Is Morality a Matter of Taste?

7. Problem of Taste for Subjectivists

Book cover: I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek

In this final section, I want to get back to this notion that ethics is a matter of taste. A subjectivist could dig their heels in and reject all that I have said about this central objective dimension in ethical reasoning. They could push back and say that the requirement for impartiality is just another personal preference expressed in the argy-bargy of moral disputation.

If they do this, I think they have a problem with demarcating moral preferences from non-moral preferences. On their view, my saying 'that hat looks good' seems on par with my saying 'that charitable foundation seems good'. The subjectivist could respond that morality necessarily has to do with how we treat each other; our interpersonal behaviour. And my liking that hat involves no-one but myself.

In the end, I think that response won't do. Sure, my liking that hat is not about how I treat others. However, there are many counterexamples. Whether my friend should date Joan or June is just as much about how he treats them as whether he should donate to Joan or June's charity. And yet the former we regard as a prudential decision while the latter we regard as a moral decision.

So, I think the subjectivists' appeal to human interpersonal behaviour as that which separates moral from non-moral judgments is not up to the job. Or, at least, not on its own. In conclusion, I think my approach solves the problem of demarcating judgments of taste from moral valuations by identifying two necessary requirements for a judgment to be a moral judgment:

  1. sociality       The judgment must be about how we treat each other.
                         And here I agree with the subjectivists.
  2. impartiality   The judgment must not be self-serving or parochial.

For a judgment to be a moral judgment, then, it must exhibit both of these features of moral discourse.

Copyright © 2017

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