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Thread: Moral constructivism

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    Moral constructivism

    A while back I listened to an episode of Sean Carroll's podcast Mindscape called On Morality and Rationality. I am fascinated by moral philosophy, and if you have two hours to spare and have the slightest interest in the topic, I encourage you to listen to this episode.

    What does it mean to be a good person? To act ethically and morally in the world? In the old days we might appeal to the instructions we get from God, but a modern naturalist has to look elsewhere. Today I do a rare solo podcast, where I talk about my personal views on morality, a variety of “constructivism” according to which human beings construct their ethical stances starting from basic impulses, logical reasoning, and communicating with others.
    In his book The Big Picture, he writes a bit about it as well:

    The idea that moral guidelines are things invented by human beings based on their subjective judgments and beliefs, rather than being grounded in anything external, is known as moral constructivism. (When I say “human beings” in this context, feel free to substitute “conscious creatures.” I’m not trying to discriminate against animals, aliens, or hypothetical artificial intelligences.) Constructivism is a bit different from “relativism.” A moral relativist thinks that morality is grounded in the practices of particular cultures or individuals, and therefore cannot be judged from outside. Relativism is sometimes derided as an overly quietist stance—it doesn’t permit legitimate critique of one system by another.

    A moral constructivist, by contrast, acknowledges that morality originates in individuals and societies, but accepts that those individuals and societies will treat the resulting set of beliefs as “right,” and will judge others accordingly. Moral constructivists have no qualms about telling other people that they’re doing the wrong thing. Furthermore, the fact that morals are constructed doesn’t mean that they are arbitrary. Ethical systems are invented by human beings, but we can all have productive conversations about how they could be improved, just as we do with all sorts of things that human beings put together.
    Is "moral constructivism" something going among philosophers? I have never encountered the term before, and I am at least well-versed enough to have heard of emotivism, error theory, utilitarianism, deontology, and much of the rest. Perhaps more importantly, is it a sensible approach? Is Carroll correct?

    I suppose the main issue of meta-ethics is moral realism versus moral antirealism (or objective morality versus subjective morality), but once you dig down, there are apparently so many varieties beyond the big divide.

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    I just quickly read this wiki on constructivism. The logic behind it makes sense to me, but these days I'm becoming weary of philosophers who expound complicated theories such as this one.

    I think if you invert the theory and call it descriptive, rather than prescriptive, it acts as a pretty good indication of what actually happens in the real world, morally. It reminds me a bit of Berger's Social Construction of Reality where humans are in a continual process of creating, and re-creating cultural norms.

    At the same time moral theories written from an ivory tower don't have much relevance once Trump runs for office, or the military in Myanmar executes a coup. This is why I say I'm weary of philosophy - we get lots of academics who need to publish something, and sometimes they hit on a topic accurately, but the theory has negligible value in the real world, and in the worst scenarios it actually distorts people's perception of reality.

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    Almost all of philosophy is to an extent an ivory tower activity. I don't think it is reasonable to demand that everything being done should be relevant with regards to Trump or Myanmar.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tammuz View Post
    Almost all of philosophy is to an extent an ivory tower activity. I don't think it is reasonable to demand that everything being done should be relevant with regards to Trump or Myanmar.
    It doesn't need to be relevant, but if you can't find any useful applications what's the point of devising or considering the theory? Philosophy as a discipline largely survives from it's own inertia (from when we couldn't really test reality empirically). But now that we have a more complete understanding of geography, political science, sociology, biology, we're able to measure how the world actually works, rather than pontificate about it.

    I didn't mean to poo on your thread, this is just my perspective that I thought worth adding.

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