Over at The Electric Agora, Daniel Kaufman posted an interesting essay on morality and objectivity (here), which carries on a debate he has been engaged in with Spencer Case. I left the argument below in the comments there, but thought I would repost it here as it does constitute something that I take to be an implication of views I hold elsewhere.
Here is an argument for a kind of realism about moral values (in what follows 'Real' with a capital-R means 'mind-independent').
First premise: realms of what you call the objective but non-Real have the following property: the rules, norms, and facts involved are what they are in virtue of acts of human deliberation and decision. There are publicly accessible facts concerning the rules of tennis, for example, but they are subject to revision by us: should a governing body, or sufficient numbers of people, decide that there are new rules, then there are new rules.
Second: in order for there to be realms whose rules/norms/facts are determined, at least in part, by human deliberation and decision, then human beings must be the kind of creatures who can deliberate, and that requires that we have a certain kind of structure, for the truly structureless cannot give rise to anything, let alone deliberation. The nature of this structure cannot be determined by acts of deliberation, for the latter depend on that structure for their existence.
Conclusion: there is structure to human beings that is Real, i.e. mind-independent. Let us assume for now that this structure is biological.
Here is a neo-Aristotelian take on all this. It is plausible to suppose that biological structure leads to objective facts about human beings, and so can determine, for many aspects of being a human, that there are some conditions or states (the virtues) that lead to flourishing and some (the vices) that diminish flourishing: some things promote health, for example, whether we like it or not (eat your vegetables). So, in reasoning about moral matters, i.e. how to live best as a human being, the realm of the Real will be a factor – not necessarily the only factor, but one nonetheless. Hence, we can conclude that moral reasoning must be at least partly Realistic.
This seems rather persuasive to me. All the same, I in fact lean toward subjectivism when it comes to most of what is contained in actually existing moral codes, which generally strike me as the attempted universalization of local, contingent, and historically conditioned preference-sets. People who argue about morality often seem to think that their own success can be attributed to the specifics of their moral or cultural or social code – which are, therefore, projected outwards – but it seems more likely that, since most systems include some people who flourish, it is something that is common to all systems that grounds well-being, and that is what contributes to flourishing given our nature. Put another way, most moral argumentation seems to be conducted without considering human nature, and so is like arguing over Einstein’s Field Equations without considering physics or math.
So I guess I would say that I lean toward *theoretical* Realism about values but, in most cases, *practical* subjectivism. This is, admittedly, a strange position (though perhaps something not too far from Plato).
Anyway, if you have any interest in formulating a response I would be interested in it, but I found your essay interesting and though-provoking regardless.