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Subjectivism

When you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but
that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame
from the contemplation of it. Hume (RT, p.61)

Basic Idea: Morality is nothing over and above a matter of individual feeling or
sentiment.

Simple Subjectivism vs. Emotivism

Simple Subjectivism:
Making a moral judgment is simply making a judgment about our
own attitudes, e.g., approval or disapproval.

That act of abortion is wrong = I disapprove of that act of abortion.

That act of abortion is right = I approve of that act of abortion.

Emotivism:
Cognitive Meaning vs. Emotive Meaning—
A sentence has cognitive meaning just in case it is used to say
something true or false.

A sentence has emotive meaning just in case it is used to


express emotion.

Moral “judgments” are not truly judgments as they are neither true nor
false.

Moral “judgments” are commands or expressions of desire or


emotion.

Moral judgments have no cognitive meaning, but do contain emotive


meaning.

That act of abortion is wrong = Don’t engage in or allow acts like that
act of abortion.

AKA: The Boo/Hurrah system of ethics.

Why Be a Subjectivist?
The Argument from Observation
1. No matter how carefully we observe an action, we cannot detect any
moral qualities in it.
2. The best explanation for this fact is that morality is solely a matter of
sentiment.
3. Therefore, morality is solely a matter of sentiment. (Hume, RT, p60/1)

Lack of Moral Progress.

Objections to Simple Subjectivism

Argument From Fallibility


1. If Simple Subjectivism is correct, then we are infallible in our moral
judgments (because we are simply expressing internal attitudes).
2. We are fallible in our moral judgments.
3. Therefore, Simple Subjectivism is false.

Argument From Disagreement


1. If Simple Subjectivism is correct, then we never disagree in our moral
judgments.
2. We do disagree in our moral judgments.
3. Therefore, Simple Subjectivism is false.

Emotivist Responses

Fallible/Infallible distinction does not apply to moral judgments, no


cognitive meaning.

We do have moral disagreements; it is a disagreement in attitude, not belief.

Reasons in Moral Reasoning and Disagreements

In belief disagreements only logically supported considerations are accepted


into the discussion, and hence are good reasons.

In attitude disagreements any consideration that will change the attitude of


your opponent is considered a good reason.

Assume the following premises are true, do the conclusions follow?


1. Most women who have abortions are unmarried and have had multiple
sex partners.
2. Therefore, abortion is immoral.
1. Most people who oppose abortion are fundamentalist Christian right-
wingers.
2. Therefore, abortion is morally right.

Are these good arguments?

Argument From Good Reasons


1. If Emotivism is correct, then what counts as a good reason in a moral
disagreement is a matter of what will change the opponent’s mind.
2. What counts as a good reason in moral disagreements is not simply a
matter of what will change the opponent’s mind.
3. Therefore, Emotivism is false and moral disagreements are more than
disagreements in attitude.

Simple Subjectivism Understood as a Meta-theory

Consider the possibility that the sentiment is universal among human beings.

SS can be viewed as a way of explaining the moral rules that we have come
to accept, not as a normative theory.

Does this make it any better?