Moral Subjectivism Defeated
Moral subjectivism claims that what we think of as moral values reduce to moral beliefs: things are wrong because we believe they are wrong. It is not that we have moral beliefs because of moral facts, which may be cited to justify the belief; rather, the so-called moral facts are just our moral beliefs. To say that murder is wrong is to say that we believe it is wrong. In the case of a solitary individual the values he accepts are simply what his value beliefs happen to be. There cannot be any divergence between moral facts and moral beliefs, since moral facts are moral beliefs. But this position faces the following question: how does the moral agent set about justifying his moral beliefs? If you ask a moral objectivist what justifies his moral beliefs, he will answer by citing a moral fact—say, that murder is wrong. But if you ask a subjectivist the same question, he has no resource other than to say that believes a moral proposition. He believes it because…he believes it. But that is no justification: a belief cannot be justified by itself. It must appeal to something other than itself as justification—it can’t be its own reason. So a consistent subjectivist has to abandon moral beliefs, perhaps leaving only “gut feelings” that don’t call for justification. This doesn’t imply that objectivism is true, only that it must be taken as true even by an avowed subjectivist—unless moral beliefs are abandoned. Moral belief logically requires commitment to moral objectivism, i.e. the denial that values reduce to beliefs. There must be more to morality than moral beliefs on pain of excluding justification for those beliefs, and hence abandoning the beliefs. Don’t say the beliefs are basic and require no justification, because subjectivism implies that they do have a justification—themselves. But beliefs can never justify themselves: it is never a justification for a belief to report that one has the belief. The justification must be something logically separate and not identical to the belief itself. Thus moral subjectivism is self-defeating.