The Universe Knows Right from Wrong

Most of us, most of the time, think and act as though there are facts about good and bad, right and wrong. We think the predatory behavior of Jeffrey Epstein was abhorrent, and that the political actions of Mahatma Gandhi were admirable. Moreover, we don’t generally take these facts to be mere records of our subjective preferences or of cultural norms. I happen to like watching Doctor Who, but if that’s not your cup of tea, that’s fine with me. But if you think Epstein’s behavior was pretty cool, I’m going to think there’s something objectively wrong with your preferences. And to the extent that our society has become more opposed to violence and oppression in certain respects, we tend to think that this not just a change in our norms but a change to better norms.

Some philosophers deny that there can be facts about values. I used to be one of them. But I’ve come to appreciate how claims about objective value infiltrate every aspect of rational thought and action, and because of this I no longer consider the denial of objective value to be a rationally sustainable position.

HEAVEN AND EARTH: The philosophical debate about the nature of morality, dating back to ancient Greece, is reflected in Raphael’s fresco, The School of Athens. Plato, pointing heavenward, saw goodness as an entity beyond space and time. Aristotle, his palm facing down, grounded moral value in the essential nature of organisms.serato / Shutterstock

Consider the value claims from the University of Groningen, cannot consistently believe their own view. As Streumer concedes, if he believed his own view, he would believe that there are such things as good and bad reasons for belief, which is exactly what his view denies. In other words, the very engagement with rational argument and evidence presupposes facts about value.

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