As for the two points you raise above. I think there is a tension here. On the one hand you seem to argue that ethics do not have any objective truth vlaue (a fact I entirely agree with you on - see below); on the other hand you do seem to want to claim that their subjective existence as instantiated in our behaviour is sufficient to attain our belief.
Okay, re: the bolded - I have no clue what you're trying to say that I'm saying. What I was actually
saying, is that the values we hold justify our own actions morally to ourselves. They are also what we use to judge others. We judge them according to our
values, not according to theirs
. We are justified, to ourselves, in doing so. And since we are the ones making the decisions that we actually carry out, that works just fine.
I don't actually think this is coherent. Of course we are ethical creatures and so behave in ethical ways. So we are entitled to describe actions as either ethical or non-ethical, or say egoistic or altruistic. What you do not allow for is the capacity to say this action is better than that action or that this person is good and that person is bad.
Of course I do. I alluded to this in part of my post that you left out:
You can. To be honest, you just need to include, or have it understood that you are assuming, a particular standard against which that judgment is made. Include the goal.
Good according to what standard? One's own. That is what people are always
referring to when they judge another as good. They are necessarily
referring to their own standards. And this is coherent: Against the subjective standard that one holds, something or someone or some action is objectively either good, or bad, or whatever. The idea of an objective standard of judgment is incoherent, as I understand it. Is that what you seek?
If we follow your reasoning when I say such things I am only stating my subjective preferences. This means that just as I can say "religions exist" I can say "ethics exists"; but just as the former does not entail "religions possess truth" so the latter does not entail that "ethics possess truth".
To follow the analogy, though, "X is true of Christianity"
is certainly an objective statement. Include the standard.
In other words it seems to me that you are advocating a moral relativism where any ethical judgement is equally valid (or if you prefer equally invalid).
Ahh but equally valid or invalid according to what standard of judgment
? The "objective" one? See, that doesn't exist under the relativistic paradigm in the first place. So no, pick a standard of judgment, a fleshed-out set of values, and an ethical judgment will not
be neutral with respect to that standard. To omit a standard of reference is to fail to complete one's thought in communication, to gloss over the details in favor of assumptions - usually the safe assumptions of a monoculture where the standard of judgment is shared and invisible.
My own view is that there is a middle way. Just as there are better and worse ways to perform any activity (eg playing an instrument, playing a sport) so to there may be better and worse ways to behave ethically.
"Playing an instrument" is a human-defined goal, and with respect to that goal, yes there are objectively better or worse ways to do it. But answer this: Is "playing the flute" objectively true? Yes, I meant to word it that way. Please, answer yes or no to it, if you can.
There are better or worse ways to accomplish any goal. But the goals are held subjectively. There's just no way around that part, no matter how many layers of words one uses to gloss it over and hide one's assumptions.
There is no objectively correct way to play football, but the teams that are disciplined, practice regularly, have a good esprit de corps etc.. will tend to get the best outcomes.
...with respect to the rules of football. Per what I just said above - do you view the rules of football as being objectively true? What would objectively false rules of football look like? I don't think that "true" and "false" are meaningful descriptive terms in this context. How about you?
Thus as long as we can find rational aims (see my response to screwtape on this topic - reply #26) it seems to me we can develop an ethical system which, while not being objective in the way the laws of mathematics are, is still not completely relativist.
"Rational aims". Hmm. I would challenge the coherency of that concept in the first place. I asked this of natlegend in another thread: what are the criteria for determining whether an aim, or goal, is rational or not? It was a rhetorical question, aimed to reveal that natlegend really didn't have any such criteria.
You cite "flourish as a human being" as the One True Rational Goal, above. Well, who determines what that entails? Seems entirely subjective to me, determined by one's own values in the first place. Someone who is talented at balet, but passionately hates balet, will not feel they are "flourishing" by practicing balet. Their physiology, talents, etc. may place constraints on how they can "flourish" in their areas of interest, but such qualities do not make normative claims about what those areas of interest are. Subjective, personal values do that. Flourishing is subjective, penfold.