Sunday, July 09, 2006

Subjectivism and Ted Bundy on rape

"In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure that I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you."

Ted Bundy, a man who raped and murdered many innocent women, is quoted from in the book: Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong by Pojman.

When people do wrong acts, they look for any way out that will justify what they are doing. "Everyone else is doing it," "No one is perfect," "It doesn't hurt that much," "Why not steal five dollars, they'll never know the difference," etc. I thought Ted Bundy's was especially interesting. It is also telling against the ethical theory called Subjectivism. Ethical subjectivism states that morality is a matter of taste like preferring vanilla ice cream to chocolate. If someone is against rape, it's simply a matter of taste and nothing more. If someone is for killing the Jews, it's no different from preferring ketchup on your hot dog.

I think this view is very wrong. One big reason is the absurd results that come of it. We don't punish people for matters of taste. We would never say, "I like vanilla ice cream, you don't like vanilla? Well then you should be in prison." However, there are certain wrong acts that we do and should punish people for.

It also makes it impossible to criticize others for their moral views. I would never write a paper arguing why someone should prefer vanilla ice cream over chocolate or why they should enjoy mustard over ketchup on their hot dog. It would make no sense to attempt to change someone's preferences in these areas. However, it does make sense and there is good reason to attempt to justify your moral views and to show how other ones are unjustified.

In other words, if someone says to you, "I like coffee with no sugar," they don't have to give arguments and evidence for why. The simple fact that they like it is enough. However, if someone says, "I like killing 7 year olds on the weekends," then they must give evidence and argument to back it up (and so would the person who says they don't like killing 7 year olds on the weekends).

Alright enough of that. Now for some Ted Bundy.

"Then I learned that all moral judgments are 'value judgments,' that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either 'right' or 'wrong.' I even read somewhere that the Chief Justice of the United States had written that the American Constitution expressed nothing more than collective value judgments. Believe it or not, I figured out for myself--what apparently the Chief Justice couldn't figure out for himself--that if the rationality of one value judgment was zero, multiplying it by millions would not make it one whit more rational. Nor is there any 'reason' to obey the law for anyone, like myself, who has the boldness and daring--the strength of character--to throw off its shackles...I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable 'value judgment' that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these 'others?' Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more than a hog's life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as 'moral' or 'good' and others as 'immoral' or 'bad'? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure that I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me--after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and inhibited self."--Ted Bundy, Quoted from Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, 5th edition, p.30

As a sidenote, I am also reminded of the statement of Frank T. J. Mackey (played by Tom Cruise) from the movie Magnolia. He is a motivational speaker in a sense but he motivates guys to (in his words) "tame the cunt." He teaches men how to get women to be all over them and to get them in bed. He justifies this by saying the following:

"I will not apologize for what I want. I will not apologize for what I need. I will not apologize for who I am."

I hope I have made it clear by now that there are some cases where one should apologize for who they are. I hope I have made it clear that ethical subjectivism is a bad position. I hope I have made it clear how important it is to be a good person and to study the subject of ethics so that you too will not fall into the trap of living a lie like Ted Bundy did.


swpdxgirl said...

Having only read Pojman's philosophy of religion anthology, your link has led me to discover more of his work.

Nice to see you here, by the way. I miss some of the Study people, you being one of them.


the fonz said...

Hey mel,

I miss you too, I'll IM you sometime on AIM and we'll talk. Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Interesting Post.

There are, clearly, huge flaws in Ethical subjectivism. However in this post, I am not convinced, by the arguments you gave, that ethical subjectivism is wrong.

You wrote, "However, if someone says, "I like killing 7 year olds on the weekends," then they must give evidence and argument to back it up (and so would the person who says they don't like killing 7 year olds on the weekends)." The problem here is that you are still referencing an individuals taste. If someone enjoys killing 7 year olds on the weekend, perhaps they could tell you what they enjoy about it, but, the pleasure alone is no different from the pleasure that comes from tasting Vanilla ice cream. If someone were to make the claim, like Ted Bundy did, that "because moral subjectivism is true, then they ought to be able to rape and murder girls without consequence," it would require justification.

While I agree that Ted Bundy is a sick man, and that one who receives pleasure for raping and murdering girls, ought to be removed from society, the mere fact that he receives pleasure from such an act, needs no justification; it's simply a statement of opinion. However, the claims that he makes about what ought to be allowed because of moral subjectivism, are universal claims, that are more than a matter of opinion.

Also, you give no good, logical reason as to why one ought to study ethics, and why, in studying ethics, they should come to the conclusion that ethical subjectivism isn't the best ethical theory to live by. Rather than showing the logical flaws in ethical subjectivism, you simply state that you believe ethical subjectivism is a bad position; unless you are an expert ethicist, this is an appeal to unqualified authority. In order to make a cogent claim that Ethical subjectivism is bad, you would need to expose it's logical flaws. I don't disagree with the conclusion of your argument(s), but they aren't cogent based on your reasoning.

This critique, by the way, is meant to help you as you write on philosophical matters the future. I am a graduate teaching assistant (in a philosophy department), my undergraduate emphasis was in Ethics and Logic, and my graduate studies are in the areas of ethics and medicine.

I hope this helps you in the future. :)

Andy said...

Thanks for the comment. I agree, it should say something more along the lines of "The mere fact that one likes to kill 7 year-olds on the weekend does not imply that one ought to. However, if one states, I prefer vanilla ice cream to chocolate, then it very well may be the fact that he ought to eat vanilla ice cream."

This shows there is something different about these two situations and does not involve the pleasure of the person performing the act. Ethical subjectivism cannot explain this.

Thanks for the critique. I am no expert ethicist and I try not to make it sound like I'm saying "Subjectivism is wrong because I don't agree with it." I tried to give an argument but worded it poorly. Thanks for the critique!