The biases and motives of moral realists and non-realists
I was thinking of an example of how our biases affect how we attribute motives to others. Here are two opposing sides.
There are some people who say there are objective moral values. There are other people who say there are not objective moral values. It is interesting to notice how each side attributes motives to the other side.
[Since I brought it up, lemme make a detour here. It’s an informal logical fallacy to try to refute a position by pointing out sinister motives in the people who hold that position. That’s a form of the ad hominem fallacy, and it’s a fallacy because it suffers from irrelevance. Our motives for holding a belief have nothing to do with whether or not those beliefs are true.]
Moral non-realists will often say the reason people hold to objective standards of good and evil is because they have a sinister desire to control everybody. They figure since morals are relative, people shouldn’t impose their own personal values on other people. (Never mind the inconsistency in this position; it’s not my point.) They figure if people are trying to impose their values on everybody else, then they just have an unhealthy need to suppress, control, and manipulate other people.
Moral realists will often say the reason people deny morality is because they want to justify their own actions. Rather than submitting to objective standards of good and evil they know are true, they pretend they aren’t real. It allows them to indulge in their guilty pleasures without the guilt. A guilty pleasure without the guilt is just pleasure. (Never mind the inconsistency in this position, too; it's not my point either.) Moral realists figure since everybody knows deep down inside that there’s a difference between right and wrong, there must be some sinister motive for being in denial.
As I write the above, I must admit that my own bias is in full swing. I have heard both of the above accusations, and I find myself agreeing with the moral realists and disagreeing with the moral non-realists. And, surprise, I’m a moral realist!
What advantage is there in worrying about somebody's motives anyway? Shouldn't we be more concerned about whether or not their position is true than in whatever motivates them to embrace it? I guess that depends. If we're trying to discover the truth of the issue, then their motives are irrelevent. But if we're trying to reason with them, and reason has nothing to do with why they hold their position, then perhaps there is some advantage to exploring what their motives might be. By getting a person to be honest with themselves about their motives, maybe they will be more open to reason. It does no good, of course, to try to convince a person that they have motives when they really don't. Attributing motives falsely to people is a good way to discredit yourself with them. It also puts them on the defensive, and people never listen once they're on the defensive.