**This is from guest blogger Erik V.**
In J.L. Mackie’s essay The Subjectivity of Values, Mackie claims that "if there were objective values, then they would be of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe" (Ethical Theory, 2007, 31). This is the basis from which Mackie constructs his argument from queerness. Mackie believes that if objective values exist, they would possess such weird and bizarre properties that they would be like nothing else commonly discussed. Furthermore, how we go about coming to know about these objective values would be even stranger, because, according to Mackie, we seem to have no good capacity for understanding them.
The crux of the argument from queerness can be seen in this passage from The Subjectivity of Values:
How we can be aware of this authoritative prescriptivity, of the truth of these distinctively ethical premises or of the cogency of this distinctively ethical pattern of reasoning, none of our ordinary accounts of sensory perception or introspection or the framing and confirming of explanatory hypotheses or inference or logical construction or conceptual analysis, or any combination of these, will provide a satisfactory answer; a ‘special sort of intuition’ is a lame answer (Ethical Theory, 2007, 32).
I believe Mackie is trying to support the argument from queerness by a arguing in a reductio ad absurdum style against the view that there are objective values. How I interpret his argument is something like this:
(1) If objective moral values exist, then they can be obtained through sensory perception, introspection, framing and confirming explanatory hypotheses, etc.
(2) Sensory perception, introspection, framing and confirming explanatory hypotheses, etc. cannot be used to obtain objective moral values.
(3) If regular human faculties cannot be used to obtain objective moral knowledge, then humans must possess a special intuition about objective moral knowledge.
(4) Having a special intuition about objective moral knowledge has no real basis in anything.
(5) Therefore, we know nothing about morality.
If this is how Mackie intended to frame the argument, I do not completely buy premise (4). I do agree that having a special intuition about morality is a ‘lame’ answer, but I think it has some plausibility. We use intuition all the time. We usually don’t justify an entire claim on a gut feeling, but intuitions act as a starting point for justification in a belief. I’m going to try and justify this in a very convoluted example.
Let’s say I have a really big box and a really small box made of the same material. I push the big box very slowly towards a wall until it hits, then I push the small box incredibly fast towards the same wall until it hits. I then ask you which box hit the wall with more force. Some people might say the big box, some might say the small box. Assuming they have no knowledge about physics, their answer is solely based on intuition. If they then find out that force equals mass times acceleration and find appropriate masses and accelerations of the boxes, they can then go about using mental faculties to justify or disprove their intuition. The point of this example is to try and demonstrate that intuition is a starting point for knowledge, whether the intuition was true or false, and how higher-level mental faculties can be used to justify the intuition. I believe the same type of intuition used in this example can be extended to morality, given an objective view of morality.
I also have a gripe with Mackie's reliance on claims about the strangeness of objective values. Simply because something seems out of the ordinary does not necessarily mean associating with it is futile. At any given point in time, any facet of anything can seem strange to someone. Evolution seems ludicrous to some people, but that doesn’t invalidate the theory. Similarly, objective values may not appeal to Mackie because of their inherit strangeness to him, but that is not enough to convince others. It’s a very subjective view of objectivity.