Like many objectivists, Ben is quite angered by subjectivism because, without it, we could not make objectively valid moral judgments. The first part of his post suggests a moral dilemma: Ben and I confront a person torturing a cat. Ben, the objectivist, would be able to very objectively condemn the torturer, while I would not.
On Kevin's view, when a subject declares that "torturing kittens for pleasure is immoral," the subject is not identifying a a fact about the world (i.e., not picking out a constituent of objective reality), but rather identifying only a state within the subject's consciousness. Kevin describes this state within the subject as no different to whenever a human being feels an emotion. Thus, if I encountered a sadist on the street about to torture kittens for the pleasure it gives him, if I rescued the kittens by force prior to their fate, I would not be doing so because it is a matter of objective fact that what the kittens were about to be subjected to is objectively wrong, but because I only feel that it would be wrong.
I suppose I am guilty as charged here. Ben is right that I agree with him that torturing kittens is wrong, but that I disagree with him about the objective import of that view. I would, in a sense, be powerless to objectively condemn the sadist.
I am quite at a loss, though, to think about why objectively condemning a sadist would have any more import than subjectively condemning her. Does the sadist care if my condemnation is coming from me or from the Cosmic Objective Order? I doubt it. I doubt a sadist who tortures kittens feels very bound by a moral excoriation - no matter whether it is subjective or objective in nature (whatever the hell the difference looks like.)
And this is one of the big objections I have to moral objectivism; like JL Mackie and others have noted, if morals exist as objective things, they are very strange things - things like no other things we know of. They do not have any physical embodiment or mode of detection (other than an introspective method identical to that used to ascertain subjective emotion!). And they are the only things (assuming they are things) that impose obligations on witnesses' behavior. Facts are real, but I can think of no fact that obligates us to change our behavior like morals do. So, are they facts? I cannot see any good reason to see that they are.
But apparently, Ben does. He suggests that they are facts just as 2+2=4 is a fact. He suggests that just as this mathematical axiom has no basis in observable sense data (but remains a fact nonetheless), so with moral facts. 2+2=4, killing kittens is wrong... pretty similar, eh?
Actually not. 2+2=4 actually does have basis in physical fact and is observable (verifiable, if you will). As numbers are symbols, "2" means ** and "4" means ****. We can verify, then, by using our number system that 2+2=4 is valid by adding ** to ** and seeing whether it equals **** (the representation for "4").
But Ben has upped that ante. He suggests that if I hold that morals are not facts because they are not grounded in the world of observable and testable things, then I have a problem: that very statement (that morals are not facts because not grounded in observable and testable things) is itself not grounded in the observable, testable world. Oh dear!
Of course, Ben's objection misunderstands the burden of proof. Just as he who claims that faeries do not exist does not bear the burden of proof (the affirmer of faeries does), my statement is something of a null hypothesis equivalent to a denial of faeries existence. Just as the faery denier is waiting for proof of so-called objective faeries, I am waiting for proof of so-called objective morals.
And, yes, there is reason to doubt such existence. While Ben is right to say that the fact of moral disagreement is not enough to make the case for moral subjectivism, it does not itself bode well for moral objectivism. Moral disagreement is not just existent, but quite pervasive and often intractable. When two people disagree over whether capitalism is wrong, for instance, they can argue facts (capitalism leads to x, socialism does not lead to x), but the argument often comes down to an impasse (I think x is wrong, and you don't), where one cannot think of any fact-based way to convince the other.
This is not very explainable under moral objectivism other than to say, as Ben does, that " people in general are stupid." This will not do, though, because he who makes that charges must be able to point to - POINT TO - what it is that the dummies are overlooking (and if that something is intuition, I am sure the dummies also have those, in which case, the accuser must argue as to why his is superior to theirs non-circularly).
Lastly, Ben wonders what my criteria for truth is. Unfortunately, this is an area of philosophy I have little patience for. What we mean by "true" appears to be a tautology: "truth" is "that which accurately describes how things are." How do we recognize truth? The only good answer to this I see is: by experiment. If I write out the directions to Sean's house, the best way to test this is to see if the directions actually get us there. If I say that x theory is true in science, the way to test that (unlike what ID creationists do) is to experiment the theory, and try and falsify the theory. If I say, "I love my Fiancee," the only - and imperfect - way to see if that is true is to observe me and see if my actions are consistent or inconsistent with that statement.
But how in the world do we verify "killing cats is wrong." We can verify "killing cats will cause them physical pain." We can verify "I have an aversion to seeing cats inflicted with physical pain." Those are all matters up to perfect or imperfect experiment. But what we cannot verify is the next step: "imposing physical pain is wrong." What does "wrong" refer to? We can't observe it. We can only intuit it (just as we intuit our own subjective emotions, or God talking to us.)
Ben is clearly not satisfied with the idea that to be called "truth" a thing has to be observable. He hints at logic being a falsifier of this claim. I think not. Logic is only so good as the results it leads to, and the only reason we call the law of non-contradiction true is because we test it both empirically and mentally. After all, logic is seen as a tool, and the only truth a tool has is that it does what it says it will do. When we use logic, it leads us to results that work as they say they will (as theories are tested by seeing if they work the way they say they will.)
And as for 2+2=4, it is the same. Its truth comes not from a heavenly mystical Platonic realm that humans cannot see (but can intuit) but from the fact that we can observe ** plus ** equalling ****. So, I am afraid, I hold to the horrible idea that "truth" gets its name from its ability to work in practice.
In the meantime, I'm going to keep on believing concepts that I believe exist in the world, albeit in a transcendental sense of course, such as mathematical truth, logical truth, and moral truth, just like I believe in the thoroughly objective nature of truth in general, along with the believe that they are - all of them - constituents of the world.
Many men intuit God and argue very fervently that He "exist[s] in the world, albeit in a transcendental sense," and that, despite his objective nature, we can't sense him with the five senses. We can only intuit him. Ben has made the case that ethics are like this. But is he persuaded by such religious arguments. (Hint: Ben is not a Christian because, despite God having all the properties Ben argues that morals have, he does not believe that there is evidence for God's existence.)