Is Mackie’s argument from relativity compelling?
Mackie’s ‘Ethics: Inventing right and wrong’ critically assesses the idea that there are, or even can be, objective moral truths, and exposits Mackie’s ‘moral relativist’ stance. I intend also in this essay to criticise the idea of moral objectivity, and to deal with the objections that could be potentially raised to a relativist stance. The most obvious task, it would seem, to begin with when assessing the idea of moral objectivity, is to come to an understanding about what is literally meant by ‘an objective moral truth’. The word objective immediately brings to mind a state of actual existence, as opposed to simply ideal existence. We normally associate something like a chair or a table with objective reality, and we don’t consider it to have the same nature of existence as say ‘beauty’ or ‘parenthood’, even though most would agree that all these things ‘exist’ in one way or another. Mackie defines something being objective as ‘Being part of the fabric of the world’, i.e. it has an ontological, mind dependant existence. As a further definition, Mackie posits that an objective moral value has the quality of ‘ought-to-be-pursued-ness’, it is something one should or ought do because it contains an inherently normative aspect. If Mackie’s argument is to succeed, it must prove that this supposed normative aspect has no existence within any act in itself, but has its origin in the agent of said act, and as such, all moral claims are false. Mackie’s exposition of moral relativism comes in the form of two main arguments, the first being his ‘argument from relativity’, the second, his ‘argument from queerness’. It is with the argument from relativity that I shall be here concerned. The argument from relativity is based around the purely ‘descriptive’ idea that it is an empirically observable fact that there seems to be no universally shared moral code that transcends different cultures, nationalities, class divisions...
Bibliography: J.L Mackie, Inventing right and wrong (1977 Penguin publishing)
Karl Popper, The logic of scientific discovery (1934 Routledge publishing)
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