ethical subjectivism

Bertrand Russell : The Ethics of War

This essay, which was written exactly a century ago in 1915, with the First World War in full swing, asks the question whether war is ever justified, and if so under what circumstances. Knowing that Bertrand Russell’s pacifism had cost him six months in Brixton Prison in 1918, I didn’t expect any surprises here – but in that I was much mistaken. He makes it plain from the start that he does not consider the current war justified, but neither does he take “the extreme Tolstoyan view that war is under all circumstances a crime”. He is a utilitarian, and considers that war is justified if it is for the good of mankind as a whole, a viewpoint which can lead to some (for me) unexpected consequences… (more…)


Sandra LaFave : Thinking Critically About the “Subjective/Objective” Distinction

Sandra LaFave is a lecturer in philosophy at the West Valley College in Saratoga, California, and this essay has obviously been written as an educational tool, i.e. it is aimed at her students (and perhaps her potential students, or philosophy students generally) rather than at fellow professional philosophers. The ‘”Subjective/Objective” Distinction’ is something in which I’ve been interested for a very long time, and about which (I’m rapidly drawing to the conclusion) I have some ideas which are unusual, perhaps radical, and (it’s just possible) maybe even slightly original, so I was very interested to read what a professional philosophy instructor had to say about it. What I was expecting from a document like this was a review of what philosophers had said on the subject through the ages, rather than her own personal opinion, but I actually got much more of the latter. Right from the start, Ms. LaFave makes it very obvious what she thinks on the subject:

The words “subjective” and ” objective” cause lots of confusion. Their misuse is responsible for subjectivism in ethics. Ethical subjectivism is the view that moral judgements are nothing but statements or expressions of personal opinion or feeling and thus that moral judgements cannot be supported or refuted by reason. Careless use of the terms “subjective” and “objective” also leads to odd views in metaphysics, e.g., the denial of material reality (idealism); and odd views in epistemology, e.g., the claim that all statements are equally warranted. In other words, if you’re careless about how you handle the concepts of subjectivity and objectivity, you can end up saying there’s no such thing as morality, reality, or truth!

What she’s really saying here is that such things as morality, reality, and truth obviously do exist, and that a philosophical viewpoint which implies otherwise must therefore be the result of confusion, carelessness and misuse of language. And I thought philosophy was about keeping an open mind and not jumping to conclusions! (more…)