Help me understand James Rachels’ metaethicsPosted: February 27, 2014
I’m reading the 3rd edition (1999) of James Rachels’ widely-used undergraduate textbook The Elements of Moral Philosophy and have come to what I think is his metaethical position. Unfortunately I don’t think I understand it.
Rachels concedes that “Values are not the kinds of things that could exist in the way that stars and planets exist” (46). But that does not entail that “Our ‘values’ are nothing more than the expression of our subjective feelings” (46). It is at least possible that “Moral truths are truths of reason; that is, a moral judgment is true if it is backed by better reasons than the alternatives” (46).
I’m not sure what that means, and unfortunately Rachels doesn’t offer much more in the way of explanation or argument. It sounds like Rachels is saying that the reasons for a moral judgment are its truth-condition. But I would have thought that a proposition has to have a truth-condition before there can be reasons for thinking that it is true or false. As a side note, if Rachels does identify evidence with truth-conditions, is that form of verificationism?
Maybe Rachels is only saying that all and only the true moral judgments will have the best supporting reasons. But then he hasn’t explained the truth-conditions at all.
How am I supposed to take Rachels’ claim?