Hume and Harmans Arguments for Moral Subjectivism

Hume and Harman’s Arguments for Moral ivism Hume and Harman’s Arguments for Moral ivism Introduction David Hume and Gilbert Harman are some of the most famous philosophical advocates of moral subjectivism. Both Hume and Harman give their account of the foundation and role of morality in people’s daily lives (Rachels, 1993). Their views have attracted the attention of modern moral philosophers who are following the footsteps towards giving their naturalistic account of the moral practice. However, there has been growing confusion as to whether Hume is a subjectivist or a moral realist (Rachels, 1993). Some argue that Hume is a moral realist while others see him as a subjectivist. The same confusion applies to Harman whom some consider a subjectivist while others view him as a moral realist. This paper seeks to evaluate Hume and Harman’s arguments for moral subjectivism. To begin with, moral subjectivism, according to Rachels (1993), is the perception that there is nothing like the objective moral truths, that morality is merely a set of values derived from everyone’s subjective feelings, and that people should act accordingly. According to moral subjectivism, morality is pegged on feelings (Rachels, 1993). It also acknowledged that people have different feelings about morality and that there is no objectively true or false way to feel since true feelings are always true. Further, moral subjectivism holds that objective moral values do not exist. Hume, one of the most popular ethical philosopher argue in favor of moral subjectivism claiming that moral values come from an individual’s feelings, but not from the reasoning an individual. According to Hume, moral values are very strong within an individual that they can influence an individual’s actions. This view means that moral values strongly dictate how an individual behaves. Hume also supports the moral subjectivism sentiments noting that only feelings are capable of influencing an individual’s actions, but not reason. In this regard, Hume suggests that moral values are not based on reasons, but by feelings of an individual (Baillie, 2000). In proving his claims, Hume takes the moral sentiments of people in society as qualities and actions of character that are publicly useful. According to Hume, almost all moral judgments involve concerns of public utility of mental qualities or actions. By making such an argument, Hume suggests that whenever we see people or actions that appear to increase or decrease public utility, we have the equivalent sentiment of either misery or happiness of humankind. This implies that actions such as benevolence and justice, which increases public utility and a feeling of happiness and approval, are considered virtuous. On the other hand, Hume argues that actions that decrease in public utility, such as infidelity and injustice lead to feeling of disapproval and discomfort, therefore, vicious (Baillie, 2000). Gilbert Harman is also another prominent ethical philosopher born in 1938. His philosophy is mainly based on the argument for moral relativism. Harman supports his argument for moral relativity claiming that some moral judgments are appropriate and meaningful only in relation to a set of understanding that, the individual making the judgment shares with the agent, or audience in the same way the statement about the size of an object makes sense only when compared to something else. Harman terms this moral judgment inner moral judgment (Harman, 1975, p.14). Harman based his argument for moral relativism on three principal assumptions. According to Harman’s first assumption, a moral demand is applicable to an individual only when it is rational of the person to accept the demand. This assumption implies that an individual can have a reason of doing something only when he or she has reasoned his or her own way of doing it. As a result, in case an individual always have reason of complying with any moral demand applicable to society, then such moral demands are applicable to society if people can have reasoned their own way towards adhering with them (Harman, 1975). Harman’s second assumption in argument for moral relativism is based on the claim that it can be rational for different people to accept different demands all the way down. The last assumption is based on Harman’s claim that different moral demands can possibly apply to different persons all the way down. Apart from his argument in defense of moral relativism, Harman also argued in favor of subjectivism when he claimed that there is always a fundamental difference between science and ethics. Despite the fact that ethics involves reasoning and observation, Harman suggests that people need to invoke physical facts in explaining scientific observations. At the same time, he thinks that people do not need to invoke ethical facts in order to explain ethical observations. He concludes by asserting that society needs to reject the notion that there is ethical truth (Harman, 1975). Conclusion Both Hume and Harman give a clear account of the plausibility of moral subjectivism. Their views of the subject matter help in understanding the role and foundation of morality in daily lives. References Baillie, J. (2000). Hume on Morality. London: Routledge. Harman G. (1975). Moral Relativism Defended: The Philosophical Review, Vol. 84, No. 1. Duke University Press. Rachels, J. (1993). Subjectivism. A companion to ethics. Ed. P. Singer. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 432-441.