Skepticism about Objective Truth in Morality

Skepticism about Objective Truth in Morality

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QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION: Is there any significant difference between a disagreement that you might have with someone about whether smooth jazz is good music, and one about whether a life that is self-centered and materialistic is a good life? If so, what makes them different? If not, what makes them so similar?

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Skeptical Attitudes Toward Knowledge – From a variety of cultural and philosophical perspectives, there have always been questions about whether and how we know anything of importance. To think that we don’t know certain kinds of truths that people think we know is called “skepticism” (or, sometimes spelled “scepticism”). Even Socrates began his mission in Athens this way by questioning whether the so-called experts about virtue actually knew anything they thought they knew.
(A) Skepticism is often used as a starting point, in order to rethink and re-theorize what people think they know. That’s a form of skepticism that is a means to an end, the end goal being a reconstruction what we know. So, you can start out as a skeptic in order to end up, ultimately, claiming that we actually do or can have knowledge – it’s just that we had to rethink what we thought we knew.
(B) There’s a more extreme form of skepticism that regards itself as the conclusion of certain arguments about the inability and limitations of humans to know anything for certain or at all. So, you might think you have powerful enough arguments to support very strong and enduring doubts about claims to know certain kinds of things, for example, about the ultimate nature of reality – about how things really are beyond the way they appear to us. Phrases like “metaphysics,” “ultimate reality,” or “things in themselves” are meant to refer to such things. In brief, the key question of the skeptic about such things is “How in the world could we ever get beyond the way things appear or seem to us and have access to the things that could never appear to us?”

Skepticism about Moral or Ethical Knowledge
(C) In addition, there is a form of skepticism that is aimed specifically at knowledge of moral or ethical truths about what kinds of actions or life are good, right, happy, wrong, evil, virtuous, etc. Generally, moral or ethical skepticism is less about the inability of humans to know such truths than about whether there actually are any such truths.
Moral or ethical opinions can seem like the sorts of thing that have little to do with objective truths about the world, much like opinions or judgments of taste. Think of the opinion that a life of reason and moderation is the best life for a person. Is that a judgment that tracks an objective truth about humans? Or is it merely a judgment of taste? Perhaps some people prefer a reckless, risky life full of intense pleasure as well as some pain, even if it ends up being a short life. If we are tempted to think that either kind of life might be just fine depending on what a person ultimately wants from life, then we are on the road to skeptical questioning about whether there’s an objective truth about the best human life.
With each of the skeptics assigned in your readings, it is worth trying to identify the kind of skepticism, from among A, B, and C, for which he or she is arguing.

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