Meta-ethics: Cornell Realism and short summary.

So, we’re slowly approaching the more sane and interesting parts of Miller’s book “Introduction into contemporary meta-ethics”. The first 7 chapters are largely nonsense.

Chapter 8 is about Cornell Realism, a cognitivistic, naturalistic,  non-reductionistic theory of meta-ethics.

A short summary of the first ~200 pages of the book:

Cognitivism claims that moral judgements are truth-apt, whereas non-cognitivists believe that moral judgements are not truth-apt and mere expressions of emotions (expressivism e.g. by Ayer) or  universal imperatives (prescriptivism by Hare). There are some insanely complicated non-cognitivistic theories like Quasi-Realism by Blackburn or norm-expressivism by Allan Gilbert that don’t make much more sense than the simpler versions of non-cognitivism and they are just as confused. Why?

Well, this whole debate is just a useless linguistic fight over definitions, as almost all analytical philosophy. (Check e.g. the Gettier-Debate. I’m still astounded by the fact that thousands of highly intelligent people can engage in such verbiage for decades.) If I say that “it was wrong for Hitler to kill millions of Jews” then the word “wrong” has also some descriptive components (like e.g. that Hitler was cruel, that I would like to see Hitler get punished, that there was suffering involved, etc. ). Some of these things can be right or not. Most non-cognitivits don’t deny this!

The interesting questions are whether moral judgments are mere preferences, if they are mind-independent, if there exist objective moral facts,etc. The whole debate between non-cognitivism and cognitivism doesn’t carve reality at its joints. Anyway, totally off-topic. I already said the same in a previous post.

There are cognitivists who deny that moral facts exists, like Mackie. His error-theory says that our moral judgements are truth-apt, but all of them are false.

Then there are cognitivists that are non-naturalists like e.g. Moore. This means that moral facts are supernatural and we know what is true through intuitions. Yeah, that’s a mysterious answer to a mysterious question. Non-naturalism may be true for newsomian reasons, but I have to assign a low probability to this. But, there’s still a chance 🙂

Anyway, non-cognitivism and non-naturalism are probably wrong. Mackie’s error theory could of course very well be true, which would be very sucky, so let’s not think about this for the time being.

So, the next distinction is between reductionists and non-reductionists.

Cornell Realism is non-reductionistic. What does this mean?

They say that moral properties are multiple realized by or supervene on non-moral properties. But moral properties are not reducible to non-moral properties.

Quote Miller:

We can imagine an indefinite number of ways in which actions can be morally right. [Non-reductionists] think that, in any one example of moral rightness, the rightness can be identified with non-moral properties (e.g. the handing over of money, the opening of a door for someone else, etc.). But they claim that, across all morally right actions, there is no one non-moral property or set of non-moral properties that all such situations have in common and to which moral rightness can be reduced.

Of course, this is just highly concentrated confusion. This whole talk about properties is meaningless and misleading.

Consider the property “being an organism”. Across all organisms there is no other property that all these organisms have in common and to which “being an organism” can be reduced. This of course implies that being an organism is pure magic and so organisms and life has to “non-reductionistic”. Elan vital revitalized!

This chapter is like 30 pages long and it get’s downhill from there. The argument above is probably the sanest of the whole chapter.

These folks are brain-dead; this is crazy. I give up. They don’t understand reductionism, tabooing your words, dissolving the question, carving reality at its joints etc. It’s like arguing with stoned lunatics on LSD.

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