To believe that moral judgments are true for particular individuals could take two approaches:
A judgment is true for a person who subscribes to moral relativism, if that judgement conforms to the majority view of their society.
Or, for a person who believes in moral subjectivism, their moral judgment will always be true as long at it is their belief. Critiquing the subjectivist’s view, Barcalow argues that to believe in moral subjectivism is to have no real moral beliefs at all. For example, if the subjectivist believes it is right to do X, but that is only true for them and for no one else, then the subjectivist’s belief has no authority beyond them. Since this belief holds no value anywhere else, it is internally contradictory to say it is a moral belief at all.
Barcalow is also critical of the subjectivist’s view that moral beliefs are based on feelings. If this were true the subjectivist would argue their beliefs couldn’t be assessed as being reasonable or unreasonable. So rational assessment of moral beliefs would not be possible. Barcalow disputes this assumption saying beliefs can also be taught or inherited from our families, friends etc. as well as come from our experiences. So if the basic foundation of a particular belief is incorrect, like where it is based on incorrect facts, then it is possible to assess the basis of our feelings and come to the conclusion that such a feeing is unreasonable.
Question 2. What reasons does Hume give for his view that ‘sentiment’ not reason is the basis of morality?
Hume believes that sentiment (emotions) and not reason is the basis of morality because reason alone is incapable of determining right from wrong. Hume states that sentiments are a type of impression, which we learn from experience. It is these sentiments that give us the impulse for our actions; the basis for our moral judgements. So when we sense an object will give us pain or pleasure, implied in that understanding is the “emotion of aversion or propensity.”1 The emotion creates in us the feelings of approval or disapproval which leads us to action; to avoid the object or embrace it. Since the emotion leads us to act it also allows us to determine if an action is right or wrong. It is thus sentiment that allows us to make value judgments on what ought to be.
Reason, on the other hand, can only help us understand the relations between ideas as we perceive them in reality. Reason does not produce the impulse for our actions but allows us to discover why we act the way we do. It helps us discern what is. If reason does not produce the impulse for our actions then we cannot use reason to discern whether our actions are good or bad, or whether we should pursue or avoid particular actions. Since reason is not the motivator of our actions then it cannot be the basis of morality.
Hume also argues that there is a clear distinction between what is and what ought to be as he sees them as different in kind and not just alternatives. So to use what is, to justify what ought to be is a fallacious argument. What reason can do is help us discover truth or falsehood. Therefore reason can inform us when we are mistaken in our belief that the object would cause pleasure or pain.
Question 3. Why, according to Kant, is it morally wrong to make a false promise?
Kant believes that duty is central to why an act may be morally right or wrong, and can be discovered by reason, without any prior knowledge or experience. Furthermore, a duty will be morally valid if it is good in its own sake and not because it was done for good reasons or because we have good inclinations. Such a duty can be labelled a categorical imperative; the duty represents an obligation to act in a particular way on every occasion, without exceptions. Based on these assumptions, it would be morally wrong to