This entry is a follow-up to The Road To Hell, insofar as it concludes with an outline of Edgar Sheffield Brightman‘s Moral Laws. Brightman, as I noted in that earlier post, is the man that the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King went to Boston University to study under for his (King’s) Ph.D. On this account alone, Brightman is one of the most singularly influential figures in American thought. So it is more than a little disturbing that he is not given a single mention (to say nothing of an article) in either of the main online encyclopedia’s of philosophy. But leaving that travesty aside, I thought it might be useful to embed the outline of Brightman’s argument in a larger discussion about the nature of philosophical ethics. Specifically, how ought one teach it (note that that “ought” is itself an ethical imperative), and what ought one to teach? As usually happens, these questions are not unrelated.
In case you don’t know, the above mentioned stretch of pavement is not laid down with brick or asphalt. Rather, it is paved with “good intentions.” I “intend” to have a few words on the subject; I hope they are “good.” If our intentions are good, and we are lucky, we hope things will turn out well. After all, our intentions were in the “right” place, so what more could one ask (much less require)? But this rhetorical question brings us to the very heart of the problem: “luck” is not a method, and “hope” is not a plan. By justifying ourselves on nothing more than our intentions (and our hopes for luck, as far as they go), it is arguably the case that what we really “hope” to do (if we are lucky) is completely separate ourselves from any responsibility for the consequences of our actions. However, let us not assume that things are quite so simple in either direction. Permit me to savagely gloss a few classical ideas from moral philosophy. Continue reading
Are there such things as “objective values”? That is, are there values that have a claim to objective reality in much the same way as the laws of physics? Or are all value claims subjective, nothing more than a matter of personal taste and desire, without any special reference to what is real beyond the fact of the desire?
Caution needs to be exercised here, as the framing of the questions above pose a false dichotomy. In addition, asking about objective values is a different question from that regarding the existence of objective morality. Values can be morally neutral, whereas morals are a very definite sub-collection of values. It is possible that some values might be objectively real (chocolate is objectively yummy not because we like it, but because it is just the best thing in the world), without ever entailing (in the logical sense of formal implication at the deepest levels of meaning) that any objectively real morals exist. Conversely, there can be objectively real moral values which nevertheless offer no further implications to the full range of other values, or even to other putative moral values. The relations involved are not simple ones, and do not involve set-theoretic/mereological containments (A is a smaller part of B) nor any necessarily transitive implications (that is, A implies B, and B implies C, therefore A implies C.) Connections – insofar as they exist at all – are “thin,” and can fade with the (metaphorical) “distance” between acts of evaluations, intentions, meanings, and values themselves.