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Subjectivism and Objectivism about moral rightness/wrongness

DOI
10.4324/9780415249126-L163-1
Published
2020
DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L163-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2020
Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/subjectivism-and-objectivism-about-moral-rightness-wrongness/v-1

4. Arguments for Objectivism

One argument for Objectivism about moral wrongness is due to Ross. Ross writes: ‘Many people would be inclined to say that the right act for me is not that whose general nature I have been describing, viz., that which if I were omniscient I should see to be my duty, but that which on all the evidence available to me I should think to be my duty. But suppose that from the state of partial knowledge in which I think A to be my duty, I could pass to a state of perfect knowledge in which I saw act B to be my duty, should I not say “act B was the right act for me to do”?’. When we change our mind about what we morally ought to do after investigating our situation and determining that the morally relevant factors are such and such rather than so and so we come to think that what we’ve discovered to be what we morally ought to do is what we morally ought to have done all along. It’s not as if in setting out to investigate our situation more fully we set out to change our moral situation. Rather, we’re trying to figure out what our moral situation in fact is. If this seeming is veridical, then our moral obligations are not grounded in our evidence, but rather on the objective facts of our situation, facts which through investigation we come to appreciate and thus come to know what our moral duties are and were prior to our investigation.

Another argument for Objectivism about moral wrongness is based on the phenomenon of moral advice. Suppose Dr Jill in her situation can ask her colleague, Jack, which syringe she morally ought to inject her patient with and suppose Jack knows which of the second and third syringes contains the complete cure – the third syringe, say – and which contains the fatal poison – the second syringe. In such a situation it seems intuitively the correct answer for Jack to give that she morally ought to inject her patient with the third syringe. But, you might think, the answer to her question ‘which syringe ought I to inject my patient with?’ she is looking for when she asks it of Jack is the same as the answer to that question she is looking for when she asks it of herself in the midst of her deliberations about what to do. But if that’s right, then, as injecting her patient with the third syringe is what is the objectively right thing to do, it can seem that the advice data show that it is in fact the objective sense of ‘wrong’ with which the morally conscientious person is concerned in her deliberations about what to do.

It has been suggested by some Subjectivists that the advice data can be accommodated by Subjectivism by noting that in saying that she ought to inject the third syringe into her patient Jack has provided Dr Jill with sufficient evidence that the third syringe is the complete cure to make it the case that after hearing his answer, what maximises expected deontic utility for Dr Jill is injecting the third syringe, and so what she ought to do in her situation then is inject her patient with the third syringe. This manoeuvre is dubious for two reasons. First, not only does saying that she morally ought to inject the third syringe seem like the correct answer for Jack to give in the case, but also saying that she ought to give the first syringe would be the wrong answer for him to give. But according to this manoeuvre, saying that she ought to give the first syringe would be just as correct a response as would saying that she ought to give the third syringe (for in saying that she ought to give the first syringe, Jack would not be providing Dr Jill with any evidence that the third syringe is the one she morally ought to inject, and so, in such a case, the option which maximised expected deontic utility for Dr Jill would be injecting the first syringe). In fact, according to this manoeuvre, Jack’s saying that she ought to give the second syringe – the one containing the fatal poison – would also be a correct response to Dr Jill’s question. That would be a hard consequence to swallow. Second, Jack’s saying that what she morally ought to do is inject her patient with the third syringe seems like the correct answer to Dr Jill’s question even in versions of the case in which Dr Jill has, and Jack knows she has, lots of misleading evidence to the effect that Jack is an inveterate liar. But were the manoeuvre being considered here correct, it should seem intuitively to be the wrong answer to give in such a version of the case.

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Citing this article:
Graham, Peter. Arguments for Objectivism. Subjectivism and Objectivism about moral rightness/wrongness, 2020, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L163-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/subjectivism-and-objectivism-about-moral-rightness-wrongness/v-1/sections/arguments-for-objectivism.
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