Vote for Your Meta-Ethic

October 10, 2009by

One of the most troublesome questions in the field of ethics is how to specify the truth conditions of evaluative assertions (technically, this is a metaethical issue). It is a fairly routine assumption in our time that when it comes to any issue of value there simply is no matter of fact about it. Hilary Putnam saw this sense of a strict dichotomy between facts and values as having “the status of a cultural institution” (see his 1981 Reason, Truth & History, ch. 6).

Of course this has not stopped people in general from having and making judgments of value in a universalist manner. I was reminded of one such judgment watching the following video posted on information aesthetics, an animated movie made up of the words from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted and proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on 10 December, 1948, this notion of human rights is presented as universally normative, ” a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” (from the Preamble).

But what exactly is it that would make true and universally valid such an evaluative assertion? Is it enough to say it is true by virtue of being intuitive or self-evident? Is it rooted somehow in the natural structure of the world? Is it an analytically undeniable aspect of pure reason? Is it revealed as true from some divine source or will, however one conceives of God? Or, is it finally ungrounded and reducible to the attitudes and orientations of a particular culture or individual?

Take a look at the movie, and submit your ‘metaethical vote’

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