**This is from guest blogger Chelsea R.**
In his piece “The Subjectivity of Values” J. L. Mackie firmly states, “There are no objective values.” Mackie believes there are no absolute, objective, universal moral truths and he argues in favor of moral skepticism, which is the view that we cannot have knowledge about morality.
It seems to me that Mackie's view and emotivism are fairly similar. However, his view is different because he does not say that moral judgments are meaningless. Rather, he says that they are a failed attempt at describing reality. Mackie considers moral judgments to be truth apt (unlike emotivism), but thinks that all moral judgments are false. His view is called error theory because he thought that we are always in error whenever we make a moral judgment.
Mackie first attacks objective morality in his piece in the section entitled “The Argument from Relativity.” He first brings up differences in morals based upon culture. He says that morals are best understood on a relative level. Rather than one culture being correct and the others misinterpreting the moral principal, each culture receives their morals from their different ways of life. “Disagreement about moral codes seems to reflect people’s adherence to and participation in different ways of life.” (Ethical Theory, 2013, 27) One culture is not more moral than another, and one culture is not considered right over another. This almost mimics moral relativism, where what is morally good/bad is determined by what a person or culture deems good/bad. However, Mackie goes on to say that such moral disagreement violates his criterion for objective values. By pointing out vast moral discrepancies between cultures, Mackie tries to render the idea that a pre-set, universal, moral code is a farfetched idea. When one culture believes doing ‘x’ is right solely because the action is right, while another culture is neutral to ‘x’, moral principle ‘x’ is not capable of sparking action in every person solely on its intrinsic rightfulness. This logic is meant to make an objective value seem impossible.
I find Mackie’s arguments regarding cultural moral subjectivity to be rather unconvincing. For a Moral Objectivist, this entire argument can be ended swiftly. It can be the case that some cultures have adopted a moral code that clearly violates most ideas of morality. A moral objectivist would simply say that this culture is wrong and the moral principles that they’re violating are part of a pre-set universal truth. This claim from an objectivist would circumvent Mackie’s argument.
There some cultures that have normalized heinous acts like forced female genital mutilation, intense animal cruelty, and things of that nature. Mackie’s definition of an objective value is that the value must be the cause of an action solely for the intrinsic rightness of the action. Even if some people do not find these types of actions wrong, there are people do find them wrong and that will take action solely because it is right. His all-or-nothing approach in his definition of what an objective value is completely illegitimate because there is not one conceivable moral truth that will get a 100% pass rate. A non-moral example is the question, “Is there life on other planets?” This question is a proposition with truth-aptness; it has a clear yes or no answer. Just because people might disagree over the answer does not make the question false. Disagreements do not mean that there in an inherent lack of truth.