The Root of Value
May 26, 2010

While we’re on the subject of Rawls, I might as well pose the obvious question that follows from the argument I presented: it’s all well and good to say Rawls’ thought experiment leads to the best understanding of how to create a fair society, but who says fair is so great in the first place?

This is similar to the challenge posed by Thrasymachus: who says your metrics for goodness are objectively good? This is the question that led me to metaethics, because I realized that I didn’t have a very good response. I couldn’t bring myself to argue that ethical claims were natural properties, but I was uncomfortable with moral relativism, for obvious reasons.

But before I get into some possible answers, I want to solicit your opinions: what are ethical claims rooted in? Anything? When you say “Murder is wrong,” are you actually expressing an objective fact?

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Metaethics
May 25, 2010

Since I don’t think that Thrasymachus’ argument is about philosophy of law, it’s time for me to attach a definition to what I think is really going on: he and Socrates are engaging in one of the earliest, and most well-known, metaethical debates.

Metaethics, for reasons that have a lot to do with this argument, is the philosophical topic I’m most fixated on. My metaethics professor put the central question of the discipline in this way: “When we discuss, or argue about, ethics, what is it we’re doing?”

The Socrates of the Republic is what you might call a moral realist. He thinks that when one debates ethics, one is debating over a set of mind-independent facts about the world.

Me, I’m not so sure. And, in fact, I found his conception of ethics as relating to these universal forms of justice and the good that exist on a higher plane than mere physical objects wholly unpersuasive.

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