Comments on “Ethical nihilism”

I think you’re strawmanning nihilism

Amos 2021-01-02

Well, this was a disappointingly short page :)

If ethical nihilism is indeed as wildly implausible as you say it is, it should be easy to disprove it in depth. As someone who is in fact a strong proponent of it, I will instead have to engage with something you wrote about in a different page that links here:

If ethics is merely cultural convention, there is no way to condemn evils such as the “honor killing” of women who have been raped.

Just because I recognize that all ethical standards are ultimately arbitrary doesn’t mean that I’m prohibited from picking an arbitrary ethical standard myself and criticizing others based on that.

This criticism is of course useless when directed at those who don’t share the same basic values I do. The most I can do if I find such folks inside my society is to get somebody to lock them up for honor killing their own daughter. Neither I nor you can actually logically prove honor killing to be objectively immoral, because any such proof rests on arbitrary ethical axioms that those doing honor killing simply don’t hold.

As arbitrary as ethical axioms may be, those who live inside any particular society often hold similar axioms to one another, so meaningful ethical dialogue can still exist.

In short, unless “ethical non-criticism” (for lack of a better term) is part of your cultural convention, nothing about cultural convention prevents you from criticizing others for not following your cultural convention. What you’re attacking isn’t a steelmanned ethical nihilism, it’s at best a weak, constricted version of it.

Here’s a challenge for you if you think anything at all about ethics is objective: prove something to be objectively immoral. Anything at all. The most heinous act you can think of. Prove that any rational entity must conclude that heinous act to be immoral.

I’ll be delighted if you could prove it. I don’t believe you can, because unless I’ve missed something, it seems to be an impossible task. And if you do, I dare say that would be good content to put on this page, instead of a simple “wildly implausible” statement that only ridicules but does nothing to actually refute the idea :)

A subjective (mis)understanding

David Chapman 2021-01-02

a disappointingly short page

It’s a placeholder, as it says…

picking an arbitrary ethical standard myself

This sounds like what I describe as “existentialism” rather than “nihilism.” It’s a subjective theory of meaning, not a rejection of all meaning.

And, it doesn’t seem at all arbitrary to me. I would guess, further, that 97.8% of the ethical judgements you make comport with that of your peers… in which case they are neither arbitrary nor personal. (I could be wrong about the 97.8% … I hope I am not.)

Here’s a challenge for you if you think anything at all about ethics is objective

You may find this page interesting. It explains why meaning is neither objective nor subjective.