A properly basic belief is one that does not need to be justified by other beliefs.

    So why do theists like Plantinga demand atheists justify these ‘properly basic beliefs’?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09468191085576922813 David B. Ellis


    I’m not sure your first sentence is consistent with the position you’re defending (ideal observer theory)–what if the notion of an ideal observer is incoherent if there could be multiple ideal observer positions about any situation based on differing metaphysical facts (e.g., real world vs. simulation)?

    The term “ideal observer” simply means having those traits which make one best able to make correct judgements on questions involving values.

    One may wish to argue with me on the traits I consider best able to allow one to judge correctly. If so feel free to do so. I don’t consider my conception of the ideal observer above criticism. It might well need to be refined or even radically changed (though I doubt the second).

    However, I don’t think the truth of any particular metaphysical theory (theism, naturalism, polytheism, pantheism, idealism, deism, materialism, panpsychism, etc) could have any bearing on the issue.

    Of course, I could be wrong. Can you think of a hypothetical situation in which the truth of a particular metaphysical theory had any bearing on whether my idea of intrinsic goods as the basis of moral truth and the ideal observer theory as the method for recognizing it?


    Your second sentence seems implausible. Surely it’s possible to construct metaphysical scenarios that can result in any particular meta-ethical framework yielding bad results, as measured against our intuitions. E.g., divine command theory – a God who commands wrong actions; utilitarianism – utility maximization occurs when some horrific act is regularly performed.

    Strange that the two examples you give are of metaethical theories other than mine.

    Can you give an example that would work as a scenario yielding intuitively bad result on MY theory?


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