Amia Srinivasan: the nature of moral truth

On Tuesday 22nd January Amia visited us from All Souls College Oxford, where she’s studying for a D.Phil. on issues in epistemology, ethics and meta-philosophy. She spoke to two full WP meetings about whether moral truths actually exist – whether there is an objective right or wrong (the Realist position), or whether right and wrong is ultimately a matter of what we humans believe (Anti-realism); is moral opinion the same kind of thing as an opinion on whether celery tastes nice, or is it more than that?

Using question-and-answer, and audience votes, she skilfully exposed the inconsistencies in our thinking: Realists have the luxury of being able to condemn unequivocally outrages like the Holocaust, but, unless they are religious, have problems explaining where they get their universal moral truths from; anti-Realists sit happy in a materialist, Darwinian universe, but aren’t able fully to condemn horrible crimes like the recent rape on a bus in Delhi. We concluded that most of us are inconsistent: in moments of reflection we tend to think we are Anti-realists, but when we live our lives and read the paper we seem to be Realists. She patiently explained that this presents us with a problem.

The conversation continued over food, and back at Sandon Lodge with a small group of philosophical VIth formers.

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