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To What Extent Does Mackie's Argument from Relativity Support His Error Theory

  • Date Submitted: 05/06/2013 01:27 PM
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To what extent, if at all, does Mackie's “argument from relativity” support his error theory?

J.L. Mackie makes his position explicit by opening his paper ‘The Subjectivity of Values’ (1977) with the claim that ‘there are no objective values’. He further elaborates on his position by stating that when most people speak of their moral judgements they are implicitly claiming ‘to be pointing to something objectively prescriptive’ but ‘these claims are false’. This means that when we make moral judgements like ‘it is right to give to charity’ or ‘’it is wrong to kill’, we are claiming there are objective values in the world. However there are no such objective values thus we are saying something that is systematically and uniformly false and are always going to be in error.

Mackie presents two arguments to support his error theory; the argument from relativity and the argument from queerness. In this essay I will be addressing the argument from relativity. I will show that although popular objections to the argument of relativity attempt to derail Mackie’s error theory, they are weak and unable to offer arguments with strong explanatory power for widespread disagreement. I will show that the argument from relativity supports Mackie’s error theory by offering the best explanation for moral disagreement.

Mackie draws an important distinction between two different questions often confused with each other.  The distinction is between what moral judgments are actually about and what we think that our moral judgments are about. Moral realism argues that there are genuine moral facts and properties, namely objective values and they are ‘part of the fabric of the world’ as Mackie puts it. Moral realists also believe that our moral judgments are about these objective values. Expressivism argues that there are no objective values for our moral judgements to refer to. We do not even intend to refer to objective values when using moral terms because a moral judgment is...

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