In this paper, I wish to critically evaluate the views of Allan Gibbard related to morality and objectivity, found in his essay 'Moral Judgment and the Acceptance of Norms', and his book 'Wise Choices, Apt Feelings'. In these readings, Gibbard tackles many issues, but I wish to remain focused on questions concerning reasons for action, and how we can find objectivity within moral language and thought even though there are no actual definable or physical properties of rationality. One of his main goals is to recapture objectivity within the framework of morality without appealing to non-natural theories of Intuitionism or Platonism. Throughout this paper, I will outline how Gibbard believes we use moral language based on what we call rationality, and his theories for returning its objectivity. I will also assess whether or not he is successful in capturing the kind of objectivity that we feel is really built into moral language and moral thought.
When we call something rational, we are referring to what it makes sense to do or believe. But there is no property of rationality (which makes Gibbard a noncognitivist), and Gibbard only wishes to define how we use the word rationality, not rationality itself. When we call something rational, we endorse it. We label many human characteristics as either rational or irrational, for example, we can be angry both rationally (at someone who wronged you) and irrationally (at someone who does not deserve it). When we call something rational, we are not simply expressing our acceptance of that thing; we are expressing our acceptance of norms that permit that thing.
[...] Gibbard wants to unmistakably oppose this view, maintaining that nothing in the universe or our picture of it “requires these non-natural facts or powers of sensory apprehension.” These theories seem appealing, however, because they fulfill our desire to have definite objectivity within the realm of morality through this direct access of right and wrong. It is Gibbard's goal to give as much objectivity as possible to the claim of rationality and morality, without slipping into intuitionism or Platonism. There is quite a bit of objectivity available to Gibbard short of the strange Platonism theory. [...]
[...] As for the norms I accept, not beat your children,” put yourself before others,” and turn in papers on time” seem to all fit the bill for what I call rationality. But since rationality can't be defined by anything other than norms we accept, it loses the real sense of the term. If someone else accepts differing norms from me, it seems that all I can do is call that person “irrational,” while they call me the same. Rationality means very little to me when it only refers to our norm acceptance, and there is nothing governing our acceptance of norms, other than “what makes sense.” I feel that Gibbard's objectivity fails to do any of the things real objectivity is most desired for, such as giving us certainty, and stating something's existence outside of our perception. [...]
[...] This is not a choice, and each lower order norm would be valid from each standpoint, depending on the circumstances. What about when we feel committed to something as an ideal? That is certainly not like accepting a higher order norm, or the same as being a requirement of what we call rationality, but it is more than just a taste. If I embrace the ideal of being a winner, I care very strongly about winning, but not only that, I also want myself to care strongly about winning. [...]
[...] The sort of objectivity he captures in his theory is a secondary objectivity, removed from morality and placed into a model only meant to organize our assessment of morality. Gibbard seems to want us to believe in and search for what is rational as if there were truth value to be found in moral thought and language. should we act as if we could peer into such a realm if we genuinely think no such realm exists?” It does seem somewhat suspicious that Gibbard would leave his theory so open, with no real method to discovering which norms to accept, even though he is only analyzing our usage of words. [...]
[...] On a subjectivist analysis of rationality, when someone calls something rational they would only be reporting a state of mind in respect to that thing. We give expressive acceptance of norms, as opposed to cognitive acceptance (like objectivism or Platonism), but these norms Gibbard endorses then go on to permit or forbid actions. To view something as rational, we must first accept norms that permit it. But every norm has its own scope depending on its use. I think most would agree that the norm not beat your children” applies to everyone, even those who do not accept the norm. [...]
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