Is there any way to settle moral disagreements?

When people disagree about moral issues, is there any rational way to resolve those disputes? Some think there are moral principles that any rational person must accept. But in “Can Moral Disputes Be Resolves?” Alex Rosenberg says there aren’t any such principles. The problem, according to Rosenberg, is that moral judgments are not true or false statements based on applying moral principles to particular circumstances. They are instead expressions of our responses to conduct. “Many people will not find this a satisfactory outcome. They will hope to show that even if moral judgments are expressions of our emotions, nevertheless at least some among these attitudes are objective, right, correct, well justified. But if we can’t find objective grounds for our emotional response to honor killing, our condemnation of it might turn out to just be cultural prejudice.”

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Cheeseburger ethics

Are professional ethicists more moral than others? Apparently not. According to Eric Schwitzgebel, many professional ethicists tend to be “cheeseburger ethicists.” A cheeseburger ethicist is someone who reasons that it is morally wrong to eat meat and nevertheless enjoys a cheeseburger because everyone else does it. “In most cases, we already know what is good. No special effort or skill is required to figure that out. Much more interesting and practical is the question of how far short of the ideal we are comfortable being.” And professional ethicists seem more or less as comfortable as everyone else in falling short of their moral ideals. So … what is the point of philosophical reflection about how we ought to live? “Genuine philosophical thinking critiques its prior strictures, including even the assumption that we ought to be morally good. It damages almost as often as it aids, is free, wild and unpredictable, always breaks its harness. It will take you somewhere, up, down, sideways – you can’t know in advance. But you are responsible for trying to go in the right direction with it, and also for your failure when you don’t get there.”

Providence or atoms … fate or chance? Not necessarily providence!

Is your life driven by a fate governed by a wise and just providence? Or are you and everything else simply the chance movement of atoms? Unlike Chris Fisher who claims modern Stoicism requires a belief in providence, Donald Robertson claims you can be a modern Stoic even if you are an atheist or agnostic. One common interpretation of the choice between providence and atoms offered by Marcus Aurelius “is that he is reminding himself that whether a creator God exists, or whether the universe is simply ordered by blind chance, in either case the practical (ethical) principles of Stoicism should still be followed.” For example, “whether the universe is rule by a provident God or due to the random collision of atoms, either way it makes no sense to blame others for our actions.”

Providence or atoms … fate or chance? Providence!

Is your life driven by a fate governed by a wise and just providence? Or are you and everything else simply the chance movement of atoms? In a defense of the Stoic worldview, Christopher Fisher says your psychological well-being may depend on how you answer these questions. “The chasm between the providentially ordered cosmos of the Stoics and the random atomic universe of the Epicureans was deep and wide, and it could not be bridged. Thus, as Marcus asserts, one must make a choice between them—either providence or atoms. … [W]e can choose to follow the cart of fate willingly, with gratitude for the life we have been given. We can take control of what is ‘up to us’ and leave the rest to providence. Or, we can continue to get dragged through life yelping all the way. The choice is ours and the choice is critically important to our psychological well-being.”

Empathy … it’s your choice

Some think empathy is not a very good guide to moral decisions. Psychologists Daryl Cameron, Michael Inzlicht, and William A. Cunningham disagree. They think we can choose to feel empathy when we want to. “Arguments against empathy rely on an outdated view of emotion as a capricious beast that needs to yield to sober reason. Yes, there are many situations in which empathy appears to be limited in its scope, but this is not a deficiency in the emotion itself. In our view, empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be.”