Mackie Essay Research Paper

Mackie Essay, Research Paper

“But it is not the mere occurrence of disagreements that tells against the objectivity of values. Disagreements on questions in history or biology or cosmology does not show that there are no objective issues in these fields for investigators to disagree about. But such scientific disagreement results from speculative inferences or explanatory hypotheses based on inadequate evidence, and it is hardly plausible to interpret moral disagreement in the same way. Disagreement about moral codes seems to reflect people’s adherence to and participation in different ways of life. The causal connection seems to be mainly that way around: it is that people approve of monogamy because they participate in a monogamous way of life rather than that they participate in a monogamous way of life because they approve of monogamy.”

Furthermore, individual perception of the world by people precludes the possibility of an all-encompassing universal code of ethics. As has been argued by J.L. Mackie, we “project ethical properties onto the world.” In other words, we see things as having ethical properties when in fact (empirically proven) they do not. Based on this, we can say that a conscious person will project what he interprets based on what he thinks he “saw;” because each person will manifest a different perception, then will necessarily project differing ethical properties.

Philosophers generally hold that moral theory includes two components: theories of the good and theories of the right. Theories of the good attempt to understand just what it is that constitutes goodness or badness while theories of the right deal with what constitutes right behavior and, in particular, how individuals or groups should behave with respect to the good. A complete moral theory requires both, but a given theory of the good could be coupled with any one of several theories of the right to produce some particular variant of ethical theory. Consequentialist and nonconsequentialist theories are theories of the right. “Consequentialism is the view that whatever values an individual or institutional agent adopts, the proper response to those values is to promote them.” Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory that includes defining the good as utility and suggesting that this good should be maximized. Goodin notes that utilitarianism as originally explicated by Bentham aimed to provide guidance on collective choices and public policies and argues that it is in these areas that this form of consequentialism still seems to make the most sense.

This theory of the right requires that individuals not violate deontological constraints regardless of the consequences. Nagel suggests that these constraints might include such items as a version of Kant’s categorical imperative (”restrictions against imposing certain sacrifices on someone simply as a means to an end”), classic virtues translated into injunctions not to lie, betray, break promises, or cause harm, and requirements that certain rights be respected. The word deontology has its root in the Greek word for duty, suggesting that deontological constraints can be seen as duties or obligations. These duties can often be translated into the language of rights. A duty not to cause harm to others provides a basis for claims to have a right not to be harmed.

For many, the terms deontological, nonconsequentialist, and rights-based are used more or less interchangeably. Dasgupta, Ellis, Sen, and Thompson, Matthews, and van Ravensway, for example, all set up contrasts between consequentialist and rights-based theories. Although the connection between nonconsequentialist and rights-based ethical approaches seems common, there may be some disadvantage to treating them as exactly equivalent. Nagel and others argue that deontological constraints are only violated by intentional actions. Thus, a duty not to harm others would not be violated if one causes harm accidentally or unintentionally. But if the duty not to cause harm corresponds to a right not to be harmed, the right would be violated regardless of the intent of the violator.


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