Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Anethicism and Moral Nihilism

Anethicism is the view that morality does not exist. Beliefs about morality exist, but all of those beliefs are false – at least those beliefs that treat morality itself as existing.

Moral nihilism is a similar view – if not another word for the same thing – in that it holds that nothing is moral or immoral. Again, it is because morality and immorality are fictions.

I am currently reading through an anthology of articles discussing the works of J.L. Mackie: A World Without Value: Essays on J.L. Mackie’s Moral Error Theory.

John Burgess wrote the first article in this book, “Against Ethics”, at about the same time that Mackie published his book Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong – near 1977. Because Mackie beat him to the press, Burgess did not publish his article, but it had been informally circulating for 30 years.

Charles Pigden wrote his article, “Nihilism, Nietzsche, and the Doppelganger Problem,” in defense of moral nihilism and begins with, “Let me start with two claims: (1) I am a moral nihilist, (2) so was Nietzsche.”

Technically, on their account, I would be an anethicist and a moral nihilist – on their definitions of the terms. That is, if we take morality to be about intrinsically prescriptive properties, I hold that morality does not exist, since intrinsically prescriptive properties do not exist.

However, I reject their terms. I accuse Burgess and Pigden of inventing a private language. Shared by a very small percentage of the population. Within that private language, their claims might be true. However, if we were to speak common English – the English of the common person.

When the vast majority of the speakers when they deny the existence of morality mean by it, “uninhibited murder, rape, and theft,” and they communicate accurately with the vast majority of the people who hear the term, then it is a mistake to say that they all fail to understand the meaning of the term – that denying the existence of morality does not in any way imply uninhibited murder, rape, and theft when almost everybody (who is not an academic philosopher) knows that this is exactly what it means.

People may have a working theory that says that the reason rape, murder, and theft should be inhibited is because it has an intrinsic “ought to be inhibitedness” built into it. However, this does not imply that they have built this theory into the meaning of their terms. People may have a working theory that the tides are caused to rise and fall because of the will of Poseidon, yet this does not imply that they have built “by the will of Poseidon” into the meaning of the term “tide”.

Or even if they have built it into the meaning of the term ‘tide’ that it plays such a crucial role that it they find it necessary to drop the term ‘tide’ simply because they come to suspect that its rise and fall has more to do with the moon than with Poseidon.

Ultimately, I suspect that people realize that the reasons for inhibiting murder, rape, and theft has something to do with what they imagine a society to be like that had uninhibited murder, rape, and theft. Their dislike – their absolute terror – over the thought of living in such a society rests at the heart of their objection to any “anethicist” or “moral nihilist” philosophy.

So, even though I qualify as an anethicist and a moral nihilist given the ways in which Pigden and Burgess use their terms, I actually count myself as a moral realist. This is because I am an inhibited murder, rape, and theft realist. Inhibitions against these types of actions can exist, and people have many and strong reasons to make sure they do exist.

Eliminating these inhibitions would be nonsense.

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