Suppose that what makes a value judgment moral, is its intrinsic rationality. In comparison: that I should take this bus, seems (both instrumental and) a judgment which depends upon contingent facts.

And supposing that it can't be shown that nothing is intrinsically rational, then perhaps meta-ethics is fairly trivial and cannot entail moral nihilism.

Moral Nihilism = Nothing is morally wrong. Moral nihilism here is not about what is semantically or metaphysically possible. It is just a substantive, negative, existential claim that there does not exist anything that is morally wrong.

i.e. there is something that is moral. This is entirely trivial, and how could anyone object: except that this "morality" makes no sense?

So to assuage any interest in morality, I think moral discourse, whatever its status as true or false, real or unreal, subjective, objective, relative or absolute (though the impossibility of either of those would have bearing), must also be possible.


Non-cognitivism famously claims that we don't assign properties in moral judgment. But does anyone say that moral discourse is impossible?


2 Answers 2


I do not know about any philosopher who claims that moral discussion is impossible. Probably one can ascribe such a claim to a solipzist, who can have a moral discussion only with himself.

The fact that there are many moral discussions in this blog, i.e. discussions about moral decisions as well as discussions about moral and ethics itself, show that such discussions are possible.

But it is considered controversial, whether it is possible to recognize values to guide moral decisions or to give an ultimate justification for such values.

  • hi, yeah i tend to agree; i'm less interested in specific moral discourses tho
    – user6917
    Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 18:56

I find it quite difficult to make sense of your second paragraph; ie it's actual argument - you say:

And supposing that it can't be shown that nothing is intrinsically rational, then perhaps meta-ethics is fairly trivial and cannot entail moral nihilism

For rearranging this in axiomatic form (giving it the Spinozoan treatment):

axiom-a: anything of value must be intrinsically rational

axiom-b: nothing is intrinsically rational

Now, the argument goes;

  • ethics is something

    • Therefore given axiom-b, it cannot be intrinsically rational

    • Therefore given axiom-a (it's contra-positive), it cannot be of value

    • and given that ethical values are values, then ethics cannot have value.

But does this entails moral nihilism? Possibly:

For when nothing is moral, everything is permitted, ie everything is moral

Thus no distinction or judgements are made: no law, no courts, no right of appeal, no freedom of expression ... thus no governance as the expression of a social contract, or general will, or impartial spectator

But is this the reading what you were suggesting; given your conclusion in your paragraph is diametrically opposite to this one?

  • i have to reread your answer a few times but did you misread "it can't be shown that nothing is intrinsically rational" as the "it can ne shown"
    – user6917
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 8:41
  • @mathematician: possibly I'm looking too closely; it looks like Wehler has grasped the intent of question. Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 20:16

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