Ethics on its own can be a difficult area to navigate, due to how impassioned people become about their ethical views. A debate about ethics is hard enough to come by, but a calm and well-mannered debate about ethics can be even harder to come by. All too often, when an ethical realist engages an ethical anti-realist, insults and petty comments such as, “you’re okay with murder,” or, “you want to control people through appeals to emotion,” are thrown. Neither side truly deals with the meat of one another’s arguments. But matters are made even worse when confusion is thrown into the picture.
Many people conflate their theory of truth with their ethics, and fail to realize their doing so. In order for them to say anything about ethics, in other words, requires the validity of their theory of truth. An ethical realist needs a sort of correspondence theory of truth to then suppose some act is wrong, and an anti-realist, of which frequently makes positive claims such as “good refers to nothing,” requires an intersubjective theory of truth.
The realist requires the correspondence theory of truth so they can deem something as either good or bad; that is, when a realist supposes some act is evil because it causes harm, then whichever act they suppose can properly be deemed true; for example, when a realist says theft is bad because it causes harm, so long as those words correspond to a real-world situation where that is seemingly the case, then the statement, “theft is bad,” is true. Herein, the realist relies heavily on their theory of truth to develop an ethical view.
Much the same goes for the anti-realist. The anti-realist has to claim that words do not correspond to the world but instead are intersubjectively agreed upon. In doing so, they can then claim, “good” has no reference to the world, and so “good” is not objective; instead, “good” is just someone’s subjective view, not objective truth. Put elsewise, the anti-realist requires meaning to be inside the head, not in the world.
Both realists and anti-realists are then clearly dependent upon a theory of truth to make their claims about ethics. And that brings us to confusion.
Many realists and anti-realists often fail to take note of their dependence on a theory of truth and proceed to conflate their view of ethics with their theory of truth. Realists think they are correct because their language so aptly corresponds to the situation, and, to them, any view which adopts something different than a correspondence theory of truth is clearly absurd; hence, their belief in moral statements.
Whereas an anti-realist thinks intersubjectivism reigns victor and can thus be naively adopted in a debate on ethics; after which, nothing but confusion ensues.
To confuse ethics, then, requires us to first adopt entirely incompatible theories of truth, never discuss those theories of truth, and proceed to hurl irrelevant comments at one another. Many debates on ethics ought more properly be debates about “what is truth?”.
In philosophy, and in life more generally, we can only proceed once we have agreed upon standards of truth, evidence, and fact; until we are all on the same page regarding those matters, we are truly not even speaking with one another
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