Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Prospects of Objective Morality - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1
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The Prospects of Objective Morality - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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The Prospects of Objective Morality
“The Prospects of an Objective Morality.” Social Research 46(Winter 1979):745–765.
All attempts to justify an objective morality have failed. Cognitivism (the view that we are endowed with some moral faculty for discovering what is right, good, and obligatory) also fails. Cognitivists have failed to explain how this moral “organ” has the ability to notice moral blindness. Cognitivists have also failed to explain the relation between this allegedly universal organ and the inherent historical nature of human existence, the divergence of moral sensibilities, and the unpredictable, contingent nature of moral problems.
With cognitivism and meta-ethics rejected, comes a skepticism concerning rational rules for determining the solution for moral disputes. Any formal rules, for example, that justice requires that like cases be treated alike or that moral judgments be universalizable, are either vacuous or false. Similarly, Kant's categorical imperative cannot work since not all immoral actions are inconsistent.
Another alternative is to admit that we are prudentially interested agents and derive certain rational minimal standards which all rational agents want. Assuming people are basically egoistically motivated to promote their own survival and satisfaction, the question then becomes: what is the fairest way to serve those interests? But this approach is not as neutral as it seems: it tilts moral philosophy in favor of radical individualism. The question of which interests should be promoted and at the expense of what and whom, has no value-free, nonideological answer. Some accomodation of the known historical condition under which communities exist must affect our moral reflections; but to concede this means to concede that morality consists of a battle among partisans. Partisan bias also applies to any philosophers (such as one influenced by Hegel or Marx) who attempts to derive some moral precepts from a historically favored society.
We may conclude that two general and objective constraints on moral policies and philosophies are (1) certain minimal prudential interests assigned fairly to individuals and (2) the prevailing ideological currents of the historical communities affected. Yet there is no way to derive any objectively valid judgments or commitments from the constrainst. At any given time there are an array of moral convictions, and reflection tests these convictions against the constraints listed above. The indefensible views are discarded leaving the rest to bargain for effective power.
But how then does one account both for the openness of moral disputes and the sense of objective constraints? By a theory that human beings are both human animals and human persons. The fact that we have a common biological nature (human animals) generates some objective minimal prudential concerns, but the fact that we are culturally emergent beings (persons) who learn a language and act and produce in a particular culture, means that our outlooks differ depending on where we are located. The nature of persons, then, being culturally emergent, is determined by history—hence Margolis's relativism in moral matters.