Are There Objective Values?

comments 37

A lot of my Twitter debating time recently has been spent defending the claim that there are facts about value that hold independent of our desires. The example I always press is that there is an objective distinction between things that are worth doing (e.g. pursuing pleasure, learning, being creative) and things that are pointless (e.g. counting blades of grass, for its own sake, when you don’t enjoy it or get any further good from it). In order to set out my case and debate it a bit, I cheekily invited myself on Kane B’s YouTube channel (he has the opposing view) and we had a really good chat about it:

In hindsight, I think there’s one argument I briefly raised that I should’ve pressed more. I have two kids. Suppose the older one of them grows up to hate philosophy and love football. Now, I hate football and love philosophy. Suppose I really worry about my elder child’s preferences, even though she’s clearly very happy, and I try to talk her round, even suggest therapy to try to align her preferences to mine. I think we’d all think my behaviour would be deeply unreasonable: I’d just be imposing my personal preferences on her.

But now suppose my younger child grows up to have the basic goal of counting how many yellow cars there are in our neighbourhood every day. Suppose this really makes her really unhappy (t takes several hours) and often unwell (it’s very tiring, and she does it even when the weather is really bad), but it’s her only main freely chosen goal in life, and it’s not among her life-goals to be healthy or happy. Now in this case, if I really worry, try to talk her around, maybe suggest therapy, I think we’d think my behaviour was understandable and reasonable.

Why the difference? In both cases, the child is pursuing a freely chosen goal. The younger child is miserable and unhappy, but if there are no objective value facts, then pursuing health and happiness are just as arbitrary goals as counting yellow cars. Surely, then, my concern with the younger child should be seen as me imposing my values on her just as much as in the case of the older child? Or at least, that is what we should think if we deny the existence of objective value.

Kane claimed not only that he doesn’t believe that some goals and more worthwhile than others, but that he just doesn’t even feel the intuition. I suggest that someone who differentiates between these two cases in a normal way is implicitly committing to objective values. They are effectively committing to the idea that there’s something objectively problematic about not being concerned with your own health and happiness; it’s this implicit assumption that explains why we think concern and intervention is reasonable with the younger child but not the older. If we totally don’t feel the pull of the intuition that there are objective values, then we should be mystified by the intuition that my treatment of the younger child is somehow ‘more reasonable’. But is anyone really mystified by this?

We could put the argument like this:

  1. Anyone who would judge concern and intervention is reasonable in the case of the younger child but unreasonable in the case of the older child implicitly believes in objective values.
  2. Almost everyone would judge concern and intervention reasonable in the case of the younger child but unreasonable in the case of the older child.
  3. Almost everyone implicitly believes in objective values.

It’s a further question as to whether this belief is justified (I try to argue that it is in the video), but the case I’m trying to make here is that many people who think they don’t believe in objective values, in fact do.

Genuinely interested in hearing from value anti-realists on what they think about this case.

The Author

I am a philosopher and consciousness researcher at Durham University, UK. My research focuses on how to integrate consciousness into our scientific worldview.


  1. Alex Popescu says

    Hey Philip,

    It seems like the leap from 2 to 3 assumes the implicit premise that, in the absence of objective moral facts, any adjudication between the two cases of the young child is arbitrary. But we can easily circumvent this by adopting a levels approach.

    For example, it could be true that there is an epistemically non-arbitrary method to adjudicate the two cases of the two children, but that there is no epistemically non-arbitrary way to solve the meta-problem of which method is best in the first place. Now if you adopt a standard of justifiability wherein each moral fact at one level has to be justified in some non-arbitrary fashion at the next meta-level, then it will turn out that we are forced to be moral skeptics. Our non-arbitrary ways turned out to be arbitrary after all, in the absence of a moral meta-level foundation.

    But that’s why I was careful to add the *epistemic* qualifier. It may well be true that all moral decisions are arbitrary in the absence of objective values (because of justificatory regress), but it doesn’t thereby follow that this will be epistemically or intuitively obvious. We all ‘know’ the right answer in your scenario because our intuitions are founded on some fixed standard which seems epistemically objective. However, (according to the value anti-realists), upon further digging we discover that there is no non-arbitrary moral fact at the 7th meta-level down from the current case. We may then reason towards value anti-realism, but still plausibly retain the intuition that one case is more reasonable than the next (as in your example), since that is not based on the meta-level reasoning. It’s the same reason you can be a radical skeptic about knowledge but still intuitively feel like you know the sun will come up tomorrow.



    • What if my younger daughter doesn’t care about whether her goals stand up to some non-arbitrary epistemic criterion?

      • Alex Popescu says

        I’m not sure I understand this reply to be honest. My post was just addressed to your argument that our intuitive feelings (held by ‘almost everyone’) entail an objective morality. Since your younger daughter is clearly not ‘almost everyone’, that seems an irrelevant point. It sounds like you’re making some new argument here, but I’m failing to grasp what it might be.

      • Alex Popescu says

        *entail that almost everyone believes in an objective morality, I meant to say.

    • Alex Popescu says

      I’m saying it’s possible to be a value anti-realist while still intuitively feeling like your choice in the example of your daughter is non-arbitrary. Construct a hierarchy of value decisions, where the meta-level value justifies the value decision beneath it. It might be that the value anti-realist intuitively feels that “x is the right non-arbitrary choice”, but that when they do a deeper analysis, they discover that the 17th meta level decision is totally arbitrary. So, 16 levels down, x ends up being an arbitrary choice after all (because of justificatory regress).

      Does that mean that they will no longer retain the intuition that x is a non-arbitrary choice? Of course not. Similarly, radical skeptics who’ve reasoned towards the conclusion that we no longer have knowledge can still feel like they intuitively know the sun will rise tomorrow. The reason is that our intuitions are formed at the level of our base non-meta level decision making, whereas the reasoning towards anti-value theory might be formed through some higher meta-level decision making. Hence, people can plausibly feel like you made the right choice, even if they happen to deep down know that this was arbitrary.

      (*Technically I should have spoken in terms of mesa-levels, not meta-levels, since our foundational structure is usually conceived of as bottom-up. Oh well).

      • Alex Popescu says

        I’m denying the jump from premise 2 to premise 3. Just because someone intuitively thinks your value judgement is good and your daughter’s is bad, and that your decision to impose your judgement on her reasonable, doesn’t mean they’re committed to objective morality. Why? Because your/almost everyone’s judgement might be a base level decision. A value anti-realist might share your (intuitive) judgement with that base level decision, but still intellectually appreciate that some lower level mesa-judgement is arbitrary, and thereby renders the whole value judgement hierarchy arbitrary.

        If I can show that intuition and reasoning are about different things (different levels), then it is no problem that they happen to differ in the value anti-realist case. Meaning it’s possible for the value anti-realist to share your intuition regarding your daughter’s case. Meaning that you can’t go from premise 2 to 3.

    • 3 is not a premise but the conclusion of a logically valid argument. If 1 and 2 are true, 3 follows logically. So which are you denying: 1 or 2?

      • Alex Popescu says

        You’re right, I misread the first premise to be about intuitions, and not implicit beliefs. My bad.

        In that case, I’m denying the first premise. Just because someone possesses the intuition/feeling/judgement that your concern for your daughter is reasonable and good, doesn’t mean that they are committed to the implicit belief that morals are objective, for the reasons I already elaborated.

      • Alex Popescu says

        To be clear it’s because, “I think x is the only reasonable choice among x,y,z” means:
        “x is justified by the lower tier mesa-level value, and y and z are not”

        Whereas “I am a value anti-realist and all choices (including x) are fundamentally arbitrary” means:
        “All value choices are not justifiable at some foundational mesa-level, therefore all value decisions (including x) are arbitrary”

        We have to take into account the context to appreciate that there are differing scopes in the respective answers of the hypothetical value anti-realist. Since they are about different things, there is no contradiction. It’s the same reason that people trying to play gotcha with radical skeptics (by noting that the skeptics’ daily talk about their self-knowledge is incompatible with their core beliefs) is really just an uncharitable take.

        A much more charitable reading is that the radical skeptics and value anti-realists are just speaking contextually.

    • Alex Popescu says

      Notice also that adopting a contextualist stance is not strictly necessary to deny premise 1, since we don’t need to go as far as to say that the value anti-realist is justified in their answer to the problem of your younger daughter. It could be that they are, strictly speaking, just wrong to judge your case in that specific way, but that they are ‘speaking loosely’ as it were. Finally, this is also totally independent of whether the average person really believes in objective morality, since that fact is fully compatible with 1 being false.

      But I think the contextualist stance is the easiest way to make sense of this. In particular, once we adopt the levels hierarchy approach, we can easily see how a value nihilist might be justified in their stance while still making coherent statements about certain decisions being right, and not just an arbitrary imposition of values.

  2. Graham says

    Stupid question from a novice that is new to the subject: are objective morals different to objective values

    • Not a stupid question at all! Bit difficult to define what morality is exactly, but it’s one specific kind of value, something to do with how you should treat other people. So you could in principle agree with this post that there’s a objective distinction between things that are worth doing and things that are not worth doing, whilst thinking there’s nothing objectively wrong with Hannibal Lecter’s life goals. Does that make sense?

      • Graham says

        Yes thanks for the explanation! I imagine there is a big overlap between those that defend objective values and objective morality. Are there any counter examples of people that defend one and not the other?

      • I think once you’re committed to value, it’s not much of a a leap to get to moral value. Why is pleasure worth pursuing? Because it’s good. And if pleasure is good, then it’s good whether it’s had by you or someone else.

  3. Stephen says

    I believe that saying values are either subjective or objective is a false dichotomy. I believe they are learnt and acquired though experience and interaction and real-world problem solving. They *evolve* with our understanding and application. So different people can have different values at different times as they have learnt differently in different situations. But they share the value that they are both trying to do what is best in their circumstances. I don’t believe in complete moral relativism – torture of innocents is wrong. But we know it is wrong because we have learnt this, there was no objective truth out there that it was wrong until we learnt that through experience in a lived context. Values are empirical not abstract, experiential and lived, not laws to be revealed or logically deduced and obeyed.

    So to your argument:

    1. Anyone who agreed with your intervention has lived and learnt a similar set of values to you and would apply them in a similar way.
    2. If most people would agree with you, then this has become a widespread learnt value at this time.
    3. This is a learnt and shared value, but not objective. It doesn’t exist outside of the experienced context of application. In the future, or in other worlds, a different value may have been learnt and there would not be this current and local agreement.

  4. Values exist within a hierarchy. You can’t value counting daisies unless you first value being alive, because you can’t count daisies unless you’re alive. You can’t value counting daises unless you value spending time on that pursuit. You can’t value counting daisies over other pursuits unless the community of daisies is more valuable than, say, the community of humans. [This analysis presumes that you value consistency over inconsistency. You don’t have to, however. But the hierarchy nevertheless exists]. So for you to show that there are objective values, you have to show that there are objective ultimate values. You have to show that life is objectively better than death; that one time preference is objectively better than another; that one community (including community size) is objectively better than another, that consistency is objectively better than inconsistency. What you have are the bias towards those values that evolution has wired into your brain that favor reproduction for our particular species. For humans, evolution has also wired into our brain that we don’t have fixed values. So for everything you value, someone else will demur. Therefore, to make your case, you have to show that nature has ultimate values independently of you (because that’s what “objective” means).

  5. Aldo Cappelletti says

    Not a philosopher (nobody is perfect!) I dare not agree with your first point. Yes, my intuition is that it is reasonable to intervene in the case of your younger child but that does not imply the existence of objective values. It is reasonable because you would feel unhappy if you felt that your child was wasting his life performing something that made him unhappy. It is your subjective desire for his happiness at play here. It seems objective because it is shared by most parents. However, it is conceivable that a guru who spent twenty tears in a cave meditating would disagree with you: there is nothing wrong with counting yellow cars and being unhappy as long as he observes his unhappiness moment after moment. Having a career as a university professor and being constantly busy writing books, giving lectures etc would seem to him a far worse choice. If you admit to this possibility then those values who appear objective become relative again

  6. Hi prof. Goff. I believe that the question of objective value can be analyzed from this perspective. Each of our actions is aimed at achieving a purpose. However, not all of our actions can be defined as “moral”. What is the difference? Very often our actions are carried out for the only purpose of obtaining an advantage. It is often said “if you want to have a position in society, you have to first obtain a degree” [the scheme is that of the hypothetical judgment: “if you want B, you have to do A”, so “if A, therefore B” ].The study diploma is the object of my action to study for years at the university, however it represents only a tool in relation to the real purpose I intend to achieve: to obtain a prestigious job position. It has a symbolic value and is not important in itself, however it acquires a conventional meaning for the society in which we live. This type of action manifests a purely subjective and modal value: what I am willing to do to achieve something, may not correspond to what someone else would do in my shoes. Economic analysis studies people’s behavior from exactly this perspective.
    If Tom gets 3 apples in exchange for 2 pears, it might seem incomprehensible and irrational to us that Jerry is willing to give 7 apples in exchange for 2 pears. Yet from Jerry’s perspective, for personal reasons, this could be a good deal: Jerry has reached the status of “Pareto” . So we could imagine each of our choices as a set of alternatives between the quantity of apples and the quantity of pears to be represented on a Cartesian plane with the x and y axes. As I said, this type of action reveals, from the point of view of empirical measurability, a subjective degree of the value of the action.
    However, let’s imagine that we have, as you have defined it, a “freely chosen goal”. A maxim of our voluntary action, which tells us from the depths of our conscience: “Do good”. This imperative is different from that which requires us to do something with a view to achieving a purpose. When we act with good will, doing good, without thinking of getting something in return, the good deed does not need to realize a positive fact outside of itself, because it is in itself something good. In fact, we feel good because, regardless of the result that our actions have produced, we have acted according to what we believe is right to do.Thus the action itself freely reflects the purpose it intends to achieve. In this sense, I agree with you that there is an objective measure of the value of our actions.
    By the way, the Scholastic philosophy in the Middle Ages distinguished two types of actions: the “transiens action” and the “immanens action”. The first can be recognized by the fact that the object is out of the action: if I cut a tree, I get wood, so I transformed the starting object. The immanens action, on the other hand, is distinguished by the fact that it is turned inside oneself: if I think and I realize it, the act with which I become conscious is inside the thought. I believe that the imperative to do good can be traced back to this second type of action.

  7. Rachel Lichtenwalter - Uber Wensch says

    Subjective humans cannot know or experience objective values unless they choose to re-define (mistakenly) a subjective value as an objective one. However, humans can point to other animals and plants that express similar values i.e. birds care for their babies, trees share resources to other trees through their root systems, etc., that point to common values that humans also share. One could make the wild case that photons “love” or “value” the photon in front of them which bonds them on the wave, or that a cosmic sense of longing is the impetus to create a new star. But wild theories aside, a network of interconnected subjectivity could possibility point to an existence of objective values in the universe but objective values can’t be confirmed from subjective humans alone. I enjoyed your YouTube talk with Kane B. Just because there’s no ultimate reason to believe anything doesn’t mean we don’t find things to believe in anyway. Cheers!

  8. Evan says

    It’s fascinating how many different philosophical questions ultimately distill to the same few basic intuitions. For me, once I’m confident that my conscious experiences are real and fundamental and directly known, then it closely follows that the value properties I perceive in those experiences are real and fundamental and directly known.

    By the way if you’ve never read Asimov’s famous short story The Last Question, you might find it fruitful. Contains a worthwhile theory touching on heat death and the sort of alternative cosmologies you’re interested in (!)

  9. Hoff says

    “suppose my younger child grows up to have the basic goal of counting how many yellow cars there are in our neighbourhood every day. Suppose this really makes her really unhappy (t takes several hours) and often unwell (it’s very tiring, and she does it even when the weather is really bad), but it’s her only main freely chosen goal in life, and it’s not among her life-goals to be healthy or happy. ”

    This is at least a very unusual and seemingly very weird life goal to have. We might ask: is it even possible for a being with a human brain to on reflection continue to affirm that goal in the long run if pursuing it keeps causing her ill health and unhappiness? Seems not. Seems like a trajectory towards deep regret and her own later disavowal of that goal. If so then desire-dependency view holders can reply: you make her change goals because you care about her sum total lifetime set of desires.

    • I kind of agree it’s hard to imagine, but that’s because I think a clear, thinking rational person sees it’s objectively pointless. If it’s just a contingent fact of the psychology of most people, then we can just imagine an exception to the norm, someone who over the long term continues not to care about their own health and happiness.

      • Hoff says

        “then we can just imagine an exception”

        I’m not sure I can. At the very least I would first want a more detailed description of the psychology and behaviour of that individual. How did she make it through life thus far? How does she behave and think and feel in other situations? Does she require 24/7 care-worker support simply to survive? Kind of seems so, for why would she eat or sleep or do anything else voluntarily that distracts her from the cars? If ill health and feeling unhappy does not make her pause?

        I think the desire-dependency view holder can and would push against your case along those lines.

        All this said, I’m not desire-dependency fan and only put their hat on here for argument’s sake. My real belief is that the objective badness of suffering is phenomenally self-evident and that trying and succeeding to realize a desired goal is only valuable if there is a good (objective) reason to do it, which in the prudential case most often is that pursuing and reaching the goal generates positive hedonic states and avoids negative hedonic states, which are non-instrumentally objectively good/bad.

    • I said it’s her only *main* goal. I think we can say assume she still ate and drank to stay alive (or maybe we can say she did this to stay alive to count the cars).

  10. First Cause says


    Your question reduces back to a repressive paradigm to which it appears that we are all intellectually held hostage: and that premise is subject/object metaphysics. Therefore, the fundamental question becomes: Is value an object or is value a subject; is value an objective state of the world, something that we discover, or is value a subjective state of mind, something that we make up? Axiology is incapable of answering that simple question.

    Fear not, J.L. McIntyre rescues value from the quagmire of axiology in his essay “Value-Feelings and Judgements of Value” by forcefully asserting: “Value is never the character or quality of an object, but always a relation between an object and a subject.”

    J. L. McIntyre’s assessment is a straw-man argument because there are no such thing as objects and subjects, only the things we do not understand; and because we do not understand them, we label them as subjects and objects; and then go on to build a foundational metaphysics that suppresses knowledge. Plato, Aristotle and all of their Greek cronies did their repressive work very well my friends….

    • This sounds consistent with the conclusion of the argument, right? Or if you’re disagreeing, which premise are you denying?

      • First Cause says

        Yes, my comment is consistent with the conclusion of the argument and furthermore, my comment explains the underlying reason of “why” it is consistent.

        Without of full “understanding” of what value actually is, we as a species will forever be locked in the vicious a cycle of circular reasoning which leads to conflict as your simple illustration clearly demonstrates…..

        As a side note: In agreement with Roger, Penrose rejects the notion that consciousness and/or mind is computational. His reason is simple; he calls it understanding. Consciousness has the capacity to understand whereas an algorithm no matter how complex will never be able to understand. In other words, consciousness can “know” what an algorithm can never know; and it is this “knowing” which sets consciousness apart from any other physical system in the universe.

        If we as a species do not further evolve to the point of where we actually understand ourselves or the universe we inhabit, then maybe as a species we are an algorithm imprinted on carbon which reduces us to philosophical zombies after all……..

  11. It seems to me that those who deny the existence of objective values can account for the difference pretty easily. I judge that coercing the older child is unreasonable while coercing the younger child is reasonable because I value health and happiness. You do the same because you too value health and happiness. So does almost every other human being. But that doesn’t prove that these values are objective. It just proves that they’re widely shared.

    To show that values are objective, you have to show that any creature not committed to those values is making some mistake. That task seems much more difficult. Suppose we meet an alien which has reflected deeply on its values and still cares only about counting yellow cars. What reason do we have for thinking that this alien is making a mistake?

    • Alex Popescu says

      The analogy with the alien makes a good point. It suggests that our intuition concerning Philip’s young daughter might still be influenced by us thinking that she can’t ‘really’ value what she claims she does. Or that it might just be a teenage phase and something she’ll grow out of. Even if it is intellectually stipulated in the thought experiment otherwise, it is still very difficult to abandon those intuitions. The alien case (where our intuition doesn’t apply) is a good control for this. Since it seems we don’t feel the strong pull towards the belief that “the alien is making an unreasonable choice”. Or at least, I imagine most people would be inclined to think that way.

    • The aim here was a more modest one of showing that most of us are implicitly committed to objective values (the move to their existence is made in the video discussion). Why are we willing to impose our preference for health and happiness on the child but not our preference against football? I think it’s because we implicitly judge that health and happiness are objectively good for you.

      • Stephen Davies says

        There can be agreed values based on our subjective experiences. Objective values suggests they have an autonomous and fixed existence and that leads to all kinds of problems.

  12. Hey mate,

    This showed up in my WordPress feed. I clicked on the vid link, but no way I am going to slog through an hour-plus clip on YouTube. Perhaps it doesn’t matter because I read this and am focusing on thee trailing questions. For the record, I consider myself to be a moral non-cognitivist, which I believe is relevant to my perspective and response. I’ll reflect on the page content in my response.

    1. Anyone who would judge concern and intervention is reasonable in the case of the younger child but unreasonable in the case of the older child implicitly believes in objective values.
    2. Almost everyone would judge concern and intervention reasonable in the case of the younger child but unreasonable in the case of the older child.
    3. Almost everyone implicitly believes in objective values.

    And ‘the case I’m trying to make here is that many people who think they don’t believe in objective values, in fact do.’

    At the start, I believe you overvalue reason and its ability to assess objectivity, and the fact that one reasons a conclusion doesn’t automatically render it objective.

    I question the assertion that ‘people who think they don’t believe in objective values, in fact, do’. I don’t know who these many people are or if I am one of those included, as I do not believe in objective values. To put a finer point on it, I believe that even if there were such a thing, they would be inaccessible to fallible human sense-perception faculties and coloured by cognitive biases.

    All values are necessarily socially constructed, whether cultural or aesthetic.

    Above, a scenario is presented that involves counting yellow cars leading to misery of sorts, and this doesn’t conform to your concept of reality. My first observation is that you are presuming some sense of normalcy, which is not objective; rather, it’s formed by societal pressure. You can claim your behaviour was understandable and reasonable, but that relies on an appeal to popularity—an ad populum fallacy.

    Next, you attempt to declare a pursuit of health or happiness to be worthy goals. Without addressing the obvious counterindicating evidence that health is not a primary goal of most people, neither is happiness. Whilst people appreciate happiness, most people as part of a bounded rationality approach. I don’t want to get into Bentham’s Utilitarianism or even Consequentialism more generally, but these are theoretical constructs rife with problems. Except for hedonists, optimising happiness is not really a pursuit of many people. Ultimately, it’s a fool’s errand anyway.

    Aside from all of this, you are appealing to reason, and there is nothing objective about reason. And when you say ‘understandable’ you mean defensible to people who share your value system.

    Moreover, you undercut your own position. If the pursuit of happiness is objective or universal, then why is the daughter not in sync with this. It’s because it isn’t objective; it’s purportedly socially (read: subjectively) desirable. This scenario could be amended by moving to a place with no yellow cars. So there is that.

    Let me inject a scenario of my own. I’ve used it on my own site. Let’s say that instead of counting cars, someone wants to stay high on opiates all day and night. In fact, this makes them happier than any alternatives. Nothing objectively wrong with this, but society doesn’t like this idea? Why not? Because they can’t exploit this person for their labour. Western society wants productive citizens, and enterprises want wage slaves. Calvinism 101. Strung out people don’t make the most productive wage slaves. Outside of this context, this person’s choices don’t matter. Nothing objective about this position.

    As for Kane’s claim that he doesn’t believe that some goals and more worthwhile than others and doesn’t even feel the intuition, I agree. This is socialised behaviour. Goal prioritisation is again socially constructed. One sociological approach to consider is to look at the way different cultures and locations value different vocations and professions. Teachers, attorneys, politicians, and such are valued (and remunerated) differently. Again, there is nothing objective about it.

    Finally, there is no such thing as intuition. as with other emotional responses, these are indoctrinated. We are taught how to react to this or that stimulus. People from different cultures respond as per their acculturation. A person raised in the wild would have no such emotional response or so-called intuition.

    Social media is a poor vehicle for communication as paradoxical as that might seem. A lot of nuance is lost, and the slow interchange of thoughts is deleterious. This said, I still try.

  13. Fedor Alexander Steeman says

    Whereas I’m not much of a philosopher, when I read this essay here, I couldn’t help wanting to throw in a twist or two from real life and my own personal experiences. You see, as a father to 3 children, all with autism, your hypothetical case stories sound all too familiar. My immediate intuition is that we need to be careful about taking anything at face value. Is the yellow-car-counting daughter unhappy about her life choices, or is this a sign of a deeper lying issue and the car counting actually the only thing that keeps her mentally stable? What if it’s other things that make her unhappy and the yellow-car-counting is comparable to treading water. Yes, it’s tiresome, but if she doesn’t, she’ll metaphorically drown.

    For many autistic children, special interests like these are one the few things that make sense to them in an increasingly confusing world. Taken a step further, your hypothetical daughter could also be diagnosed with OCD, where something comparable could be stated. I understand that you as a philosopher want to set up an almost clinically clean case with a relatively simple set of limited premises. But humans are multi-dimensional and multi-faceted. It would often seem that each individual actually holds many, sometimes opposing, desires and values.

    So for me the question is what really makes a person happy? What is the causation here? Once we know that we can think about the existence of objective values.

    I also cannot help but think about the old Chinese tale of the farmer who responded to any perceived (mis)fortune with: “We’ll see”.

  14. Charles Pigden says

    Dear Phil Goff,
    The answer to your argument is surely a straightforward ‘So what?” An error theorist (though perhaps not an expressivist) can accept the conclusion of your argument without a qualm.
    Are we inclined to believe in objective values? Yes.
    Does that mean that that there *are* objective values? No.

    • Thanks Charles. Sure it’s a further step to the actual reality of objective values. It would make the move via something like phenomenal conservatism.

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