One particular criticism of non-cognitivism is that it is not intuitive (as if this is the arbiter of truth). Much of statistics is not intuitive. The behaviour of quarks and other quantum events are counter-intuitive. This is a poor argument, especially given the limitations of intuition—whatever that might be.
In his book Moral Realism, Kevin Delapp advances his belief ‘that as a descriptive thesis, noncognitivism appears exceptionally counterintuitive’. He advances with argumentum ad numeram (or ad populum—take your pick): Most speakers of most languages do not mean by “killing innocents is wrong” merely that they don’t approve of it, or even that they are simply endorsing a norm, no matter how universal in form. Rather they say, namely that killing innocents is literally wrong.’ Moreover, what people think they mean and what they mean may diverge widely. But these are petty arguments.
“Killing innocents is wrong.”
Let’s unpack the example Delapp uses. Let’s even move forward by accepting common idiomatic notions of these terms. The problem is one of scope. Keeping away from any metaphysical complications but considering a cosmic scope, how is this wrong?
Ignoring that people die routinely of natural and otherwise ‘unnatural’ causes—however these might even be classified—, the absence of some particular human or all humans or all life forms would have a nil effect on planetary motion, the birth and death or stars, or of the creation of other universes. An analogue might be similar to killing a single bacterium in your body, an event that happens countless times daily yet you don’t even notice.
The reason that this is considered wrong relates to hubris, the self-importance humans bestow themselves. It would be amazing for another lifeform with the capacity for language—a shared human language—to impose its parallel morality on earth-dwelling mortals…with the twist that they envision themselves as superior lifeforms. Of course, in the work, the earthlings would justify eliminating this hostile species—and vice versa. Yet neither would be right. As we do on earth now, we’d rely on our divine intuition and know that our vantage was the true one and these usurpers would need to be shown the error of their ways.
In any case, the only reason this logic is justified is by some argument of self-preservation, as if the universe somehow cares about this. Of course, the religious attribute the special place occupied by humans to be justified because we are God’s special children—but these are short-bus children indeed.
Returning to recast the original statement, ‘killing innocents is wrong’, we end up with something less than universal and quite contextual more along the lines of ‘killing [human] innocents is wrong [to me as a human with simple cognitive assessment skills and who has been socially indoctrinated to believe that humans are the most important lifeform in the entire universe or any possible multiverse]. Here wrong means ‘not conducive to the furthering of humanity‘, which is miles away from some claim with a deeper foundation, integrally woven into the fabric of space-time itself.
And when these people counter with, ‘would you want me to kill you’ (smugly clever, indeed), taking this to be some logical checkmate as opposed to the “I know you are but what am I” juvenile retort. Weak tea, indeed.
You might be selling it, but I’m not buying it.