Are there moral facts? If so, are they objective? Where do they come from? Do we have reason to think – or doubt – that our immediate ethical intuitions tell us what they are?
These are the questions I discuss this week with professor Michael Huemer. The metaethical landscape can be split up as follows: realists (those who think there are objective ethical facts) and anti-realists (those who don’t). Realists, in turn, fall into two further camps: naturalists, who think objective ethical facts can be reduced to descriptive facts about the world; and ethical intuitionists, who think ethical facts (or “evaluative” facts) are of a different sort and cannot be reduced to descriptive facts. As Huemer puts it, ethical intuitionists argue that ethical facts have a different type of ontology. We go on to discuss the reasons we should trust our ethical intuitions to reveal moral facts, why ethical intuitions seem shakier than perceptual ones, and what the source of moral facts is. Finally, Huemer gives us a teaser for his upcoming book, Paradox Lost, in which he claims to solve ten famous paradoxes, including the Liar, Sorites, Newcomb’s, and the Sleeping Beauty problem.
0:57 – Metaethical landscapes: two ways to draw the map
5:24 – Reasons people dislike ethical intuitionism
9:52 – Why not doubt our ethical intuitions?
16:33 – What are moral facts?
19:25 – Is there a source of moral facts?…
Dialetheism is the view that some contradictions are true. Put another way, dialetheists claim that there are propositions that are both true and false at the same time and in the same respect.
For many people, this is plain crazy. Others find it extremely counterintuitive but will grant it because they’ve heard quantum mechanics proves it. Others still may suspect it is a desperate response to certain logical paradoxes, such as the Liar.
I wish to argue that all of this is quite beside the point. I don’t understand quantum mechanics (at all), but I would be surprised if there were really no way to account for experimental data without recourse to true contradictions. I’m (somewhat) better versed in debates about logic. I can tell you with confidence: the paradoxes have plenty of coherent solutions. Philosophers disagree primarily on the relative costs and benefits of these solutions. If dialetheism were truly incoherent and demonstrably impossible, we wouldn’t be backed into it: cheaper options than insanity are for sale.
There is a much simpler reason to be a dialetheist: despite initial appearances, it is intuitively compelling and even quite obviously true. We need no special training in physics or logic to see this.
Before getting on with the argument, a quick clarification about a misinterpretation of dialetheism that I encounter alarmingly often: dialetheism is the view that there is at least one true contradiction. It is not the view that all contradictions are true. That view is actually nuts. For example, that my name is William Nava is only true, it is not also false.…
Do we have any reason to doubt appearances? And does perception show us intermediary mental representations or real objects themselves?
Michael Huemer’s first book, Skepticism and the Veil of Perception, tackles both these questions at once. Huemer is a direct realist: he thinks that when we perceive, we’re perceiving reality directly. This contradicts the common philosophical position (“indirect realism”) that our perception is of mental objects which are images or representations of real objects to which we have no direct access. The usual challenges against direct realism involve an appeal to illusion and hallucination, though Huemer argues that these are less problematic than is often suggested. Huemer also argues that a direct realism (along with a correct general approach to epistemology) helps refute the famous skeptical arguments: the infinite regress of justification (the “Agrippan trilemma“), the “problem of the criterion“, the famous brain in the vat, and Hume’s argument against the possibility of induction.