Williams on Objectivity in Science and in Ethics
The Germ of Truth in the Fact-Value Distinction
"The basic difference [between science and ethics] lies rather in our reflective understanding of the best hopes we could coherently entertain for eliminating disagreement in the two areas"(135).
Even if there were convergence, what would be the best explanation of it? The answer would be different for ethics than for science.
The Absolute Conception of the World
In science, convergence on an answer would be explained in terms of how things are. In ethics, there is no such coherent hope.
The absolute conception of the world is "a conception of the world that might be arrived at by any investigators, even if they were very different from us"(139).
The absolute conception makes sense in science, but not in ethics.
Convergence in Ethics
There can be convergence on thick ethical concepts, such as coward, lie, brutality, gratitude, etc. These concepts are both world-guided and action-guiding.
The prescriptivist account requires that such concepts be divisible into a descriptive and prescriptive element. Why does Williams think this is not always possible?
How Reflection Destroys Ethical Knowledge
The example of the hypertraditional society
Key question: "Must we agree that there is a judgment, to be expressed by using some universal moral notion [such as right or wrong], which they accept and the observer may very well reject?"(545)
Key issue: the relation between practice and reflection
The Objectivist and the Nonobjectivist Model
Inquiry into moral truth vs. a way of living.
On the nonobjectivist model, the members of HS have ethical knowledge; on the objectivist model they do not.
Can there be reflective ethical knowledge? Williams's answer is no.
In ethics, "reflection can destroy knowledge"(148).
On reflection, we could provide a social scientific explanation of our moral beliefs. Such a theory could never justify our moral beliefs.
“Companions in Guilt”:
What is the contrast with secondary qualities, such as “yellow”?
What about mathematics?
What prevents us from having reflective ethical knowledge: Some account of what "tracking the truth" would be—that is, some explanation of how "a range of investigators could rationally, reasonably, and unconstrainedly come to converge on a determinate set of ethical conclusions"(151).
[Note how similar Williams's argument is to Harman's.]
Williams thinks that the only coherent hope for an "objective" ethics is to ground ethical truth in truths about human nature.
Is there an alternative?
Dworkin's Defense of Objectivity in Ethics
archimedean (external) vs. internal skepticism
Archimedean skepticism is, supposedly, austere and neutral. What do these terms mean?
Internal skepticism about morality: Involves commitment to some moral truths (perhaps conditional or counterfactual).
I-Propositions: Make moral judgments internal to a moral practice.
E-Propositions: Express external metaphysical or philosophical opinions about the nature of internal moral judgments.
Can we divide moral discourse into I-Propositions and E-Propositions?
The Return of Harman:
Can moral properties cause moral beliefs?
What is the point of Dworkin's moral field thesis ("morons") example?
The key argument: That we must be "in touch with" moral properties (117). Compare Williams's idea that for reflective moral knowledge, our moral beliefs must "track the truth".
Dworkin’s mistake about Platonism: It is not only a theory of the existence of moral truths but a theory of how we are sensitive to them.
Dworkin's test of reflective equilibrium:
"Let us accept, for the sake of the argument, that we are forced to choose between the following two propositions. (1) Human beings have a special though sometimes fallible faculty of judgment that enables us to decide which moral claims to accept or reject, a capacity whose malfunctioning may sometimes result only in moral misjudgment with no spillover impairment of any other cognitive activity. (2) There is no moral objection to exterminating an ethnic group or enslaving a race or torturing a young child, just for fun, in front of its captive mother. Which should we abandon?"(117-118)
Dworkin's Key Move: The Super-Duper Companions in Guilt Defense
The generalization of the argument to all of philosophy.
"Since we do not think that philosophical opinions are caused by philosophical facts, we do not conclude from the diversity of philosophical views (which is more pronounced than moral disagreement) that no positive philosophical thesis is sound"(113-114).
“If the ‘best explanation’ causal test is universally sound, therefore, no moral (or aesthetic or mathematical or philosophical) belief is reliable”(119).
"The Archimedean employs his own autonomous philosophical capacity to declare that no intellectual capacity can sensibly be treated as autonomous"(122).
Talbott’s Response to the Naturalist’s Challenge: Sensitivity to Objective Moral Standards without Causal Interaction with Them
I. The Naturalist’s Challenge:
If human beings are the product of blind processes of biological and social evolution, how could human beings have acquired sensitivity to strictly universal, objective moral standards as a result of such blind processes.
II. Two Kinds of Moral Sensitivity
A. Tracking Sensitivity.
(Ruse and E.O. Wilson’s Tracking Test) If S’s moral belief that p had not been true because there were no objective moral standards, S would not believe that p.
B. Probabilistic Sensitivity:
(NC) EmpProb(x is true//x is a substantive moral proposition about a particular case believed as a result of causal history BE&SE) ≈ 0.
(MR) EmpProb(x is true//x is a substantive moral proposition about a particular case believed as a result of causal history BE&SE) > ½.
III. Probabilistic Sensitivity to Objective Moral Standards without Causal Interaction: The Benign Correlation.
A. Selection for satisficing and willingness to cooperate in egalitarian (or equitable) solutions gene propagation collective action problems.
B. Moral practices are solutions to collective action problems.
C. The objective moral standards favor moral practices that are equitable solutions to collective action problems.
D. The Benign Correlation. By selecting for A, the processes of natural and social selection have produced selection of sensitivity to C.
IV. Aristotle’s Practical Wisdom as Probabilistic Sensitivity and Responsiveness.
In a choice among the relevant alternatives A1, . . . , An, in which subject S believes that Ai is the right thing to do:
(Tracking Sensitivity Condition for Practical Wisdom) If act Ai had not been ranked above the other relevant alternatives by the objective moral standards, S would not have believed that it was the morally right thing to do.
(Probabilistic Sensitivity Condition for Practical Wisdom) If S believes that Ai is the right thing to do, then it is probable that the objective moral standards rank Ai above the other relevant alternatives.