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Y Trinh
Introduction to Philosophy
Reflection on Moral Skepticism
Skepticism means a skeptical attitude, doubt as to the truth of something. Moral
Skepticism is a philosophy or a paradigm of denying the existence of moral absolutism. The
central idea of moral skepticism is that moral knowledge does not exist. No one in the world has
any moral knowledge. John Leslie Mackie says that moral skepticism is often misunderstood by
two first order views, or a mixture of the two. First, a moral skeptic rejects all forms of absolute
morality. Second, a moral skeptic forms his own moral judgments. Third, a moral skeptic
incoherently mixes the two first order views by only verbally rejecting all morality while in fact
only rejecting a morality out of many. There exists, however, a second order moral view. This is
the paradigm of measuring moral and the application of morals to our world.
First, Mackie argues that all forms of absolute morality are essentially false. He argues
that people can decide whether an action conforms with morality, but they cannot claim that the
moral is absolute. Different societies have different ideas about morality. What is morally
acceptable in one society may be considered morally wrong in another. For example, many
people in Vietnam think that eating dog is not a moral issue, so dog restaurants exist legally.
They think that dogs can be eaten in the same way as pork, chicken, beef, etc. In western society,
however, dogs are friends, so it is immoral to eat them. A moral action can be right to some
people but is not accepted by others. The reason for having that difference is the environment
that people have grown up and lived in.
In another example, a society may claim that stealing is amoral. If a child asks why
stealing is wrong. One may give examples of consequences of stealing such as: being disliked,
distrusted, going to prison, etc. Those are the reasons not to steal, but the question has not been
answered. Here, the morality (“do not steal”) does not exist in people from birth. This morality is
adapted from learning. They are established by law, religion, etc. If one explains to the child that
stealing is the makings of bad character, the child may ask why that is the case. Here, one would
revert to describing the consequences of stealing. The nature of the question why logically and
intrinsically creates a cycle of attempted explanations without ever fully explaining the original
topic! Hence, the knowledge of morality is impossible. An absolute morality does not exist
because one cannot fundamentally and fully explain why the moral is absolute.
Mackie says that the first order view is insignificant to him as it does not hold true
applicability like the second order view. The second order view ignores the first order view. It
does not concern whether a moral is absolute or not, but it concerns with the value of the moral
being “right”. In other words, the second order view concerns with the measuring of how good
an action or moral is. This closely resembles the famous quote, “the end justifies the means.” For
example, lying is reputed as a bad action. If this moral is absolute, then one would argue that one
should never lie in any circumstance. A moral skeptic with first order view would argue that this
is not an absolute moral and reject it completely. A moral skeptic with the second order view,
however, would apply this moral to a spectrum of good versus bad, claiming that not all lies are
inherently immoral.