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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 44, 1998

Theoretical Ethics

Irwin Goldstein
Pages 83-87

The Magnetism of the Good and Ethical Realism

Ethical antirealists believe the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, do not signify properties that objects and actions have or might have. They believe that when a person calls pain or any other event ‘bad’ and adultery or any other action ‘wrong’, he does not report some fact about that object or action. J. L. Mackie defends ethical anti-realism in part by appealing to an ontological queerness he believes value properties would have if they existed. "If there were objective values," Mackie writes, "they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe." Goodness would have a queer magnetic power. "Something's being good both tells the person who knows this to pursue it and makes him pursue it. An objective good would be sought by anyone who was acquainted with it, not because of any contingent fact that this person, or every person, is so constituted that he desires this end, but just because the end has to-be-pursuedness somehow built into it," Mackie says. If there were a property of the sort we conceive of good as being, it would be a queer property—one we cannot reasonably believe exists, Mackie argues.

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