My purpose in this essay is to explain and discuss the importance of the “moral twin earth” argument. This theory focuses on the argument first proposed by Hare, which states that in order to have a genuine moral disagreement there needs to be a common understanding of the concept in question. This theory holds importance because it openly refutes Cornell realism, which denies that moral terms, like ‘right’, are synonymous to any non-moral terms that may be part of the properties that ‘right’ picks out; the properties that are attached to moral terms, like ‘right’ are responsible for their usage. Thus, the goal is to show how the “moral twin earth” argument undermines the idea that moral terms refer to some natural properties of actions, which in turn regulate our moral practices.
The “moral twin earth” thought experiment says that we are to imagine that all Earth human species uses of the word ‘good’ (‘good-E’) entail the natural property, which makes things ‘good’ according to a normative consequentialist theory, let’s say the theory of maximizing happiness. The Earth human species would adopt any moral theory that allowed maximizing happiness as good-making.
Next, imagine that in a separate galaxy there exists a land, Moral Twin Earth. Moral twin Earth is so close to being identical to Earth; the species of twin Earth speak a language that is linguistically and semantically identical to the one Earth species speak, English. Additionally and most importantly, moral terms like ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ have the same functional properties that they do on Earth. (Horgan & Timmons 1992) The twins use these moral terms to figure out certain actions. For instance, they try to do things to which they apply ‘good’; and th...
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... rise to the Open-Question Argument again. The moral terms ‘good’ on Earth and on twin Earth will be regulated by a certain natural property, but one can always question whether that term is actually good. It is an open question whether maximizing happiness is good or whether is it good to maximize happiness. If property identity does not require synonymy, then it is fair to say that moral terms fail to refer to natural properties. The reference of some terms is not determined by a description or concept with which they are associated.
Horgan, T., & Timmons, M. (1992). Troubles on Moral Twin Earth: Moral Queerness
Revived. Synthese, 2, 221-260.
Merli, David., (2002). Return to Moral Twin Earth. Canadian Journal of Philosophy,
Rubin, M. (2013). Biting the Bullet on Moral Twin Earth. The University of Western Australia, Australia.
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