Title

The Argument from Irresolvable Moral Disagreement

Date of Completion

January 2011

Keywords

Ethics|Philosophy

Degree

Ph.D.

Abstract

There are many moral disagreements that defy rational resolution. Some philosophers have thought that this shows that morality is somehow less-than-objective. In this dissertation, I will demonstrate that such arguments fail to establish one important view, viz., moral relativism. Moreover, I will argue that the explanatory challenge raised by arguments from irresolvable disagreement can be met in a way compatible with moral realism. ^ Perhaps no argument is so closely associated with moral relativism as the argument from irresolvable moral disagreement. Examples abound: Forms of the argument can be found as far back as Herodotus while virtually all contemporary defenders of the view give it a prominent place in their list of arguments for moral relativism. It is important then to assess the plausibility of not only of moral relativism but also the argument for irresolvable moral disagreement as an argument for moral relativism. I intend to do just those things by arguing for the following three claims: (1) The existence of irresolvable moral disagreements poses a serious explanatory challenge to many metaethical views. (2) Contrary to what is commonly believed by both moral realists and moral relativists, moral relativism cannot meet this explanatory challenge. Thai is, the alleged relativity of morality cannot provide a satisfactory explanation for the existence of irresolvable moral disagreements. (3) Moral realism is compatible with a satisfactory explanation for the existence of irresolvable moral disagreements. I will argue for these claims by considering the argument from irresolvable moral disagreement. While variations of this argument abound in the literature on moral relativism, its essentials can be summarized as follows. (4) There are irresolvable moral disagreements. (5) Moral relativism provides the best (and a satisfying) explanation for (4). (6) Therefore, moral relativism is probably true. I maintain that while (4) is true, (5) is doubly false: Not only does moral relativism fail to provide the best explanation of the existence of irresolvable moral disagreements, it cannot even provide a merely satisfactory explanation. Moral relativism is powerless to provide an explanation for the existence of irresolvable moral disagreements even as there is a compelling explanation compatible with moral realism.^