Moral Complexities

Fol­lowup to: The Be­drock of Fairness

Dis­cus­sions of moral­ity seem to me to of­ten end up turn­ing around two differ­ent in­tu­itions, which I might la­bel moral­ity-as-prefer­ence and moral­ity-as-given. The former crowd tends to equate moral­ity with what peo­ple want; the lat­ter to re­gard moral­ity as some­thing you can’t change by chang­ing peo­ple.

As for me, I have my own no­tions, which I am work­ing up to pre­sent­ing. But above all, I try to avoid avoid­ing difficult ques­tions. Here are what I see as (some of) the difficult ques­tions for the two in­tu­itions:

  • For moral­ity-as-prefer­ence:

    • Why do peo­ple seem to mean differ­ent things by “I want the pie” and “It is right that I should get the pie”? Why are the two propo­si­tions ar­gued in differ­ent ways?

    • When and why do peo­ple change their ter­mi­nal val­ues? Do the con­cepts of “moral er­ror” and “moral progress” have refer­ents? Why would any­one want to change what they want?

    • Why and how does any­one ever “do some­thing they know they shouldn’t”, or “want some­thing they know is wrong”? Does the no­tion of moral­ity-as-prefer­ence re­ally add up to moral nor­mal­ity?

  • For moral­ity-as-given:

    • Would it be pos­si­ble for ev­ery­one in the world to be wrong about moral­ity, and wrong about how to up­date their be­liefs about moral­ity, and wrong about how to choose be­tween meta­moral­ities, etcetera? So that there would be a moral­ity, but it would be en­tirely out­side our frame of refer­ence? What dis­t­in­guishes this state of af­fairs, from find­ing a ran­dom stone tablet show­ing the words “You should com­mit suicide”?

    • How does a world in which a moral propo­si­tion is true, differ from a world in which that moral propo­si­tion is false? If the an­swer is “no”, how does any­one per­ceive moral givens?

    • Is it bet­ter for peo­ple to be happy than sad? If so, why does moral­ity look amaz­ingly like god­shat­ter of nat­u­ral se­lec­tion?

    • Am I not al­lowed to con­struct an alien mind that eval­u­ates moral­ity differ­ently? What will stop me from do­ing so?

Part of The Me­taethics Sequence

Next post: “Is Mo­ral­ity Prefer­ence?

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