The March Philosophy Book of the Month is Final Notice by Van Fleisher. Discuss Final Notice now.

The April Philosophy Book of the Month is The Unbound Soul by Richard L. Haight. Discuss The Unbound Soul Now

The May Philosophy Book of the Month is Misreading Judas by Robert Wahler.

J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Discuss any topics related to metaphysics (the philosophical study of the principles of reality) or epistemology (the philosophical study of knowledge) in this forum.
Kaz_1983
Posts: 165
Joined: May 26th, 2019, 6:52 am

J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Kaz_1983 » September 4th, 2019, 10:40 pm

Moral Error Theory denies the truth to all ethical claims.

It's not an ethical system but a metaphysical system: a theory about what the world is truly like. Moral Error theorist claim that our morality is built on fundamental error: the belief in categorical reasons.

Kaz_1983
Posts: 165
Joined: May 26th, 2019, 6:52 am

Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Kaz_1983 » September 5th, 2019, 9:58 pm

Anybody got any insight into this?

User avatar
Hereandnow
Posts: 2308
Joined: July 11th, 2012, 9:16 pm
Favorite Philosopher: the moon and the stars

Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Hereandnow » September 5th, 2019, 11:21 pm

Kaz_1983
It's not an ethical system but a metaphysical system: a theory about what the world is truly like. Moral Error theorist claim that our morality is built on fundamental error: the belief in categorical reasons.
I read this some time ago. It is an excellent introduction to meta ethical theory, and his position is an anti objectivist one: moral ideas of good and bad have no objective Reality that is ontologically unique, as, say, Plato's form of the Good would be. It is a difficult matter to grasp because most don't get the difference between the "fact" of suffering or delight (and anything lying therein), and the badness and goodness that these are supposed to possess. Decriptively, if something is morally bad, it entails more than just bad for something else, like a longish wick in a lantern is good for a brighter light. Moral badness, as awkward as it sounds, is something qualitatively distinct and requires for its being objectively Real or meaningful objective badness itself. Put it this way: apply a lighted match to your finger. Clearly this is very different from all energy expelled from an exploding star in that in the latter, it is descriptively covered by observable features, but when the flame meets the flesh a moral dimension comes into play: pain.
It is very hard to explain moral badness because it is, well, invisible. All one can "see" are the observable features,but how can one account for this mysterious badness? Mackie says, simply, forget it: there is nothing to account for. to start talking about an ethical ontology would be to rewrite physics, a very "queer" affair (his word) and our joy and suffering are well handled by empirical paradigms.

Ethics is far and away the strangest thing in all existence. Nothing really comes close. See Wittgenstein's Tractatus for a perfectly dizzying account. But W understood just how mysterious ethics is. Just as mysterious a logic, but logic? Who cares? Ethics is all about caring; it's essence is caring.

User avatar
Consul
Posts: 2219
Joined: February 21st, 2014, 6:32 am
Location: Germany

Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Consul » September 6th, 2019, 10:17 am

Metaethical error theory is the combination of moral cognitivism & moral antirealism.

"Cognitivism is the denial of non-cognitivism. Thus it holds that moral statements do express beliefs and that they are apt for truth and falsity. But cognitivism need not be a species of realism since a cognitivist can be an error theorist and think all moral statements false."

"Two negative theses comprise the central common non-cognitivist claims, although current theories often endorse them only in qualified form. One thesis might be called semantic nonfactualism. Simply put this thesis denies that predicative moral sentences express propositions or have substantial truth conditions. Thus semantic nonfactualism suggests that their contents are not apt for robust truth or falsity. …Moral predicates do not denote or express properties and predicative moral sentences do not therefore predicate properties of their subjects. The second negative thesis can be called psychological non-cognitivism. This thesis denies that the states of mind conventionally expressed by moral utterances are beliefs or mental states which fall on the cognitive side of the cognitive/non-cognitive divide. Typically non-cognitivists accept both negative theses, though there are views which accept one and not the other."

Moral Cognitivism vs. Non-Cognitivism: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-cognitivism/
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

Kaz_1983
Posts: 165
Joined: May 26th, 2019, 6:52 am

Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Kaz_1983 » September 7th, 2019, 2:59 am

Hereandnow wrote:
September 5th, 2019, 11:21 pm
Put it this way: apply a lighted match to your finger. Clearly this is very different from all energy expelled from an exploding star in that in the latter, it is descriptively covered by observable features, but when the flame meets the flesh a moral dimension comes into play: pain.

It is very hard to explain moral badness because it is, well, invisible. All one can "see" are the observable features,but how can one account for this mysterious badness? Mackie says, simply, forget it: there is nothing to account for. to start talking about an ethical ontology would be to rewrite physics, a very "queer" affair (his word) and our joy and suffering are well handled by empirical paradigms..
Sounds like your talking about the argument from queerness and how we project objective features onto actions and judge them to be good or bad but there is no objective grounding for the judgement anyways.

There is both, nothing to account for and nothing to ground your judgement in - there are no observable features.

Is that about right?

User avatar
Hereandnow
Posts: 2308
Joined: July 11th, 2012, 9:16 pm
Favorite Philosopher: the moon and the stars

Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Hereandnow » September 7th, 2019, 12:11 pm

Kaz_1983
Sounds like your talking about the argument from queerness and how we project objective features onto actions and judge them to be good or bad but there is no objective grounding for the judgement anyways.

There is both, nothing to account for and nothing to ground your judgement in - there are no observable features.

Here is from Mackie's book:

G.E. Moore thought that there were just three possibilities: that ‘good’ (in its ethical sense) ‘denotes’ something simple and indefinable (that is, that it stands for some simple property or characteristic that things or actions may have); that it denotes something complex; and that it denotes no property either simple or complex, so that it means nothing at all, and there is no such subject as ethics. Rejecting the second and third possibilities, he settled for the first, and argued that this simple indefinable something must be a non-natural quality.

The good, in the ethical sense (as opposed something being good FOR something else, like a good knife is good for cutting) deals with the kind of goodness that is, if you will, IN the world, part of the fabric of things as if God put it there in creation, but without the God or creation part entering into it. And this, Mackie says, is not a defensible notion. There is a history of philosophical thought on the "quality" of something being good which I pass by and leave it up to you to read the book. I jump to Moore above because I think he gets it: Once you see that the way "good" is predicated of a thing, a good sunset or a good knife, say, begs a question about goodness, which is, if X is good because it is good for something else (incidentally, Wittgenstein says leave it alone at this point--the goddness of a good sunset should be freed from attempts to analyze. He had no patience with philosophers trying to systematically explaining the Good), efficient or commended for some "quality," how does this exhaust the meaning of the ethical sense of goodness? Clearly it does not, I argue. The lighted match (the comfort of a good couch, the yumminess of the pizza, and so on) is doing something that is "given" and is therefore beyond language, for language does not "speak" the world, it speaks about the world (or, the world is a "spoken" place, if you like. Language gets slippery here). This is why Wittgenstein wouldn't speak about it. It would be like speaking the color orange "as such". Language is logic and logic cannot think itself, therefore all that logic takes up, structures, provides propositional meaning for, like an "orangeness" in your perceptual field, cannot be "conceived". The moment you do so, you are, as Heidegger put it "in the house of Being".

Of course, there is a very interesting body of thinking for all this. Presence, the intuitive given of a thing in a non discursive way such that one has a non cognitive "grasp" of it, has been called "miraculous" and impossible. I think this is right, but then, I think the world is miraculous and impossible. The good and bad in the ethical/aesthetic sense of the words are what I would call absolutes, but I can't because the word 'absolute' is not, heh, heh, an absolute. Call them transcendental. Am I making sense, yet?

Give Wittgenstein's Lecture on Ethics a read if you have a mind to. It is succinct, accessible, and. I think, deeply profound, though you wouldn't know it by way he treats the idea. Keep in mind, W was a very religious person. Let me know what you think:

http://sackett.net/WittgensteinEthics.pdf

User avatar
Felix
Posts: 2752
Joined: February 9th, 2009, 5:45 am

Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Felix » September 7th, 2019, 5:44 pm

F.H. Bradley spoke of the primary unitive experience of reality being dissected or fragmented by analytic reflection, which metaphysics attempts to restore or recapture on the level of thought. But this is rather like dreaming of an unknown person and then waking up and searching for that person.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

User avatar
Hereandnow
Posts: 2308
Joined: July 11th, 2012, 9:16 pm
Favorite Philosopher: the moon and the stars

Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Hereandnow » September 8th, 2019, 12:15 pm

F.H. Bradley spoke of the primary unitive experience of reality being dissected or fragmented by analytic reflection, which metaphysics attempts to restore or recapture on the level of thought. But this is rather like dreaming of an unknown person and then waking up and searching for that person.
I like that, but I don't think we are so distant from what we seek as you suggest. After all, it all lies before, here and now, in the eternal present. This is a much maligned concept, but I abide by it without reservation. The question in my mind is, what is it that binds one? To call it attachment is simplistic, for the analysis goes deeper. To call a tree a tree, a cup a cup, is to be attached at the conceptual level and THAT is hard to undo: to see what lies before not AS the language insists, but free of this identity. Read through Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and you witness a detailed analysis of what it is that binds a person, establishes her in alienation.

It is, as Dionysus the Areapogate put it,the cloud of unknowing that we seek, and it is a hard thing to do: un-know the world. This is why philosophy is so important: it gives analysis to what is hidden in the construction of a thought, and in doing so, unmoors consciousness from the stream of everydayness. Reflective thought undoes habit and familiarity. This is the 'end' of philosophy in both senses of that term. Post modern thought is nothing less than a call to dock the "boat" of yoga (as the extended metaphor goes), and philosophical thought is a yoga (of course, being a person at all is a form of yoga: karma yoga), and move on, free of the encumbrance of thought's inhibitions.

The Hindus had it essentially right many centuries ago.

User avatar
h_k_s
Posts: 569
Joined: November 25th, 2018, 12:09 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Aristotle
Location: Rocky Mountains

Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by h_k_s » September 8th, 2019, 3:14 pm

Kaz_1983 wrote:
September 4th, 2019, 10:40 pm
Moral Error Theory denies the truth to all ethical claims.

It's not an ethical system but a metaphysical system: a theory about what the world is truly like. Moral Error theorist claim that our morality is built on fundamental error: the belief in categorical reasons.
AND … what is wrong with categorical reasons?

User avatar
h_k_s
Posts: 569
Joined: November 25th, 2018, 12:09 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Aristotle
Location: Rocky Mountains

Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by h_k_s » September 8th, 2019, 3:17 pm

Hereandnow wrote:
September 5th, 2019, 11:21 pm
Kaz_1983
It's not an ethical system but a metaphysical system: a theory about what the world is truly like. Moral Error theorist claim that our morality is built on fundamental error: the belief in categorical reasons.
I read this some time ago. It is an excellent introduction to meta ethical theory, and his position is an anti objectivist one: moral ideas of good and bad have no objective Reality that is ontologically unique, as, say, Plato's form of the Good would be. It is a difficult matter to grasp because most don't get the difference between the "fact" of suffering or delight (and anything lying therein), and the badness and goodness that these are supposed to possess. Decriptively, if something is morally bad, it entails more than just bad for something else, like a longish wick in a lantern is good for a brighter light. Moral badness, as awkward as it sounds, is something qualitatively distinct and requires for its being objectively Real or meaningful objective badness itself. Put it this way: apply a lighted match to your finger. Clearly this is very different from all energy expelled from an exploding star in that in the latter, it is descriptively covered by observable features, but when the flame meets the flesh a moral dimension comes into play: pain.
It is very hard to explain moral badness because it is, well, invisible. All one can "see" are the observable features,but how can one account for this mysterious badness? Mackie says, simply, forget it: there is nothing to account for. to start talking about an ethical ontology would be to rewrite physics, a very "queer" affair (his word) and our joy and suffering are well handled by empirical paradigms.

Ethics is far and away the strangest thing in all existence. Nothing really comes close. See Wittgenstein's Tractatus for a perfectly dizzying account. But W understood just how mysterious ethics is. Just as mysterious a logic, but logic? Who cares? Ethics is all about caring; it's essence is caring.
I think we need to separate physical pain from mental anguish. Not doing so entails a fallacy of double meaning based on loose use of language.

User avatar
h_k_s
Posts: 569
Joined: November 25th, 2018, 12:09 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Aristotle
Location: Rocky Mountains

Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by h_k_s » September 8th, 2019, 3:20 pm

Hereandnow wrote:
September 7th, 2019, 12:11 pm
Kaz_1983
Sounds like your talking about the argument from queerness and how we project objective features onto actions and judge them to be good or bad but there is no objective grounding for the judgement anyways.

There is both, nothing to account for and nothing to ground your judgement in - there are no observable features.

Here is from Mackie's book:

G.E. Moore thought that there were just three possibilities: that ‘good’ (in its ethical sense) ‘denotes’ something simple and indefinable (that is, that it stands for some simple property or characteristic that things or actions may have); that it denotes something complex; and that it denotes no property either simple or complex, so that it means nothing at all, and there is no such subject as ethics. Rejecting the second and third possibilities, he settled for the first, and argued that this simple indefinable something must be a non-natural quality.

The good, in the ethical sense (as opposed something being good FOR something else, like a good knife is good for cutting) deals with the kind of goodness that is, if you will, IN the world, part of the fabric of things as if God put it there in creation, but without the God or creation part entering into it. And this, Mackie says, is not a defensible notion. There is a history of philosophical thought on the "quality" of something being good which I pass by and leave it up to you to read the book. I jump to Moore above because I think he gets it: Once you see that the way "good" is predicated of a thing, a good sunset or a good knife, say, begs a question about goodness, which is, if X is good because it is good for something else (incidentally, Wittgenstein says leave it alone at this point--the goddness of a good sunset should be freed from attempts to analyze. He had no patience with philosophers trying to systematically explaining the Good), efficient or commended for some "quality," how does this exhaust the meaning of the ethical sense of goodness? Clearly it does not, I argue. The lighted match (the comfort of a good couch, the yumminess of the pizza, and so on) is doing something that is "given" and is therefore beyond language, for language does not "speak" the world, it speaks about the world (or, the world is a "spoken" place, if you like. Language gets slippery here). This is why Wittgenstein wouldn't speak about it. It would be like speaking the color orange "as such". Language is logic and logic cannot think itself, therefore all that logic takes up, structures, provides propositional meaning for, like an "orangeness" in your perceptual field, cannot be "conceived". The moment you do so, you are, as Heidegger put it "in the house of Being".

Of course, there is a very interesting body of thinking for all this. Presence, the intuitive given of a thing in a non discursive way such that one has a non cognitive "grasp" of it, has been called "miraculous" and impossible. I think this is right, but then, I think the world is miraculous and impossible. The good and bad in the ethical/aesthetic sense of the words are what I would call absolutes, but I can't because the word 'absolute' is not, heh, heh, an absolute. Call them transcendental. Am I making sense, yet?

Give Wittgenstein's Lecture on Ethics a read if you have a mind to. It is succinct, accessible, and. I think, deeply profound, though you wouldn't know it by way he treats the idea. Keep in mind, W was a very religious person. Let me know what you think:

http://sackett.net/WittgensteinEthics.pdf
I think the simplest explanation for "good" and "bad" are simply appropriateness or inappropriateness.

However another way to think about this is to go back to the original Germanic roots of Gute and Boese.

Gute in simple language simply means pleasant, while Boese means painful or mean.

User avatar
Felix
Posts: 2752
Joined: February 9th, 2009, 5:45 am

Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Felix » September 8th, 2019, 4:38 pm

Hereandnow: Reflective thought undoes habit and familiarity.
Bradley's point was that there are different forms of knowing, e.g., one may know love and one may reflect on the experience of knowing it. All the analysis in the world won't create the experience. Happiness is a product of reflection so it comes and goes, but Joy is ever present, you can tune into it but not create it.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

User avatar
Hereandnow
Posts: 2308
Joined: July 11th, 2012, 9:16 pm
Favorite Philosopher: the moon and the stars

Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Hereandnow » September 8th, 2019, 8:39 pm

h_k_s
I think the simplest explanation for "good" and "bad" are simply appropriateness or inappropriateness.

However another way to think about this is to go back to the original Germanic roots of Gute and Boese.

in simple language simply means pleasant, while Boese means painful or mean.
Appropriateness and inappropriateness are like efficient and inefficient, which Mackie takes up. These are what I call goods and bads of utility (or contingency, or contextual goods and bads) in that something is appropriate FOR something else, thereby contextualizing the goodness. My jeans are appropriate for casual events but at (most) weddings not at all. If you ask what something is appropriate for, and bet your answer, then, of course, there follows the inevitable: why is THAT good? It will be either more utility or your German Gute, and once you've reduced all the utility goods down to Gute goods (and it is always is thusly reducible, othewise utility is just an empty spinning of wheels) you are left with what Wittgenstein calls the ethical good, i.e., value,the question of the nature of value. This kind of good and bad is very different from utility. When you no longer have something being good for something else, you have arrived at something being intrinsically good or bad and there are some who think here, you have arrived at the human soul, to put a name on it. Forget the walk being good for health, or health being good for keeping your job or keeping you job being good for maintaining your family, and so on. At the end f this you will have to say, well, happiness isn't good for anything else; it's just good. That's it. this kind of thing permeates all experience ( See Dewey, Heidegger, et al) but conversation rarely goes here, after all, who would ask such questions like why do want to be happy? Why do you want to avoid pain?

Only a philosopher asks such questions. And the answer is that value as such is transcendental. Mackie follows Wittgenstein, actually. The latter tells us quite plainly that ethics, metaethics, talk about good as such, is not fit for language. Nothing to say for it cannot be said, that is, the goddness cannot be said, or even seen or empirically acknowledged in any way. What makes a good taste or feeling good? Entirely absent from observation. Not a fact at all, says Wittgenstein, and yet, this goodness and badness rules the world.

User avatar
Felix
Posts: 2752
Joined: February 9th, 2009, 5:45 am

Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Felix » September 9th, 2019, 3:25 pm

Hereandnow: Who would ask such questions like why do want to be happy? Why do you want to avoid pain? Only a philosopher asks such questions.
Better still is: what is happiness?, what is pain?, etc. All are relativities. When you contemplate them (not analyse them, that is a mental hamster wheel), you may find that they have no inherent quality of goodness/badness, they become just different sorts of experiences, some more real than others. Then you may ask, what is the nature of their realness?

Eventually you may realize that all experience is Grace, and there is no "good reason" to prefer one variety of experience over another. As long as you're hung up with the objects of awareness, you'll never find it's source.

Let me give you a practical example: You have a "big day" tomorrow, but you can't sleep. Then you may start thinking, if I don't get much sleep tonight, I'll be a physical wreck tomorrow, etc. But how about if you enjoy the insomnia? Contemplate it. What are the properties of this feeling?, who is it that can't fall asleep?, etc. It becomes fascinating, and fascination can lead to... sleep. Curiouser and curiouser!
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

User avatar
Sculptor1
Posts: 602
Joined: May 16th, 2019, 5:35 am

Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Sculptor1 » September 9th, 2019, 4:22 pm

Felix wrote:
September 9th, 2019, 3:25 pm

Eventually you may realize that all experience is Grace,
At once you seem to support the theory, then you make a rather obviously false moral claim, obviously "categorically" false.

MET is correct that we have good and logical reasons to demand that all moral statements are false.
This does not invalidate attempts at moral theory or moral acts, as long as we know that ethical systems comply to culturally contexed logic, relative to the particularities of cultures but that these being opinions can be challenged and ought to be encourage to evolve with needs and social change.
Attributing experience to "grace" is not only culturally out of date, it is absurd and by MET definitively false.

Post Reply