Tolerance and Subjectivism

28 September 2006 at 11:46 am 3 comments

| David Gordon |

Many people argue that because all value judgments are subjective, we shouldn’t impose our preferences on other people. Someone, e.g., who thinks that abortion is morally wrong should not try to prevent those who disagree with this view from having abortions. This argument strikes me as incoherent. The incoherence emerges clearly if we restate the argument in this way: Because all value judgments are subjective, here is a value judgment that isn’t subjective, namely, the value judgment that we shouldn’t impose our preferences on other people.

A defender of the argument might respond that he isn’t claiming that it is objectively true that we shouldn’t impose our preferences on others: he is rather stating, as a value judgment of his own, the view that we shouldn’t impose our preferences on others. A consequence of this way of taking the conclusion of the argument is that we shouldn’t impose this preference on others either. We shouldn’t forcibly interefere with those who are attempting to impose their value judgments on others, because to do this is to impose our value judgment, namely that one shouldn’t do such things, on them. But this is only a consequence of this subjectivist response that is probably unwelcome, not a refutation of it.

A better reply to the defender of the argument is that it misconstrues the original argument. That argument claimed that because of a certain fact, namely that value judgments are subjective, a certain consequence followed: we shouldn’t impose our value judgments on others. If the argument is correct, the conclusion is not a mere subjective preference, but an implication of the alleged fact that value judgments are subjective. (The claim that value judgments are subjective is not itself a value judgment, but a claim about value judgments.) But the conclusion, although not a mere subjective preference, is a value judgment: it tells us something we ought not to do. Thus, if the argument is valid, the initial premise, all value judgments are subjective, is false.

Entry filed under: Former Guest Bloggers, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science.

Lachmann Paper New Journal: Regulation and Governance

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Yuriy  |  13 October 2006 at 3:04 pm


    would you be so kind to recomment any philisophical or logical book (in English) treating correctly the logic of value judgements or normative sentences (for beginners or/and for philisophically trained readers)?

  • 2. David Gordon  |  16 October 2006 at 9:38 pm

    J.N. Findlay, Values and Intentions, is a very good book on this topic.

  • 3. Yuriy  |  19 October 2006 at 3:45 pm

    Thank you!

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